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Croatian Doctors Describe Massacre Serb Charged With Ordering Death Of Hospital Patients

Testifying before a U.N. war crimes tribunal, a doctor spoke Monday of watching while Serb soldiers rousted Croatian patients from their hospital beds - and of learning later that the patients had been found in a mass grave.

The massacre at the hospital in the eastern city of Vukovar is considered the single worst atrocity of Croatia’s 1991 war of independence from Yugoslavia.

Prosecutors say Serb forces herded 200 patients from the hospital, beat them, shot them and buried them.

The hospital’s former chief of staff and another doctor testified Monday in the trial of Serb Slavko Dokmanovic, a former mayor of Vukovar. Dokmanovic has pleaded innocent to six charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, all of which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison. Three officers of the Yugoslav army also are charged in the massacre.

Serb forces lay siege to Vukovar for three months before the city finally fell.

Former hospital chief Dr. Vesna Bosanac testified that up to 200 shells per day hit the hospital - marked with large red crosses on its roof and lawn - at the height of the Serb bombardment.

Starved of water, electricity and medical supplies, patients and staff huddled in the basement of the hospital, the two doctors said.

Power from generators was used only for surgery on the most seriously wounded, and water had to be drawn from a river or wells in the town, Bosanac said.

Dr. Neda Striber gave an emotional description of hospital life during the siege.

“You watch, daily, people dying around you. You experience the death of your closest relatives, of women and children. So much misery and unhappiness in one place. … This is happening all around you,” she said.

Striber admitted forging medical records to make some Vukovar men seem more seriously wounded than they actually were, in the hope that they would be spared when Serbs finally took the city.

One day, while most of the staff was in a meeting, armed Serb soldiers came and quickly led patients out of the hospital, Striber said. Many of her patients were later exhumed from a mass grave near town, she said.

Neither doctor saw Dokmanovic at the hospital. Their testimony was aimed at establishing events leading up to the Nov. 20 massacre.

The three indicted officers are still at large in Serbia, where authorities refuse to extradite them. Dokmanovic was arrested by U.N. forces in Croatia last summer.

Set up in 1993, the U.N. court has indicted more than 75 suspects and has 20 in custody.