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The Centre for Civic Education, Human Rights Action and Anima NGOs on Tuesday commemorated the anniversary of the deportation of at least 66 Bosniak refugees and some ethnic Serbs from the Montenegrin town of Herzeg Novi, and called for a permanent memorial to the victims to be built.
On May 25 and 27, 1992, the Bosniaks and Serbs were illegally detained and brought to the police headquarters in Herceg Novi, near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina, from where they were deported on buses to Bosnian Serb-controlled territory.
They were sent to a Serb-run detention camp in Foca in eastern Bosnia. Only a few survived, and the remains of most of the dead have not yet been found.
“The deportation was a war crime, although Montenegrin courts, under political pressure, did not establish this,” the head of Human Rights Action, Gorjanc Prelevic, told media.
Nine former policemen indicted for the deportations were acquitted in November 2012 because the court ruled that while the arrests were illegal, they did not constitute a war crime and the nine men were not party to any side in the Bosnian war.
For the first time, representatives of the Interior Ministry and Police Directorate attended the ceremony on Tuesday.
The former government led by Milo Djukanovic’s Democratic Party of Socialists never responded to rights groups’ proposal for a memorial to be installed in Herceg Novi.
The Democratic Party of Socialists was in power in Montenegro since 1990 until last year, and Djukanovic was prime minister at the time of the refugee deportations in 1992. He is now president of Montenegro.
Milos Vukanovic from the Centre for Civic Education urged the new government to take action.
“We call on the new government to finally allow the establishment of the memorial in Herceg Novi,” said Vukanovic.
In December 2008. a court settlement with 200 relatives of the victims and several survivors was reached, after nearly four years of litigation for damages. Montenegro paid a total of 4,135,000 euros in compensation to the families for the illegal actions of the Montenegrin police.
In 2013, families of the victims sued Montenegro to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, claiming that the investigation was not conducted vigorously and did not probe all of those who were responsible for the crime, including top officials.
In its progress report on Montenegro for 2020, the European Commission repeated its habitual warnings that war crimes should be a high priority for prosecutors as the country makes progress in EU accession talks. It also urged Montenegro to widen the scope of prosecutions.
As part of Yugoslavia, Montenegro took part directly in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia under the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic.