Then, in the spring of 1996, there were no hidden landmines or similar deadly traps in front of Levar's feet so that we had a chance to examine and photograph the damaged monument, as well as already rusty casings of bullets fired from a Kalashnikov, and Saran's Ravine without the protective fence. According to Levar, without the fence it was easier to throw the bodies of the executed victims into the ravine. However, last week, a planted deadly device killed Milan Levar in the yard of his family home in Gospic. Murderers chose for the spot of their showdown the place where Levar probably felt the safest, because he knew it well. And that suggests that Levar's murder had been carefully planned and was carried out by experienced murderers about whose crimes he had testified for almost a full decade.
Levar's words remain recorded on the pages of Feral. He stated that in 1996 in Lika "people are still afraid, jobless, socially and existentially endangered, have no opportunity for promotion, murders still take place, and none of this is known to the public. To clear that situation up, we must finally deal with the victims and organization from 1991. Today, fear is the preferred method of administration in Lika, and the only way to destroy fear is to finally hold people accountable for their actions. That is why it must be established who killed, who stole, and then let everyone be held responsible for their actions. This way all of Gospic and Lika are held accountable, and those who did do all that, by keeping all the power in their hands, have turned us into their hostages and rule over us as if we were their serfs. That is why we cannot hide the things that took place in Lika. We cannot live anymore in that nightmare, only because someone messed up during the war in Gospic. It's time we started living as human beings."
Levar was convinced that after first armed clashes with Serb rebels and the successful defense of Gospic, evil came to Gospic and Lika from outside, namely from Zagreb, because exactly in the autumn of 1991 all the leading officials of the civilian and military authorities in Lika were sent to Gospic from Zagreb. They included the president and secretary of the Crisis Headquarters, Ante Klaric and Tihomir Oreskovic respectively, government's envoy Drazen Jurkovic, and the military commander Mirko Norac. They brought with them their divisions and struggle for power, in which one of the fractions secured its supremacy by inciting and committing crimes. Levar referred to one faction as "followers of partisans", while the others were "heirs to the Ustashe tradition". The latter said that in the struggle for power they were trying to set up the NDH [pro-Nazi Croat puppet state in WWII] of Lika.
The latter, according to Levar, were more courageous and decisive, and supplied with modern weaponry and equipment. Better organized for taking power in their hands, they used the necessity of the introduction of order in the chaos reigning in Gospic during the first day of war and demands of members of armed units for a systematic and decisive showdown with those Serbs who stayed in Gospic and, according to their convictions, collaborated with the enemy. Furthermore, Levar was convinced that after the successful defense of Gospic and the establishment of a firm front line, the state of chaos was deliberately promoted and crimes and revenge were its most efficient generators. The massacre of Croat civilians in Siroka Kula, carried out by Serb criminals during the unsuccessful attempt to liberate Licki Osik, was the excuse to reach the decision in the Crisis Headquarters that increased control of Serbs who remained in Gospic and Lika was necessary.
According to Levar, Ropac and Bando, Tihomir Oreskovic and Mirko Norac put themselves in charge of the action. After lists of Serbs living in Lika were compiled in Police stations, the commander of the military police in Gospic, Stipe Rukavina, organized three units of military policemen, who on October 16, 1991 started arresting in Gospic, Karlobag, Petrusic and nearby villages all the Serbs whose names were circled on the list. Zdenko Bando publicly testified that he was a member of the unit that arrested Serbs in Karlobag. He claimed that the list of Serbs living in Karlobag had been compiled by local policeman Zeljko Jazic, and those whose names were circled by the unknown hand were taken from their homes by military policemen commanded by Jure Tomljenovic.
The arrested Serbs, according to Zdenko Bando were loaded on specially prepared trucks and then taken by previously selected military policemen and executed, mostly at unidentified spots. Their bodies were buried in local cemeteries, in hidden spots in Lika forests and wastelands, although some were thrown into ravines or simply left at the execution spot.
Those crimes and the atmosphere in which they were committed were described by Levar in Feral: "In those times and euphoria it was easy to manipulate desperate people. There were unending rows of houses from which anyone could take whatever he pleased. You could even do to the people whatever you liked, for the simple reason that everyone that could, both Croats and Serbs, had escaped from Gospic. The Serbs who stayed would have probably left as well if it weren't for the permits for the departure from the town. There were three checkpoints between Gopic and Karlobag. It was similarly difficult to enter Gospic. In any case, neither the Army, nor the Police, nor anyone from any level of government, tried to prevent and stop those who participated in executions."
However, crimes became so widespread that they could not remain hidden in Lika, not even in Zagreb. First the relatives of the missing and the victims started knocking on all sorts of doors seeking help and official reports of certain police, military and other state officials stated making their way towards Zagreb. When the questions started coming from some of powerful foreign politicians, above all Warren Zimmerman and Helmut Kohl, an official investigation was initiated, and Franjo Tudman himself visited Gospic in late November.
The circle around Tihomir Oreskovic and Mirko Norac, at the time unquestionable rulers of Gospic and Lika, became convinced that Tudman was coming to replace them so that, according to Levar, they even prepared an assassination attempt on him. In Gospic, Levar and Bando even pointed out to the Feral's journalist the man who had allegedly been ordered to shoot Tudman. However, in Levar's opinion, strong security and moreover the fact that Tudman conducted only a routine visit, in which he indirectly berated Oreskovic, prevented an open clash.
On Tudman's orders, in early 1992, General Stipetic went with newly appointed commanders to Gospic to carry out the transfer of duty. However, Norac and his officers refused to comply with the orders and threatened to use arms against General Stipetic. Through Levar's mediation, the Croatian Army Colonel Nikola Rendulic testified in 1996 about that for Feral. He was supposed to take over the duty of the chief of staff in Lika but had to return together with General Stipetic to Zagreb. At the time when the investigation about crimes in Gospic was initiated and when Tihomir Oreskovic was arrested and immediately before his release from prison, Levar and Ropac informed their superiors in the security-intelligence services in Zagreb about everything they knew, as they personally witnessed several crimes.
As they most frequently, when they got a chance, unannounced came to the Crisis Headquarters, they once encountered Oreskovic with a group of his followers. He was aiming a gun and observing as one of his followers, probably after an interrogation, was strangling an arrested Serb with a phone wire. The weapons slowly turned towards them when they entered the room, so that they were forced to watch the murder to the end. On another occasion they were invited to a meeting held next to the corpses of victims murdered immediately before the meeting and their blood spilt on the floor.
When, on the other hand, Tihomir Oreskovic was arrested Zdenko Bando received the order from his brother Ivica Oreskovic, a senior official of the SIS [the Ministry of Defense secret service] in the Ministry of Defense, to prepare a group of ten military policemen who were supposed to go to Zagreb, attack the Remetinec prison and free his brother. Judging that in case he refused the order, he would have been eliminated, Bando approached Levar after selecting ten policemen for the action. However, Levar convinced him to stay out of that because "all of them would have been killed before Lucko". Zdenko Bando's troubles were cut short by a new message from Zagreb - stop everything because Tihomir Oreskovic had been released from prison.
The removal of Oreskovic from Gospic seemed to Bando like a good opportunity to introduce order in the Military Police and subjugate it to the chain of command leading via the Karlovac Military Area to the Croatian Army Chiefs of Staff. However, after only a few initial moves Tihomir Oreskovic rushed to Gospic and told him to do nothing without his knowledge. Otherwise, he threatened to dismiss Bando. When Bando rejected his demands he was dismissed soon afterwards, which made him realize that actually nothing had changed and that he was unnecessarily risking his life. With help of Levar and Ropac and their superior in Karlovac, he managed to get out of Gospic alive and move to Zagreb.
When the attempts to replace Norac also failed, they realized that they should get out of both the Croatian Army and Gospic. Levar also gave up the Army. All three of them were left without work, without a permanent source of income. Disappointed in those who allegedly supported them in uncovering of the crimes in Gospic and usurpation of power, convinced that they were simply used as pawns in a fraction showdown between the state leaders, they had no other recourse but to relate everything they had been through to those willing to listen and who, based on their judgment, did not present a threat.
Colonel Rendulic, who a year later after all ended up as the commander of the IPD in Lika, was one of them. As he himself knew quite a lot about the events in that region, within his regular intelligence-counterintelligence work he started collecting additional information. Naturally, that resulted in a counterattack. In 1993 his family home was blown up in Lika, and Levar, Ropac and Bando were accused for the crime and arrested. Thus, with one blow, all four received a drastic warning to stop snooping. Although Colonel Rendulic testified that Levar, Ropac and Bando had not blown up his house, the three of them were released from jail only after an intervention from the Croatian Army Chiefs of Staff.
Embittered, they for the first time decided to speak out publicly about everything they knew expecting that that would force the government institutions to stop suppressing information about the events in Gospic and protecting the culprits. With assistance of Josip Manolic a part of their testimony was published in the weekly Danas, which was at the time edited by Hloverka Novak-Srzic. However, after threats and pressures, the author of the article and the editorial board gave in and decided not to publish the remainder of the testimony. Also, there was no wider reaction, so that the Gospic case again ended up on back burner.
True, parts of the story would from time to time make it to the public, but they were always denied and sent back to oblivion. All until Tihomir Oreskovic decided to become the mayor of Petrusic, which provoked Levar and his friends to again try to alarm the public and win it over in their attempt to finally sort things out. Although this time they managed to penetrate a significant number of domestic, as well as foreign media, their only achievement was that Oreskovic had to give up his office in Petrusic.
On the other hand, a public campaign against them started. Continuous threats and pressures grew into open threats, backed up by throwing and setting off of explosive devices in front of Levar's family home and Bando's vacation home in Karlobag. Determined to this time go to the end, after again hitting the closed door of the Croatian authorities, they finally approached the Hague Tribunal, aware that in such a constellation of relations, after everything they had attempted, they could not stay in Gospic and Croatia anymore. Expecting that the mere act of approaching the Hague Tribunal would force the authorities in Croatia to change something in Gospic, Milan Levar rejected the offer to enter the protected witness program and leave Croatia, in order to await a possible trial in the Hague healthy and alive.
Finally, Zdenko Ropac, with the assistance of Dobroslav Paraga found shelter in Germany, and after him, in semi-private arrangements and with only after the fact assistance from the Hague Tribunal, Zdenko Bando and Tomislav Oreskovic did the same. Levar chose the most risky solution. Apart from staying in Croatia, he refused the Hague prosecutor's request to stop testifying in public about events in Gospic, and to stop discussing his contacts with the Hague Tribunal. He talked publicly about both whenever he had a chance, giving increasingly more detail, even about information he had heard from other sources but was convinced that it was accurate.
He turned himself into a sort of a collector of evidence about tragic human destinies, which in turn made him into a more prominent target for execution, not only because of his testimonies but also as a warning and threat to others who followed his example. Levar's murder is a blunt message indicating what could happen to them if they follow his path.