Three Croatian Defenders killed in Ambush near Plitvice Lakes

On this day in 1991, Croatian Homeland War Heros Ivica Matovina, Stipe Matovina and Marko Šebalj were killed in an ambush at Sertić Poljana between the villages of Poljanak and Saborsko near Plitvice.

The three Croatian soldiers and their comrade-in-arms Milan Conjar left Saborsko for Slunj that day to seek medical help and medicine for the civilian population. They were ambushed by the enemy in the forest between Poljanka and Sertić Poljana on their way back from Slunj. A group of rebel Serbs led by Slobodan Uzelac from Plitvički Ljeskovac opened fire on their vehicle and Ivica Matovina (22), Marko Šebalj (21) and Stipe Matovina (22) were killed.

Only the severely wounded Milan Conjar, who pretended to be dead survived. Dane Matovina, who passed by shortly after the terrible crime, transported Conjar to the health center in Slunj from where he was transferred to a hospital in Bihać. He was released from the hospital towards the end of October 1991 and returned to defend Saborsko which was eventually occupied by Serbian rebels a month later. Conjar died as a result of his war wounds following Operation “STORM”.

Ivica Matovina was a participant in the First Croatian Police Officer Course held in August 1990. After graduation he was assigned to the “Rakitje” Special Task Unit from which the 1st A “Tigers” Brigade of the National Guard Corps was formed. Matovina was sent to Ilok with the “Tigers” and he returned to his home in the Saborsko area after war broke out there. Marko Šebalj, who was also in the “Tigers” similarly returned home to fight. Stipe Matovina (Ivica Matovina’s cousin) lived and worked in Zagreb in the summer of 1991 and also returned to his native Saborsko to help defend his village. The youngest of eight children born to Dane and Manda, Stipe Matovina attended an industrial secondary school in Zagreb where he graduated as a welder. He found employment at the Zagreb Steam Boiler Plant and joined the Ministry of the Interior of the Republic of Croatia when the war began.

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