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ANALYSIS: Dubrovnik Indictment

The Hague indicts four Yugoslav officers for the siege of Dubrovnik.
By Mirko Klarin

The tribunal detention unit, known as "Generals' HQ" is hoping to receive two more high-ranking officers next week, following publication on October 2 of an indictment for crimes committed in and around the city of Dubrovnik.


Two out of four Yugoslav officers charged with atrocities during the battle to capture Dubrovnik in 1991 - Lieutenant General Pavle Strugar, commander of the Second Operational Group, and Vice Admiral Miodrag Jokic - have indicated their willingness to voluntarily surrender to the tribunal.


Two other officers, Vice Admiral Milan Zec, a former battleship captain who became Jokic's deputy and Captain Vladimir Kovacevic, also known as "Rambo", were also indicted, but remain at large.


All four are charged on 12 counts of violations of the laws and customs of war. These include murder; cruel treatment; attacks on civilians; unjustified devastation; unlawful targeting of civilians; destruction or willful damage to historic monuments and institutions dedicated to religion.


In addition, the three senior commanding officers - Strugar, Jokic and Zec - are charged with one count of grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Convention, and three counts of violations of the laws or customs of war.


The four counts are: extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly; wanton destruction of villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity; destruction or wilful damage done to institutions dedicated to education or religion; plunder of public or private property.


With the exception of Zec, charged solely on the basis of his individual criminal responsibilities, the other accused have also been charged on the basis of their command responsibility.


The conflict stemmed from a plan conceived by Serbia and Montenegro, partners in the Yugoslav federation, to wrest the city and its surrounding areas from Croatia and recreate the independent Republic of Dubrovnik, which existed from 1358 until 1808. The intention was to subsequently annex the conquered areas, coupled with other Serb-contolled parts of Croatia and Bosnia, to the Yugoslav federation.


The mission was entrusted to the then Yugoslav People's Army, JNA, and the Yugoslav Navy, JRM, as well as to the units of the Territorial Defence, TO, of Montenegro.


The three months of fighting cost more than 200 lives and damaged some 70 per cent of buildings in the Old Town, which UNESCO designated a World Cultural Heritage site in 1979.


The town of Dubrovnik was established sometime prior to 667 AD as a city-state, nominally aligned to the Byzantine Empire. From 1358 until 1808, it existed as an independent republic, with varying degrees of control exercised at various times by the Ottoman and Austrian Empires. In 1918, Dubrovnik along with the rest of Croatia was incorporated into Yugoslavia.


In seeking to "restore" the medieval republic, the forces of Serbia and Montenegro reduced parts of the city to ruin. "It does not matter," said Bozo Vucurevic, the then Serbian mayor of nearby town of Trebinje, whose military and paramilitary units "distinguished" themselves in the "revival" of Dubrovnik. "We shall build a much nicer, bigger and 'older' Dubrovnik."


On October 2, 2001, exactly ten years after the battle began, the so-called Dubrovnik indictment was made public in The Hague. Even though the decision to revive a republic of Dubrovnik was undoubtedly made by the then political leadership in Belgrade and Podgorica, The Hague decided for the time being to bring charges only against officers who led the fighting.


It kept the indictment secret for seven months in the hope of making the arrests easier. But after receiving the sealed warrants, Montenegro said the accused had left the country. Serbian remained silent over the matter. Hague prosecutor Carla Del Ponte then decided there was no longer any point in concealing the indictments from the public.


Her strategy might bring early success. Immediately after publication of the charges, Podgorica confirmed that Strugar is, after all, in Montenegro and is prepared to surrender to the tribunal.


It was also learnt that Jokic is in Belgrade, where he's involved in the leadership of New Democracy, one of the parties comprising the ruling DOS coalition. The party head is the current interior minister of Serbia, Dusan Mihajlovic. Jokic might also decide to go voluntarily to The Hague in order to spare his party boss the embarrassment of arresting him, some analysts suggest.


The whereabouts of the remaining two suspects is unknown but it is assumed they could be in Serbia as well. The arrival of Jokic and Strugar would increase the number of high-ranking officers at the detention unit to ten. Jokic would be the first admiral to arrive at the "General's HQ", which includes officers from all the armies that have waged war in former Yugoslavia - except for the Kosovo Liberation Army, National Liberation Army, and the Macedonian army.


Mirko Klarin is IWPR senior editor for the war crimes tribunal and editor-in-chief of SENSE News Agency.