ANALYSIS: First Milosevic 'Insider' Testifies

An Albanian who served as a captain in the Yugoslav army at the height of the Kosovo conflict challenges key elements of Milosevic's defence.

ANALYSIS: First Milosevic 'Insider' Testifies

An Albanian who served as a captain in the Yugoslav army at the height of the Kosovo conflict challenges key elements of Milosevic's defence.

At the end of the May 8 hearing, Slobodan Milosevic strongly objected to the protected witness status of Witness K4, whose appearance - scheduled for the following day - was billed as the first time the court would hear an "insider" testify against Milosevic.


Since the witness was a Kosovo Albanian living in Kosovo, Milosevic said, there was no need for protective measures or "secret testimony".


At the start of the May 9 hearing, Milosevic then objected to the prosecutor's announcement that Witness K4 had withdrawn his request for protective measures and would testify in open session.


Complaining that it was not the first time "the other side", as he calls the prosecution, had "changed the status of a secret into a public witness on the very day of their appearance in court", Milosevic said it showed "ill intention".


The judges rejected this as "completely ungrounded" while Dirk Ryneveld,


head of the prosecution team for Kosovo, described it as "indecent". But


for Milosevic's supporters at home and abroad, it will serve as additional "proof" of the way the "false tribunal" manipulates their idol.


A minor incident, it served to illustrate his mastery of the technique that the writer George Orwell defined as "double-think" - advocating mutually exclusive positions simultaneously. Milosevic has been using this skill from the start - trying to have it "both ways" and often succeeding. (see Tribunal Update 253).


But if the word "insider" meant that the witness belonged to Milosevic's inner circle and possessed first-hand information about his role in the events covered by the indictments, Nike Peraj, as he was called, hardly fitted the description.


The first time he met the accused was in the courtroom. What made Peraj a


special kind of "insider" was the fact that at the time covered by the


indictment he was one of a handful of Kosovo Albanians to serve as an


officer in the Yugoslav Army (which was only possible because he was a


Catholic and not a Muslim like the majority).


As a captain, he had been in charge of transport, training and security in


the Pristina garrison and the anti-aircraft and artillery brigade in


Djakovica at the time of the Kosovo conflict.


When army pulled out of Kosovo before the arrival of international forces, KFOR, in mid-June 1999, Peraj remained behind. A military court in Nis, in southern Serbia, sentenced him in absentia to 15 years in prison for desertion.


In accordance with the Rule 92bis (of the Tribunal's rules of procedure and


evidence) Peraj's testimony came in the form of a written statement. He


came to The Hague to be cross-examined by the accused and the amici curiae (friends of the court).


Both the amici and the judges doubted whether such an important witness


should present his testimony in a written statement. But the prosecution


said it was necessary because of the time limit the trial chamber had


imposed, urging completion of presentation of evidence for all three


indictments by April 10, 2003.


On account of his significance, however, the judges allowed the prosecution


more than the usual five minutes to present a summary of the witness's


written statement, while the defendant was granted 150 minutes for


cross-examination instead of the usual hour.


The summary, read out by Prosecutor Ryneveld, contained Peraj's description of the military action planned against the Albanians of the Djakovica area in early March 1999.


Peraj's statement was important, firstly because it claimed these plans


predated NATO strikes by several weeks and secondly because it included a


claim that the Kosovo Liberation Army had left the area by the end of 1998 and that "there was no resistance by KLA in the area of Djakovica"


after that.


This contradicted two key points of Milosevic's defense. He has always held


that the massive population movements and killings in Kosovo were a


consequence firstly of NATO and KLA actions and secondly from Serb clashes with the latter which forced civilians to flee.


Peraj's statement said Operation Meja began at dawn on April 27, 1999 as a


joint action of the Yugoslav army, Serbian police, MUP, units, local police


and paramilitary formations. It was coordinated by army command in


Djakovica.


It said the army advanced along the Carragojs, Erenik and Trava valleys in


the Djakovica area, burning Albanian villages and driving civilians in the


direction of Serbian police and paramilitary formations, who blocked their


escape.


The statement said fleeing villagers left for Djakovica in convoys of


tractors, carts and cars and that police and paramilitary units intercepted


them at Meja and Korenica, separating the men from women and shooting many of the former on the spot.


The next day at Yugoslav army command in Djakovica, Captain Peraj alleges he saw an official report stating that 74 "terrorists" had been killed in


Korenica and 68 in Meja.


Peraj's statement said he personally saw the bodies of about 20 men killed


at close range, with gunpowder burns on their heads. He said he also saw


two Yugoslav army trucks transporting the bodies along the Meja-Djakovica road two days after Operation Meja.


The statement contained a detailed description of the structure and


deployment of Yugoslav Army units, MUP, the Territorial Defense and


paramilitary forces in Kosovo in the spring of 1999.


Among the paramilitary forces, he listed the Tigers of Zeljko Raznatovic


"Arkan", the White Eagles of the Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj and


the Frenkies, who were a special police anti-terrorist unit.


He said that after NATO strikes started, groups of five to 10 "volunteers", often men with criminal backgrounds, came from Serbia to Kosovo to join army units. In replies to Milosevic's other questions, disputing the allegations about Serbian paramilitary forces in Kosovo, Peraj described in detail the savage acts of the Tigers, White Eagles and Frenkies in Djakovica.


As usual, Milosevic used two-thirds of the time scheduled for


cross-examination of the first "insider" witness for "peripheral issues",


neglecting to address Peraj's main theme - Operation Meja, in which, he claims, dozens of villages were burned, their inhabitants deported and hundreds killed.


It was unclear whether he would address these issues in the remaining third


of the cross-examination on May 13. In fact, he neglected the core of Peraj's testimony, but through his "peripheral questions" revealed two little-known details about the "fraternal" aid the Serbs received from abroad at the height of the NATO air strikes.


Pointing out that Peraj's written statement mentioned a group of "Russian


volunteers" who came to Djakovica in April 1999, Milosevic suggested one of them was a doctor and that they were a "humanitarian group".


Peraj responded that the volunteers were armed and in uniform and that the


Brigade commander in Djakovica had rejected their request to stay in the


town, declaring, "If you are volunteers, you should go to the front lines and fight. We already have enough here of those who have come to plunder".


A second new detail revealed by Milosevic's "peripheral questions" concerned the presence of a Bosnian Serb armored unit at Rezina,


near Djakovica. Milosevic, interestingly, did not deny that the armed


forces of a neighboring state, (or one of the entities of a neighboring


state), was stationed in Kosovo at the time.


Instead, he denied that this unit had come from the Republika Srpska with its own tanks, armored transporters and other heavy equipment, stating this was impossible because the RS was "occupied by SFOR".


Judge Richard May curtailed Milosevic's 15-minute dispute with the witness


over this, concluding that while the witness insisted the unit came from


the RS, he could not be sure if they brought their arms from the Bosnian Serb entity or got them in Serbia. The cross-examination of the former captain by the former commander in chief is due to continue next week, alongside fresh "insider" testimonies.


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


Serbia, Kosovo
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