ANALYSIS: Milosevic Indicted Over Croatian Crimes

Slobodan Milosevic is said to have led a conspiracy to commit war crimes in Croatia

ANALYSIS: Milosevic Indicted Over Croatian Crimes

Slobodan Milosevic is said to have led a conspiracy to commit war crimes in Croatia

Saturday, 13 October, 2001

The Hague tribunal has indicted former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic for atrocities in Croatia, saying he was the head of a conspiracy to commit war crimes there between August 1991 and 1992.

The tribunal's latest indictment also names 15 other members of the plot. Apart from Milosevic and two alleged members who have been killed, all those listed are still under investigation for involvement in the conspiracy.

According to the indictment, the war against Croatia, at least formally, was not waged by Yugoslavia, then in process of dissolution, nor by Serbia, but by Milosevic and his fellow conspirators who had hijacked the country's institutions and used them for the purpose of a joint criminal enterprise.

It is expected that Del Ponte will adopt the same formula in the indictment for genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, due to be issued in the next few weeks.

Observers suggested that, paradoxically, indictments thus defined might help Belgrade challenge the genocide cases initiated by Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina against the former Yugoslavia before another UN body, the International Court of Justice, ICJ.

Since this court deals exclusively with inter-state cases, Belgrade may use the new Carle Del Ponte approach to challenge its mandate to deal with individual conspirators conducting a joint criminal enterprise.

Along with Milosevic, Borisav Jovic and Branko Kostic, members of the "rump federal presidency" - what remained of the old collective Yugoslav presidency once representatives of newly independent states withdrew - were also named by the prosecutor as key conspirators.

The two men were Milosevic's chief agents in the "rump presidency" which acted as a collective Commander in Chief of the Yugoslav National Army, JNA. According to the indictment, they acted unswervingly to execute Milosevic's policies.

Other prominent conspirators named on the indictment are Generals Veljko Kadijevic, a former federal defence minister, and Blagoje Adzic, the JNA Chief of Staff. Their role in the plot, the indictment said, was to ensure effective control over the remnants of the disintegrating JNA and the Serbian-Montenegrin Territorial Defence Forces, TO, which virtually acted as a private army.

An important role in the conspiracy was attributed to Aleksandar Vasiljevic, who, at the time, headed the army's counter-intelligence service. The indictment said the service, under his command, "participated in activities designed to stir up hate, fear and violence" and also "directed and supported local Croatian Serb political leaders and local Serb police and military forces, including volunteers from Serbia".

Further down the list of conspirators were Jovica Stanisic, then chief of Serbian state security and Franko Simatovic, also known as "Frenki", who headed special operations in the state security organisation. The indictment said police forces under their command took a direct part in crimes in Croatia and provided arms, funds, training and other assistance to Serb volunteer units.

Next on the list was General Tomislav Simovic who as Serbia's defence minister participated in conspiracy by forming and equipping Serbian volunteer units which perpetrated crimes cited in the indictment.

Then came three leaders of the self-proclaimed Serb Autonomous Regions, SAO, in Croatia, and eastern Slovenia. Milan Martic, Milan Babic and Goran Hadzic, according to the indictment, were "organising and administering the actions of the joint criminal enterprise in the Krajina region of Croatia and in eastern Slavonia".

Two of the men on the list had been killed in Belgrade during the last years of Milosevic's rule. One was Radovan Stojicic, a former police chief also known as "Badza", whose role in the plot in 1991 was to establish the Serb territorial defence unit in Slavonia and who, according to Milsoevic's indictment, personally participated in some crimes in eastern Slavonia.

The other was Zeljko Raznatovic, the notorious "Arkan", who headed the Serbian Volunteer Guard (The Tigers) which committed crimes in eastern Croatia in 1991 and later in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Another named conspirator was Vojislav Seselj, president of the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, who recruited the volunteer paramilitary units known as Chetniks. These units committed some of the worst crimes laid at Milosevic's door.

Last on the list is Momir Bulatovic, former president of Montenegro, who mobilised and equipped the Montenegrin Territorial Defence and volunteers and police units which were active in Dubrovnik and on other fronts in Croatia.

With the exception of Martic, who was already charged with rocket attacks on Zagreb in May 1995, and the two defendants already killed, all other persons on this list are still under investigation, according to the prosecutor's spokeswoman Florence Hartmann.

The names mentioned in the indictment against Milosevic are not unknown to regular readers of IWPR. In February 1997, issue No. 7 of the IWPR newsletter TRIBUNAL, carried an article by the well-known Belgrade lawyer Srdja Popovic entitled "The Milosevic Conspiracy", describing the wars in Croatia and Bosnia precisely as a "joint criminal enterprise". The article cited 12 of the 15 persons listed in the indictment as Milosevic's conspirators.

According to The Hague indictment, the conspirators plotted "the forcible

removal of the majority of the Croat and other non-Serb inhabitants from approximately one-third of Croatia, an area they planned to make part of a new Serb-dominated state".

The indictment said Milosevic had "effective control or substantial influence" over the conspirators and that he, either alone or with their assistance, assigned Serb police and military forces to seize towns, villages and settlements in parts of Croatia. After the take-over, Serb forces established a regime of persecution to drive non-Serbs from these territories.

Hundreds of non-Serb civilians were murdered (an annex to the indictment lists 694 victims from Vukovar, Dubrovnik, Dalj, Erdut, Skabrnja and other Croatian towns) and at least 170,000 other civilians were either forced out of their homes or held in inhuman captivity.

In a total of 32 counts, Milosevic is accused with crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva

Conventions, violations of the law or customs of war, as well as persecution, extermination, wilful killing, unlawful confinement, torture, unlawful deportation and wanton destruction or appropriation of property.

Under normal tribunal procedure, after an indictment is confirmed the accused should be brought before the trial chamber "without delay" and asked to enter a plea. In this case, the judges have opted for a brief postponement.

Milosevic's initial appearance has been fixed for the end of the month, to coincide with his next status conference on October 29.

The judges' move could be interpreted as a means of allowing Milosevic more time to review the indictment, or that they simply wished to deprive him of another opportunity for "political theatre" in The Hague courtroom.

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

Support our journalists