Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

ANALYSIS: Reporters Disclose Vukovar Sources

Belgrade journalists identify sources for articles they wrote about the massacre of Croatian solidiers and civilians after the fall of Vukovar.
By Mirko Klarin

In the argument over whether reporters can be forced to testify in war


crimes trials, one thing neither side disputes is the right of reporters to


protect their sources. Both supporters and opponents of the subpoena issued


against the former Washington Post reporter Johnathan Randal agree that journalists


- whether they appeared in court voluntarily or under threat of punishment -


may not be compelled to disclose their sources.


Two Belgrade reporters who testified last week in the trial against Slobodan


Milosevic revealed their sources of information without any hesitation or


coercion, however.


Moreover, although the court offered to protect their identity through pseudonyms and distorted images, they renounced their right to such measures and volunteered to reveal the identity of their sources in a public session.


Some of their sources obviously did not like this, making threats to at least one of


the witnesses. The judges took the threats seriously enough to close the


remaining part of his testimony to the public on the second and third day.


The value of the testimonies of Dejan Anastasijevic and Jovan Dulovic who


both work for the weekly magazine Vreme was not the information they offered


- which has already been reported in Serbia - but the sources they revealed.


Back in 1994 or 1995, Anastasijevic published articles in Vreme,


claiming that after the capture of Vukovar on November 20, 1991, Yugoslav


National Army, JNA, soldiers took more than 200 wounded men and civilians


from the local hospital, transported them in army trucks to the Ovcara


agricultural complex and handed them over to members of the territorial


defense - local army reserve units - who then executed them.


Citing unidentified "top JNA officers", Anastasijevic wrote in those articles that the officer in


charge of this operation was Veselin Sljivancanin, commander of the First Guardian Motor


Brigade.


Anastasijevic revealed to the court that General Aleksandar Vasiljevic, then head of the


JNA counter-intelligence department, KOS, had told him and other journalists


off record that Sljivancanin was responsible for the massacre.


After testifying, Anastasijevic said he disclosed his source because


Vasiljevic had publicly said he would testify in the Milosevic trial and


because he is convinced the general would confirm he was the source of this


information in his testimony. The indictment against Milosevic names


Vasiljevic as one of the participants in the "joint criminal enterprise".


The remaining part of Anastasijevic's testimony disclosed no other sources.


But it did what Jonathan Randal has refused to do - namely confirm before


the court his interview in the early Nineties with The Hague indictee


Radoslav Brdjanin, then president of the Serbian crisis staff in north-west


Bosnia.


During the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, Anastasijevic published several


interviews with the Serbian nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj, the


notorious paramilitary chief and gangster Zeljko "Arkan" Raznjatovic, and the former


Croatian Serb representative Goran Hadzic. All three are named in Milosevic's indictment as


participants in a "joint criminal enterprise".


Last week, he confirmed before the court that all three had told him of


their connections with the then Serbian secret police chief Jovica Stanisic


and of the help Stanisic provided in arming, equipping and training their


"volunteers" and paramilitary formations.


He confirmed that the commander of the Territorial Defense of eastern


Slavonija, which "received" the civilians taken from Vukovar hospital by


Sljivancanin, was one of Stanisic's secret police collaborators, Radovan


"Bazda" Stojicic.


If Anastasijevic's testimony provided a "framework" for the prosecutor's


version of the massacre in Ovcara, his colleague Jovan Dulovic supplied


abundant detail to this mosaic in his testimony before it was closed to the


public.


Dulovic was also present in the Vukovar area shortly after the massacre, but


thanks to the "patriotic" reputation of his newspaper, Politika ekspres, he was better placed than


Anastasijevic, then a reporter for the "unpatriotic" radio station, B-92. Dulovic's


testimony suggested JNA officers, local territorial defense members and


volunteers from Serbia treated him as "one of them" and served as his sources.


They confided, boasted and even complained to him, and gave him free access to the JNA command center at Ulica Nova 81 in the Vukovar suburb of Borovo Selo.


Several days before Vukovar fell, Dulovic overheard Seselj, president of the


Serbian Radical Party and leader of paramilitary group known as the


"Seseljians" or "Chetniks", make a speech to a large group of JNA officers.


Through a partly opened door Dulovic allegedly recorded every word Seselj


uttered.


He quoted him before the court, "We're all one army. This war is a great


test for Serbs. Those who pass the test will become winners. Deserters


cannot go unpunished. Not a single Ustasha (Croat extremist) must leave Vukovar alive. We have accepted the concept of a federal army so that there is no legal basis for the interference of foreign powers in our conflict. The army is fighting rebel Croats. The army has


shown it was able to cleanse its ranks. We have a unified command consisting


of military experts who know what they're doing."


The prosecutor must prove that the JNA, territorial defense and the


volunteers from Serbia acted exactly as Seselj said, as "one army" with a


"unified command" and that the Ovcara massacre formed part of the plan to


ensure "not a single Ustasha must leave Vukovar alive". Everything Dulovic


saw and heard and told the court, naming the source of every piece of


information, leads to such a conclusion.


Dulovic was present around midday on November 20, 1991 when Major


Sljivancanin denied the ICRC access to Vukovar hospital. At that time, a


large number of civilians were waiting in the courtyard of the hospital to


be evacuated. Dulovic saw Sljivancanin at the entrance at the moment when


his soldiers were taking the patients, wounded men and other civilians onto


army trucks and buses, which then left one after another.


The following morning, Dulovic found out what had happened to those people


over coffee and brandy with the hosts of the house where he was staying, a


red-bearded "chetnik" from Smederevo and a woman named Dragica from Novi


Sad, both members of Seselj's unit.


The male paramilitary boasted that he had been "killing Croats at Ovcara"


from 5pm until 1am and that the victims were "wailing and begging not to be


killed", all in vain. The woman confirmed this to Dulovic when they were alone, admitting she had


also killed several men.


Dulovic said Dragica told him Sljivancanin had not been present at Ovcara


but had left a note saying they "should not kill them all" but leave


"several men for him to test his weapon" - a machine gun he always carried


across his chest.


Dulovic then went to the JNA command centre on the other side of the street.


There, in a yard, he saw a pile of camouflaged uniforms with trouser legs soaked in


blood. He found the territorial defense commander, Stanko Vujanovic, who complained that after the JNA handed over the men from the hospital "he did not have enough men of his own and therefore had to deploy drunken Seselj men who were talking" of what happened at Ovcara the previous night.


The triangle that connected the JNA, the territorial defense and the


volunteers from Serbia appears to have been finally confirmed when he spoke to Captain


Miroslav Radic. When Dulovic told him about "rumours" of the events in


Ovcara, he angrily waved his hand, swore and murmured, "What was done... was


done".


In the late Nineties, Dulovic published several articles about "what was done" in Ovcara on


November 20, 1991 where he revealed most or almost all of the information


he presented in his testimony. But the articles did not name the sources,


which he now disclosed. Dulovic had given their names to the investigative


judge of the Belgrade military court, which invited him to make a statement


in February 2000.


Although he revealed names of several participants in the Vukovar massacre,


the investigation was conducted against "unknown offenders", and this fact,


Dulovic said, showed the JNA and the authorities supported the offenders and


were not interested in discovering or punishing them. As far as he knew, the


military court never invited or interrogated any of the persons he named.


Due to "changed circumstances" the second part of Dulovic's testmony was in


closed session, so we do not know whether or how Milosevic disputed his


statements in the cross-examination or tried to devalue his sources. In the


cross-examination of Anastasijevic, however, Milosevic said the fact that


the men taken from Vukovar hospital on November 20, 1991 ended up in the


hands of the territorial defense indicated they were killed in "a local


conflict" that the JNA and Serbia "had nothing to do with".


Anastasijevic pointed out two weak points in this interpretation. Firstly,


JNA troops under Sljivancanin took the men from hospital and handed them


over to the territorial defense. Secondly, the latter was then commanded by


Radovan "Bazda" Stojicic from the Serbian state security service.


Dulovic added another potentially important link to the chain that may


establish a connection between Milosevic's Serbia and the JNA and other


forces engaged in Croatia in the second half of 1991. He enclosed a


classified document dispatched in autumn 1991 from the Serbian defence


ministry to the commander of the First Military Zone, covering western Serbia and eastern Croatia, which he allegedly received from a commander then working there, one Lieutenant-Colonel Milan Eremija.


In this "urgent" telegram, the defence minister, Tomislav Simovic,


complained to the JNA commander of the presence in eastern Croatia of paramilitary formations


from Serbia whose "main objective was not to fight the enemy but to loot and


molest innocent civilians of Croatian nationality". He described an incident


in the village of Lovas where volunteers from Serbia had forced Croat


villagers to walk across a minefield. Seventeen civilians were killed.


The minister suggested the JNA and Serbian authorities should jointly disarm


the paramilitary formations. But according to Dulovic, this was an "almost


impossible task" because of the large number of the latter and armed


volunteer groups and also because so few conscripts and reserve soldiers


from Serbia were willing to respond to calls to join the army. Dulovic said


he "never saw any attempt at disarmament of paramilitary formations", which


he said suggested Simovic's initiative "was rejected at top level" by both


the military and Milosevic's government.


Dulovic realised why this initiative had to be rejected in April 1992 when


war broke out in Bosnia. Dulovic and fellow journalists toured the Drina


river, the natural border between Serbia and Bosnia, and recognised many


Seseljians and members of other paramilitary formations he had met in


eastern Slavonija six months earlier.


There, too, they operated as an advance guard for the JNA, which provided


artillery and other supporting fire from a distance, while they killed people,


burned houses, destroyed mosques and drove people from their villages in


columns towards Bosniak - (Bosnian Muslim) controlled territory. Unfortunately, the larger part of Dulovic's testimony about what he saw in eastern Slavonija in 1992 was given


in closed sessions.


One of the arguments used by Jonathan Randal and the media organisations


which support his appeal against a tribunal subpoena is that his appearance


in court as a witness in a war crime trial may jeopardise reporters in


future conflicts. Dulovic's case showed the risks attending taking the


witness stand are about equal to those in war reporting.


Just before Dulovic entered The Hague courtroom, Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice


submitted a request to the trial chamber for protective measures for some of


the witnesses who will appear later in the Milosevic trial, indicating they were


"individuals exposed to a high level of risk".


The request may have been instigated by the fact that one of the


prosecution's planned witnesses, known by his code name C-028, has been


threatened. This information was revealed when it was agreed to hold a closed session hearing for this witness. "Former Yugoslavia is a dangerous place and we, who do the field work, are aware of that," Nice said in his request. The emphasis was on "we" (the prosecutors), as opposed to "you" (the judges).


Dermot Groome, one of Nice's prosecution team, afterwards announced the


arrival of protected witness C-004. He explained that the prosecution was


advised that "Yugoslav authorities had been informed that this witness


received threats" but still wanted to testify with his identity disclosed in


open session. The trial chamber accepted this request and after the removal


of protective measures, C-004 became Jovan Dulovic. Several days before


this, the same thing was done for witness K-1, Dejan Anastasijevic.


By agreeing to testify at this trial in public in spite of the risks,


Anastasijevic and Dulovic repaid part of the debt owed by their profession towards the victims in former Yugoslavia. Without the latter's blind, unreserved and enthusiastic support for Milosevic he could not have done what he did.


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