Anti-Hague Army Unit Abolished

A commission believed to be passing information to Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague has been abolished.

Anti-Hague Army Unit Abolished

A commission believed to be passing information to Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague has been abolished.

The authorities in Belgrade have abolished a military commission suspected of passing information to Slobodan Milosevic in The Hague.

The commission was packed with conservative Yugoslav generals, and its disbandment may be intended as a signal that their passive resistance to the tribunal will no longer be tolerated.

The defence minister of Serbia-Montenegro, Boris Tadic, issued an order dissolving the commission on April 11.

Tadic's appointment to the new post of defence chief of Serbia and Montenegro in March marks a significant shift in the way the military is managed. The Democratic Party of slain prime minister Zoran Djindjic and the Democratic Party of Socialists led by Montenegrin prime minister Milo Djukanovic are now in charge, and have started reforms designed in part to marginalise the conservative anti-Hague lobby.

Until the end of last year control of the military was in the hands of former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. A conservative who was critical of the war crimes tribunal, Kostunica was present at the defence staff meeting where plans for the commission were discussed, so he would have been well aware of its existence.

The Commission for Cooperation with The Hague Tribunal was set up in spring 2001 by the then defence minister, Slobodan Krapovic, and army chief of staff Nebojsa Pavkovic. Its brief was to search through the army's archives for evidence in support of those indicted by tribunal - particularly military men.

Officially, the authorities in Belgrade pledged that only those who surrendered to The Hague voluntarily would be entitled to commission support in gathering evidence for their defence.

But it now appears that the commission was feeding information to Milosevic, who does not fall into this category.

The new Serbia-Montenegro defence ministry has not disclosed the names of those who had access to the valuable documentation which the commission was sifting through. However, the evidence that Milosevic has been covertly supported by the commission is circumstantial but strong.

First, during his trial Milosevic has put specific and detailed questions to prosecution witnesses based on accurate, in-depth information about events that took place on the battlefield and across the theatre of military operations. He has demonstrated knowledge about specific army units and individuals.

Milosevic has never identified his sources, but the sheer scale of his information, and the manner in which he has presented it, suggest that he has had access to the kind of comprehensive documentation that only the army possesses.

Second, in addition to archive documents, Milosevic has clearly had access to other kinds of sensitive information. A case in point is his examination of prosecution witness Milan Babic, the former political leader of the Serb entity in Croatia, Republika Srpska Krajina. Milosevic accused Babic of preparing his testimony in advance with the help of Croatian intelligence.

There is no way that Milosevic could have gained access to information about alleged secret meetings and telephone conversations between Babic and Croatian secret service officers, unless he had his own intelligence sources.

A source in the Serbia-Montenegro army has told IWPR that a close analysis of Milosevic's defence strategy suggests that the commission was indeed helping him - and that it was abetted by the army's security service, a bastion of anti-Hague sentiment. The source alleges that former members of military security were recruited especially to collect information for the Milosevic trial.

Abolition of the commission is likely to significantly damage the ability of Milosevic - as well as others at The Hague - to build a defence case.

It may also have wider ramifications. The army's tribunal commission was at the epicentre of conservative thinking in the military. By removing it, the government has weakened the network of senior army officers opposed to the tribunal process and determined to obstruct it.

A cursory look at the commission's membership shows a list of men with strong ties to the Milosevic presidency.

There are thought to have been 28 retired senior officers on the commission. At the helm was Lieutenant-General Zlatoje Terzic, who kept a low profile as he was still in active service.

Second to Terzic was General Milan Gvero, a former close aide to General Ratko Mladic, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb army who is one of the tribunal's most wanted men. Mladic is thought to be hiding in Serbia, and enjoying the unofficial protection of the army. Gvero left the military after Bosnian Serb president Biljana Plavsic expelled the most nationalist elements in 1996. He moved to Belgrade, where - now retired - he continued to assist Mladic, according to IWPR sources close to the army.

Formally number two on the commission, retired General Geza Farkas comes from the hardline conservative wing of the army, and was close to the Yugoslav Left party led by Mira Markovic, Milosevic's wife. The fact that Farkas was in charge of the army security service during the war in Kosovo shows just how intertwined the links between military intelligence and the commission were.

Military analysts in Belgrade say that General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who as then chief of staff was closely involved in establishing the commission in 2001, may have had personal motives for doing so. It would have come in very handy if Pavkovic himself had been called to The Hague to answer for his behaviour during the Kosovo conflict.

Pavlovic is now in trouble, although not for alleged war crimes. He was arrested by Serbia-Montenegro military investigators on April 1. The allegation that while he was in overall command of it, the army aided and abetted the failed assassination attempt on opposition politician Vuko Draskovic

It is far too early to say whether the anti-Hague lobby in the military has been badly damaged by the removal of the commission. However, with a new team in charge at the Serbia-Montenegro defence ministry there is at least talk of a clear-out to make sure the army is not harbouring war crimes suspects.

The end of the commission has been in sight ever since Tadic was given the new post of defence chief of the union. Immediately after his appointment Tadic said the joint army would cooperate with The Hague, and that it would no longer offer safe haven to those indicted by the tribunal.

His remarks echoed those of the Serbia-Montenegro president, Svetozar Marovic, who told Serbia's Vecernje Novosti in March that he had received assurances from the chief of staff that "the army is doing its job in line with the law, and is not harbouring anyone. It is important to eliminate any suspicion that certain structures in the army are doing this".

Without going into specifics, Tadic has said that some illegal activities may have taken place, and he has promised an investigation. Some military analysts interpret this as an acknowledgement that parts of the army may have helped hide Mladic.

Dismembering the anti-Hague network within the Serbia-Montenegro military would make it much easier to find war crimes suspects and hand them over to the tribunal. There may be a long way to go before Mladic appears in court - but the end of the military commission may represent a first, small step.

Aleksandar Radic is an independent military analyst based in Belgrade.

Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia
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