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

Bosnia: Serb Police Target Karadzic Informer

Milan Lukic passed information on the ex-Bosnian Serb leader to The Hague, and his brother appears to have paid the price.
By Tanja Matic

A Bosnian Serb commander who had fed information on top war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic to the Hague tribunal was the target of a botched assassination attempt by police in Republika Srpska, RS, which left his brother dead, intelligence sources say.


Milan Lukic - who has been indicted by the Hague court – was not in the house near Visegrad when it was raided by Bosnian Serb police on April 18. His brother Novica, never accused of involvement in war crimes, was there at the time – and was summarily shot dead in front of his wife.


The botched raid made international headlines as the first time the authorities in RS had gone after an individual wanted by The Hague.


The attempt was welcomed by Lord Paddy Ashdown, the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, despite the killing. On April 20, he described the police raid as "the most serious attempt yet by the RS authorities to detain those indicted by the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia], and so ensure the RS meets its international and domestic legal obligations".


But IWPR investigations reveal a very different picture. The raid appears to have been a rogue operation to silence a man who was promising to deliver vital information about the network that protects and funds Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb leader, the tribunal’s most wanted suspect.


LUKIC PLANNED MEETING WITH HAGUE AGENT


IWPR has learned that Lukic had already provided the Hague with information on Karadzic.


Milan Lukic, 36, has been charged with some of the bloodiest war crimes in the Bosnian war, but is still seen as a hero by Bosnian Serb nationalists.


A source who holds a senior post in the RS police told IWPR that on the day of the shooting, Lukic was planning to meet an undercover agent from the Hague tribunal to hand over documents detailing an extensive drug conspiracy involving RS police, which benefits Karadzic’s underground network.


The tribunal would not confirm that Milan Lukic had arranged a meeting that day, but they told IWPR team that he was in regular contact with them.


A tribunal official was stunned that IWPR’s contact in the RS police had given the correct code name for the undercover agent dealing with Lukic. That lends great credibility to the source’s account and raises troubling questions about the tribunal’s internal security system.


When IWPR asked Jean-Daniel Ruch, Special Political Adviser to the Prosecutor, about whether the tribunal officials and RS police were in contact about the raid before it happened, he responded, “We neither sanctioned, nor were informed in advance of this operation. We learnt about it the next day. We are constantly pressing all relevant authorities to arrest fugitives. There was no particular encouragement from us to the RS MUP [interior ministry] to launch this operation.”


NOTORIOUS IN HIS OWN RIGHT


In the eyes of many survivors of the Bosnian war, Milan Lukic is implicated in more killings than any other indictee, with the exceptions of Karadzic and his top military commander Ratko Mladic.


Lukic was indicted in 1998 for crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. According to the Hague indictment, from mid-April 1992 to at least October 1994, Lukic and the men of his paramilitary unit, the White Eagles, committed dozens, if not hundreds, of crimes in the Visegrad municipality, including murder, torture, beatings, looting and destruction of property.


In September 2003, a court in Serbia sentenced him in absentia to 20 years in jail on separate charges, relating to the 1993 abduction and murder of 16 Bosnian Muslims in 1993, seized from a bus on the Serbian-Bosnian border.


Lukic has not been detained on either set of charges. Instead, he is known to have moved back and forth between Serbia and Bosnia, controlling his portfolio of businesses. According to a source in The Hague, Lukic owned or controlled “half the cafes in Visegrad”. Exploiting Bosnia’s porous eastern borders, he spent some of his time in the Serbian town of Obrenovac.


INSIDER KNOWLEDGE


Lukic was ideally placed to shed light on Karadzic’s current activities and possibly his whereabouts, because he is said to have been part of the web of businessmen, politicians and security force members protecting the former Bosnian Serb president.


Sources from both the RS and Bosnian state intelligence communities told IWPR that up until January this year, Lukic was part of Karadzic’s business network, in charge of a lucrative drug manufacturing operation - drugs were smuggled through Serbia into Bosnia, and vice-versa.


“Money obtained from narcotics smuggling was vital in supporting Karadzic’s life as a fugitive and provided Lukic with steady income,” said a source in the Bosnian government’s intelligence service who asked not to be identified.


In an interview with Hague officials, IWPR obtained confirmation that Milan Lukic has been talking to the tribunal for a couple of years.


“Last year he allegedly wanted to surrender. An operation was put in place to allow that to happen,” said a tribunal official. “But he never showed."


Lukic’s contacts with the Hague court intensified as his relationship with Karadzic soured.


In January things reached breaking point. According to the Bosnian intelligence source in Sarajevo, Lukic fell out with members of the Preventiva, as Karadzic’s armed protectors are called. The quarrel culminated in a shoot-out between Lukic and Karadzic’s bodyguards.


The fight was reportedly over a drugs shipment and the size of the cut in profits that Lukic would receive.


The same intelligence source recalled that Lukic “used to meet Karadzic’s bodyguards on the Serbia-Bosnia border, but this is not the case anymore”.


At least two independent sources say Lukic was wounded in the shootout.


The confrontation with Preventiva left him feeling insecure in Visegrad, his home turf.


To complicate matters further for Lukic, he can no longer feel safe in Belgrade, either. In March, his cousin, patron and fellow-indictee general Sreten Lukic was removed from his post of deputy interior minister by the newly-elected Serbian government.


In his increasingly exposed position, Milan Lukic began to be interested in collaborating with the Hague tribunal.


IWPR can reveal that in March this year, he told the tribunal that Karadzic was hiding in the village of Zaovine, near Visegrad. “We got the address. The owner of that house had links to the Lukic family,” said the Hague official. “Zaovine has been used as a crossing point for war criminals for years.” (See IWPR’s report Karadzic Raid: Not Even Close.


MISTAKEN IDENTITY


IWPR’s source in the RS police says that the April 18 raid against the Lukic household was launched in the mistaken belief that Milan Lukic intended to meet a Hague agent there.


The source says that Lukic was due to meet a representative of the tribunal on that date, to give him a documents indicating RS police involvement in illegal imports of acetic anhydride, a precursor chemical essential to producing heroin.


“The RS police intercepted a telephone conversation between Lukic and the local Hague agent, in which they arranged to meet at ‘Milan’s place’,” said the Bosnian Serb police source.


RS police took the message to mean the home of Lukic’s parents in the Visegrad suburb of Garcha, though in fact the meeting was intended to take place elsewhere, in the small Montenegrin town of Pluzine.


The raid, therefore, appears to have been designed to intercept Lukic and prevent him from meeting a Hague representative.


The official order for the raid on the house in Garcha came from a district court in the Serb segment of Sarajevo. It stated that the action was to stop “narcotics smuggling, organised crime, illegal border crossings and apprehension of war crimes indictees”.


The officers involved in the raid were part of the Bosnian Serb entity’s special police, and were not local men – they came from Banja Luka, Srpsko Sarajevo and Bijeljina. Neither the Visegrad police nor the international authorities were informed of the raid.


The official police statement after the raid said that the RS police had intended to “apprehend war criminals” and that during the action Novica Lukic was killed after he “offered resistance”. A police spokesman confirmed that Milan Lukic was one of the people they wanted to capture.


But an IWPR reporter at the Lukic home heard eyewitness accounts from the family suggesting that the police attacked the house on a shoot-to-kill basis, and were not trying to apprehend or deliver indicted war criminals alive.


The ground floor of the two-storey Lukic home is used by the brothers of Milan and Novica, who were away that day. Novica and his family lived on the first floor, with a separate front door.


Novica’s wife, Ruzica, told IWPR they were awoken at 7am by the sound of the door being broken down.


She insisted it was not possible that officers could have believed that anyone inside was in a position to resist, as the police statement suggested.


“Novica got up from the bed, still in his pyjamas, made two steps from the bed to the bedroom door, opened the door and was immediately shot from the front door,” she said.


The bedroom door where Novica was killed is only one-and-a-half metres from the front door.


Ruzica said that her husband was first shot in the legs, but that after he fell, the police wanted to make sure they did not capture him alive. “They shot several more bullets into his chest. He made no sound. There was no quarrel. There were no words,” she said.


A medical report confirmed that Novica was shot first in the legs. The IWPR reporter also noticed that the only bullet holes were on the floor of the hallway. This suggests that there was no crossfire and that Novica was, as his widow claimed, shot dead while lying down.


“Several policemen wearing masks over their faces ordered me to lie on the floor face down. Then they wrapped Novica in a blanket and dragged him down the stairs,” said Ruzica. An ambulance took Novica’s body to hospital.


The fatal attack contrasts sharply with the very different approach taken in a related raid on the same day.


Drazan Perendija, head of the local association of veterans of the Bosnian war, told IWPR that the home of Milan Lukic’s cousin Sredoje, indicted on the same war crimes charges, was also searched on April 18.


“The house was searched, policemen had no masks over the faces and nobody was hurt,” he said.


Called to the Bosnian Serb assembly on April 22 to give an account of the botched raid, RS police chief Radomir Njegus told deputies that there had been some “serious failures”. He noted that Novica Lukic bore a resemblance to Milan.


On April 20, the day after Novica’s funeral, the mood in Visegrad was angry and confused. The town on the river Drina was flooded with fresh posters supporting Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the Radical Party in Serbia.


THE DRUGS TRAIL


Sources at the Hague insist they do not have any documents on a narcotics trade involving Karadzic and Lukic.


“We do not have the resources to monitor drug trafficking in Bosnia.


There are only two persons in the tracking department; our time is full with trying to find the remaining indicted war criminals,” said one of the sources.


But other international law enforcement agencies in Bosnia are tracking the drugs business.


On the orders of Jonathan Ratel, one of the international prosecutors in Bosnia, RS police raided a factory in Visegrad on January 6, discovering 22.8 tons of acetic anhydride. The raid followed a tip-off from the Dutch authorities that large quantities of the chemical, used to make heroin, had been shipped to Bosnia from the Netherlands.


CODE OF SILENCE LIKELY TO PERSIST


RS authorities have suspended the two special police officers believed to have shot Novica and jailed them pending an investigation.


When IWPR asked the RS interior ministry about the police raid which left Novica dead as well as the drugs case, spokesman Zoran Glusac was tight-lipped. “The ministry of the interior of RS has said everything it has to say,” he said. “At the moment we have an investigation [into the April 18 raid] and until it is finished we will not say anything new.”


No matter what the investigation finally determines, the killing will have a chilling affect on the few individuals in RS who might have been prepared to cooperate with the Hague court.


Tribunal officials asked us the question that is on the minds a lot of people in Bosnia, “What do you think Milan Lukic will do now?"


Certainly, the latest action will keep him away from Visegrad for some time, according to the RS police source, “The message has now been delivered: if the local police are to arrest him he will be first shot and then handed over to the Hague.”


That is certainly worrying the Hague investigators to whom IWPR spoke. Their main concern is their agent on the ground, whose code name was known to the RS police officer.


But they have not given up hope that their one-time informant may still give himself up – if only to stay alive.


Nerma Jelacic is IWPR country director in Bosnia. Tanja Matic is Kosovo project coordinator. Hugh Griffiths is an investigations coordinator with IWPR.


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