Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
The trial of six former Serbian officials charged with war crimes in Kosovo this week heard from a former British general who said Serb police and Yugoslav Army, VJ, troops repeatedly violated a 1998 peace agreement worked out between the OSCE and the Yugoslav government.
Signed on October 16, 1998, the deal mandated the return of the Serbian army to military bases; the number of police units be decreased; and the OSCE Verification Mission in Kosovo, VMK, be informed of military or police movements in Kosovo.
John Drewienkiewitcz, the VMK deputy commander at the time who also testified in 2002 at the trial of the late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, said the deal collapsed completely on March 16, 1999 when VJ armoured units moved into Kosovo.
The VMK left on March 20, and NATO began air attacks on Yugoslavia four days later.
He also explained that Serbian authorities refused to allow the VMK to inspect Serbian military bases, and blamed one of the defendants - former vice-president of the Yugoslav government Nikola Sainovic - whom he said was the Serbian official in Kosovo authorised to grant VMK demands.
“We wanted permission from Sainovic to enter Serbian military and police bases in Kosovo without prior warning,” said Drewienkiewitcz. “But [Sainovic] refused this.”
Drewienkiewitcz described hearing the head of the VMK, General William Walker, arguing with Sainovic over his refusal to allow Walker to conduct surprise inspections of the bases.
Vladimir Petrovic, representing Sainovic, said inspections of Yugoslav army bases were not part of the peace agreement, a claim that Drewienkiewitcz disputed.
The witness accused Sainovic of refusing to ease tensions in Kosovo by reducing the very visible presence of Serbian police in places where the majority of the population were Kosovo Albanians, adding that the police and army treated them brutally.
Sainovic is on trial along with former Serbian president Milan Milutinovic, Yugoslav army generals Dragoljub Ojdanic, Nebojsa Pavkovic and Vladimir Lazarevic and Serbian police general Sreten Lukic. The six are accused of responsibility for the killing of hundreds of Kosovo Albanians and the forcible transfer of 800,000 others.
Drewienkiewitcz said Serb police and soldiers reacted with disproportionate violence to KLA attacks.
He also told the judges that the VJ used the wrong tactics in their clashes with KLA, strengthening Kosovo Albanians support for that army through their shelling of villages that tacitly supported the rebel fighters. This only increased swelled KLA ranks with civilian recruits, he said.
Drewienkiewitcz described an incident in which investigative judge Danica Marinkovic from the district court in Pristina insisted upon entering the village of Racak on January 16 and 17,1999 to investigate the killings of 40 Kosovo Albanian villagers.
“I tried to ask [Marinkovic] to allow the VMK to help her to investigate not to enter the village with that kind of police support,” said Drewienkiewitcz. “She wouldn’t listen and on January 17, a Serbian policeman was killed.”
During cross-examination, defence lawyers suggested that the VMK were KLA supporters.
Lawyer John Ackerman defending Pavkovic said that the VMK criticised the Serbian authorities if they were responsible for violence, but called both for sides to put down weapons if the KLA had sparked an incident.
He cited the killings of four young Serb men at the Cafe Panda in the town of Pec in December 1998, saying they were killed by the KLA and the OSCE failed to publicly condemn their murderers.
The trial continues next week.
Aleksandar Roknic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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