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

Comment: Milosevic Trial Enters Second Year

Despite delays in the presentation of its case, the prosecution has never seemed more relaxed and self-confident.
By Mirko Klarin

The trial of Slobodan Milosevic entered its second year, when the judges, prosecutors and the accused returned to Courtroom I on February 12 to hear the remaining part of the testimony of General Aleksandar Vasiljevic.


Yet, it was only the 145th day the trial, because influenza, exhaustion and high blood pressure suffered by the defendant have resulted in the loss of almost three months so far.


Over the last 12 months, the prosecution managed to complete approximately one half of the presentation of evidence for the three indictments against the former president of Serbia and Yugoslavia.


The prosecution case for the Kosovo indictment was completed in September last year; that for the Croatian phase of the trial is about half way through; while the Bosnian part of the proceedings has not started yet.


However, the fact that during the first year the prosecution managed to complete only one half of the job does not mean that there will be the same time for what remains to be done.


The deadline set by the trial chamber for completion of the prosecution case, May 16, 2003, has not been changed.


Of course, the deadline will be extended to compensate for the loss of time caused by the frequent sick leaves of the accused, which means that the trial might go on until the middle or end of July.


And then, after the summer break, Milosevic might start presentation of his evidence and examination of his witnesses.


In the presentation of its case, the prosecution has been allowed to invite a total of 177 witnesses: 71 for Croatia and 106 for Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, only 25 have been heard so far.


The prosecution, nonetheless, doesn’t seem to be worried by this delay. On the contrary, over the last twelve months they never seemed so relaxed and self-confident as they do now.


For the prosecution, the last week of the first calendar year of the Milosevic trial was probably the most successful week so far.


The prosecutor's mosaic showing the defendant’s role in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina has been expanded to include some new, important pieces.


At the same time, testimonies of some of the previous witnesses, such as Milan Babic, the former president of so-called Republika Srpska Krajina, or Slobodan Lazarevic, a former Yugoslav army intelligence service agent, who spent the war with the armed forces of Serbs in Croatia, have been substantially corroborated by the last week of witnesses.


The last week will be remembered for evidence linking Milosevic to the events that took place in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1991 and 1995, as well as to the military, police and paramilitary forces that committed the alleged crimes described in the indictments.


From the beginning of the trial, Milosevic's main argument, which he used to deny any responsibility for the events in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, was that at that time he was "only" the president of Serbia; that Serbia "was not at war" and had not participated in the conflicts in these republics in any way.


The prosecution countered this argument of the accused by inviting witnesses and presenting evidence proving that Milosevic did pull strings both in Croatia and Bosnia- Hercegovina, even though as Serbian president he had no formal authority over the armed forces of Yugoslavia, JNA, or military, police and paramilitary formations of Serbs operating in the neighbouring republics.


Milosevic’s influence at that time were illustrated simply and efficiently last week, during testimony by Charles Kirudja, who was present in Belgrade in 1994 and 1995 as representative of Yasushi Akashi, special UN envoy for former Yugoslavia.


Although he was the highest UN representative in Yugoslavia, during his year in Belgrade he had no meetings with then president of the federation, Zoran Lilic.


Moreover, Kirudja suggested to his superiors in Zagreb (where the UN headquarters for Yugoslavia were situated) and New York not to bother to talk to anyone else but Milosevic, because he was very well informed about everything and was in charge of all decisions.


Kirudja and his superior, Akashi, talked to Milosevic about the problems facing the UN peace mission not in Serbia but in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina.


Kirudja testified that on one occasion Milosevic reprimanded Milan Martic, then president of Republika Srpska Krajina, because of provocative actions that resulted in NATO air strikes, and for blocking the passage of humanitarian convoys heading for the Bihac pocket, where Bosnian army forces were cut off.


On another occasion, Kirudja testified, Milosevic complained about “hawks” like Radovan Karadzic, Momcilo Krajisnik and Vojislav Seselj. But he also spoke of his personal friendship with Ratko Mladic.


The network of Milosevic's links depicted in the first part of the testimony of General Aleksandar Vasiljevic, former head of the JNA’s security department (military counter-intelligence agency), was much more complex. Due to the nature of the position he held in 1991 and 1992, Vasiljevic was undoubtedly well informed about many secrets from that period. There is little question that he is the most important Milosevic insider to have appeared in The Hague so far.


Vasiljevic's testimony provided what the prosecution hope is the most direct confirmation so far of the all-important allegations of the indictment against Milosevic concerning his de facto influence on the forces over which he had no de jure control.


Vasiljevic confirmed that through the so-called rump Yugoslav presidency, which had de jure control over the JNA, Milosevic exerted significant influence on federal forces.


Two members of this presidency - Borisav Jovic and Branko Kostic - are named in the indictments for Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina as Milosevic's accomplices in a joint criminal enterprise.


The JNA, later renamed VJ (Vojska Jugoslavije - Yugoslav Army), played the key role in the organisation and arming of so-called Army of Srpska Krajina (in the parts of Croatia under Serbian control) and Army of Republika Srpska.


Vasiljevic described the relations between the three military forces. He said there were "two armies in two states, and there was the third state - Yugoslavia - which treated these two armies as her own, financed them, armed them and provided commanding officers".


According to Vasiljevic's testimony, in the period between 1992 and 1995 as many as 13,000 VJ officers served in the armies of the other two "Serbian states": the Army of Srpska Krajina and the Army of Republika Srpska.


As president of Serbia, Milosevic was de jure supreme commander of the republic’s territorial defense units during the war. When in autumn of 1991, the JNA faced problems in drafting recruits for its units, the Territorial Defense of Serbia - a reservist organisation - offered its own units, which were sent to the front in Eastern Slavonija.


According to the laws from that time, Vasiljevic testified, units of the Territorial Defence of Serbia could be engaged in Croatia "only with approval of then president of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic".


The most complex cluster of links that Milosevic used to influence the events in Croatia, according to Vasiljevic's testimony, was established within the triangle of Ministry of Interior Affairs of Serbia, MUP, paramilitary formations and the local territorial defence in Krajina and Eastern Slavonija.


As president of the republic, Milosevic had de jure control over the interior affairs ministry and the civilian and secret police.


The latter, known as the state security agency, at that time was headed by Jovica Stanisic, Frenki Simatovic and Radovan Stojicic "Badza" - all three are named in the indictment against Milosevic as participants in a joint criminal enterprise.


As early as autumn 1990, Simatovic organised military training camps for Serbian volunteers in Krajina, part of Croatia in which JNA and local Serbian forces established control at the beginning of conflict in the summer of 1991.


Before the beginning of the conflict in Croatia, Stojicic organised similar training camps in Eastern Slavonija, attended by volunteers from Serbia. Actually, these were paramilitary formations assembled by then opposition parties, such as Seselj's Serbian Radical Party and the Serbian Renewal Movement of Vuk Draskovic, as well as the Tigers led by Zeljko “Arkan” Raznjatovic, who later established his own political party.


Arkan was arrested in Croatia at the beginning of 1991 when he tried to smuggle out arms to Krajina. From the fact that Arkan was released following the intervention of then minister of interior affairs Radmilo Bogdanovic, Vasiljevic concluded that the ministry was behind this failed attempt at arms trafficking.


In his testimony, Vasiljevic reminded the court of public statements of Seselj who claimed that he was engaged by Stanisic to recruit volunteers, who then received equipment and arms from the Serbian interior ministry and were sent to the training camps managed by the state security agency.


Since the interior ministry never denied these claims, Vasiljevic thinks that Seselj's claims are "probably true".


In addition to Seselj's Chetnik paramilitaries who operated in Eastern Slavonija, Vasiljevic mentioned groups known as "Dusan Silni" organised by Mirko Jovic, the "Crnogorac" led by Stojicic and the special police unit, which operated in the Baranja region, under the command of Vasilije Mijovic of the Serbian secret police.


Arkan and his Tigers were something special. They had privileged treatment not only in the interior affairs ministry, but also in the Serbian defence ministry.


On one occasion, when he was entering the building of the Serbian defence ministry, General Vasiljevic was requested to leave his arms at the entrance, although he was wearing a general's uniform. When he protested and commented that Arkan had been entering the same building carrying a "heckler", the officer replied, "Well, you are not Arkan".


According Vasiljevic’s testimony, in January 1992 the JNA general staff called on the Serbian interior ministry to warn Arkan that his forces must leave Eastern Slavonija in accordance with the orders issued by then rump Yugoslav presidency.


On that occasion, Stojicic replied to a general staff representative that "Arkan will be no problem, because Tigers were to be integrated into a special police force unit formed by the Ministry of Interior Affairs of Serbia."


According to Vasiljevic, the fact that Serbian secret police controlled not only the paramilitary formations from Serbia which operated in Eastern Slavonija but also the local territorial defense units, was clearly evident when two officials of the Serbian state security agency were assigned to commanding positions in local territorial defense headquarters in February 1992.


According to Vasiljevic, this was very unusual, because prior to that these positions were held exclusively by military personnel - JNA officers.


Vasiljevic is the second former Milosevic accomplice testifying in this trial. Babic was the first.


Vasiljevic contacted the office of the tribunal in Belgrade as soon as the indictment for crimes against humanity in Croatia was made public, and stated that he was willing to talk to the prosecution investigators.


He agreed to testify and - as indicated by Geoffrey Nice at the beginning of his testimony - did not request any security guarantees for himself or for his family.


Vasiljevic's testimony points to, among other things, how things have changed since the beginning of the prosecutor’s case for the Croatian indictment, in which one half of the witnesses heard so far have been Serbs.


In the prosecution pre-trial brief for the Croatian and Bosnian phase of the presentation of evidence, Vasiljevic was designated as witness C-039.


In September last year, before the beginning of the presentation of evidence for crimes committed in Croatia, the prosecution submitted a request for the witness C-039 to be granted the protective measure of closed session testimony.


On September 30 last year, the trial chamber rejected this request stating that in the case of this particular witness, protection of identity and image are sufficient.


In the meantime, C-039 renounced all protective measures and appeared before the court as General Aleksandar Vasiljevic.


His act could encourage other Milosevic insiders from the prosecutor's list to give up requests for protective measures, or offer their testimonies if they're not on the list.


It seems that in certain circles in Belgrade, testifying in the trial of Milosevic has become an issue of personal prestige.


Mirko Klarin is a senior IWPR editor in The Hague and the editor-in-chief of SENSE news agency.