Courtside: Milosevic Trial

By Judith Armatta in the The Hague (TU 305, 17-21 March 2003)

Courtside: Milosevic Trial

By Judith Armatta in the The Hague (TU 305, 17-21 March 2003)

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

General Nojko Marinovic was made commander of the beautiful port city in 1991, after resigning from the Yugoslav People's Army, JNA, in September 1991.

"I was really shocked at how disorganised and unprepared they were for anything that might happen,” he said in a statement read out in the Milosevic trial. “I quickly formed the opinion that there was no effective defense plan for Dubrovnik."

While the general gathered what forces, equipment and weapons he could, and devised a strategy to defend southern Dalmatia, he was hampered in his efforts to defend Dubrovnik by an earlier order by Tudjman.

In a meeting between Tudjman, Milosevic and the then federal defence minister Veljko Kadijevic, the latter assured the late Croatian president that the JNA would not attack Dubrovnik, Marinovic said.

The witness said Tudjman had clearly taken this to heart, as he only permitted him 670 troops to defend not just the city but the entire region - with just 150 for Dubrovnik itself.

Facing him, he said, were 5,000-7000 JNA troops with far better equipment.

But he said Serb propaganda played a part in frightening the attackers, who believed their own TV reports that thousands of troops including foreign mercenaries were waiting for them.

"Their own propaganda boomeranged on them," said Marinovic. "They became extremely cautious as they moved closer and closer to the city."

Even so, he was angry when shells rained down on the historic city, a United Nations heritage site.

"It is hard for me to say why they shelled the Old Town. They (the Serb forces) felt like no one in Dubrovnik would fight - that these were hotel

workers, waiters, tour guides etc who had no stomach for warfare.”

Despite the city’s formidable walls, it had never had to battle for its freedom.

“This was the first time in its history that Dubrovnik had had to depend on arms to defend its freedom,” he said. “In the past, it had always relied on

diplomacy, trade, or even payments of money to maintain its freedom."

Marinovic stated that Croatian forces were not stationed in and did not fire from the Old Town. “I can say with certainty that we never fired from the Old Town, never conducted any military operations there,” he said.

And he dismissed claims that the shelling of the Old Town was a fiction, created by the Croats by burning old tyres.

“For anyone who entertains such ideas, I would suggest that they watch the videotapes of JNA missiles hitting the Old Town," he said.

He said the Serb commander, General Pavle Strugar, must have known what was happening to the city.

“There is no way that they could have not known what was happening, nor that they could have failed to report it up to the General Staff. These battles were too important and the JNA just did not work like that."

Marinovic said that by the time of the siege, the army was

cooperating with civilian politicians in ways which "would have been unthinkable in the old JNA".

In support, he quoted an intercepted conversation between Bozidar Vucurevic, mayor of Trebinje, and Major Bogdan Kovac, Commander of the JNA 472nd brigade, where Vucurevic appeared to reprimand the major:

"What's wrong, I don't hear you killing those beasts down there?" Kovac answered, "Don't worry, we will do it."

Before the JNA pulled out of the region, Mayor Vucurevic was overheard in another conversation, telling Admiral Miodrag Jokic, to make sure the airport at Cilipi was mined. Jokic assured him it had already been done.

The general also referred to videotapes showing civilian politicians, as well as most of the high ranking officers, visiting the front, including Momir Bulatovic and Milo Djukanovic, then president and prime minister of Montenegro respectively, who brought lambs for the Montenegrin troops in Zvekovica.

Marinovic's statement will be used by prosecutors to show that the siege, which was condemned around the world, could not have been done without being planned at the highest level.

His testimony will also be used to convince judges there was no military justification for the three-month siege.

His statement could be added to those of other witnesses, who have testified that Milosevic had effective control over the joint Yugoslav presidency at the time of the Dubrovnik campaign – the presidency which was the supreme authority in control of the army who’s shells battered the city.

Cross-examination of Marinovic was delayed by Milosevic’s second week of illness.

Judith Armatta reports for the Coalition for International Justice.

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