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

Courtside: Milosevic Trial

By Chris Stephen in The Hague (TU No. 287, October 28 - November 1, 2002)
By IWPR

Judge Richard May said he would remain in his cell in the UN detention unit due to “exhaustion”. “The trial chamber was deeply concerned about completion of this trial," the judge said subsequently.


Tribunal spokesperson Jim Landale later said that the judges were not worried about whether Milosevic would complete his trial, only how to ensure he was not too stressed.


"The judges are not intimating that the trial itself is in jeopardy," said Landale.


Earlier in the week, hearings were dominated by two witnesses, Slobodan Lazarevic and Mustafa Candic, former members of the Central Counter-intelligence Group, KOS, of the Yugoslav Peoples Army, JNA.


Lazarevic, the ex-head of protocol for the 1984 Sarajevo winter Olympics, was from 1992 and 1995 a liaison officer from Belgrade attached to the army of the so-called Republic of Serbian Krajina, RSK, an ethnic Serb region of Croatia which declared independence in 1991.


He said that officially all decisions were made in RSK capital, Knin, but in fact, military, political and police decisions were taken in Belgrade, with Milosevic known as “the boss” because he gave the orders.


He said Belgrade was “a synonym for Milosevic” and in testimony directed to the accused, said, ”You were Belgrade”. Milosevic responded, “Oh, I see, that’s a rather large synonym.”


Lazarevic said Belgrade had ordered Knin officials to stall on international negotiations with Croatia, because it suited Serbia that there should be a state of war in Krajina.


Lazarevic said RSK soldiers were paid by the JNA, which also gave it weapons, equipment and ammunition.


His corps commander, Colonel Bulat, was in daily phone contact with the Yugoslav army general staff in Belgrade, and the head of the RSK state security, Toso Pajic, communicated with the chief of the Serbian security service, Jovica Stanisic.


Lazarevic once heard the RSK president, Goran Hadzic, telling foreign diplomats that he was “no president, just a messenger boy”.


Milosevic insisted Lazarevic was “just an interpreter” and in cross- examination got him to admit minor discrepancies in his statements of 1999 and 2000. Milosevic claimed Lazarevic was working for British intelligence.


Lazarevic said he had been recruited to the security service and had first infiltrated student groups in 1968, subsequently being stationed in Australia and then Britain to monitor Croat and Serb émigré groups.


Lazarevic said until 1992 he was “a fervent supporter” of Milosevic.


Candic, a Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak), said that while working for KOS in October 1991 he discovered plans to arm Bosnian Serb civilians, which had been instigated by the Serbian government, of which Milosevic was the president.


He said the first plan was codenamed Breakthough 1, with others named Breakthrough 2 and 3 and so on.


Candic said Breakthrough 1 was run by one of Milosevic’s senior officials, Jovica Stanisic, with the aim of giving local Serbs in Bihac, north-west Bosnia, 20,000 weapons from warehouses of the army’s territorial defense units in the republic.


He later accompanied a transport vehicle delivering arms to Stevan Todorovic, a Bosnian Serb who later became police chief of Bosanski Samac. Todorovic was jailed by The Hague for ten years after pleading guilty to war crimes.


As evidence, he produced a letter from Colonel Dusan Smiljanic – under whose command the plans were implemented – sent to General Ratko Mladic, emphasising his contribution to arming the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia. The prosecutor described it as “historic”.


Candic said his reports on the matter were ignored by his bosses, with his superior, Colonel Tomislav Cuk, telling him, “leave it Muki (nickname for Candic) it does not matter now.”


Candic recalled his superior officer, Colonel Slobodan Rakocevic, a Serb, saying JNA intelligence “had no contacts and no knowledge of what was going on in Belgrade, from where Milosevic and his allies pulled strings and worked towards breaking Yugoslavia and the establishment of Great Serbia.”


He said the plans “opened my eyes” and he left the JNA in February 1992.


Chris Stephen is IWPR bureau chief in The Hague.