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Courtside: Milosevic Trial

Witness tells court of Serbia’s military involvement in Bosnia.
By Chris Stephen

Details of an alleged secret war in Bosnia masterminded by Slobodan Milosevic were given last week by a former Serb paramilitary soldier.


The witness, identified only as C-020 to protect his identity, said Serb interior ministry troops the Red Berets were sent to Bosnia to fight with local Serb forces.


This evidence supports prosecution assertions that Milosevic, at the time president of Serbia, was directly involved in the bloodshed in neighbouring Bosnia.


Prosecutors are generally thought to have had an easier job in the first part of the Milosevic trial, involving war crimes alleged in Kosovo. Kosovo was a part of Yugoslavia, and as such Milosevic was in command of security forces there.


But the wars in Bosnia and Croatia took place outside Yugoslavia, the state of which Serbia was the main republic, so that Milosevic was not directly in control of ethnic Serb forces.


Prosecutors hope that they can prove that Milosevic sent his troops into these countries to wage war and commit war crimes.


During the Kosovo part of the prosecution case earlier this year, most witnesses were ethnic Albanian. But in the latter part, covering mostly Croatia and also Bosnia,there have been eight Serbs out of a total of ten witnesses.


C-020 said he was not a member of the Red Berets, but fought alongside them as part of the Tigers, a paramilitary force based in Belgrade commanded by warlord Zeljko Raznatovic, nicknamed Arkan.


C-202 was wounded while fighting alongside the Tigers in Croatia in 1992. Later, he joined an elite branch of Arkans troops, the Super Tigers.


The unit was officially paramilitary, but was equipped by state forces. In mid-1994, he joined the Super Tigers sent across the border into Bosnia for a secret operation to aid a Muslim renegade, Fikret Abdic, who had broken from the Muslim-led government in Sarajevo.


C-020 said the unit was able to break through the screen of UN monitors enforcing the embargo between Bosnia and Yugoslavia by crossing a bridge held by Russian troops. He said it was possible to bribe them and make a deal to cross the border.


Once inside Bosnia, his unit were issued with the red berets of the Serbia state security service, whose units were led by Franko Simatovic, nicknamed Frenkie, a key Serb interior ministry police commander.


The witness said Simatovic led operations to help Abdics’ forces, then fighting against mainstream Muslim units, using both Red Berets and Super Tigers.


But the units took heavy losses and were pulled out of combat, remaining in Bosnia in a support role after worries in Belgrade about how to explain the deaths when, officially, Yugoslavia had no forces fighting in Bosnia.


Milosevic’s cross-examination was repeatedly stopped by Judge Richard May who ordered public transcripts and videos to have data removed that might reveal the witnesses identity.


Milosevic did not directly contradict the evidence of C-020, describing him as a murderer, criminal and robber.


Chris Stephen is IWPR bureau chief in The Hague.


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