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

Courtside: Milosevic Trial

By Judith Armatta in The Hague (TU 302, 24-28 February 2003)
By IWPR

Okun was the envoy for the Secretary General, visiting Milosevic together with the US government envoy Cyrus Vance, who has since died.


He told the court he met Milosevic many times amid efforts to broker peace deals for both Bosnia and Croatia, and said the Belgrade leader, despite having no formal link to Serb forces in these battles, was clearly the boss. “He was certainly the man in charge,” he told the court.


Okrun said he had kept detailed transcripts of some meetings in a total of 16 diaries charting the time from October 1991 to May 1993 – all of which he has submitted as evidence.


In one meeting, Vance told Milosevic he had intelligence that Arkan, a key Belgrade warlord, was operating in Bosnia. “We can’t check on every Serb,” Milosevic replied at the meeting.


Evidence of Milosevic’s control of Serbs in Croatia came during a meeting in 1991, when Okrun said Milosevic told him he could control the policy of the minority’s leader Milan Babic.


Later, the Geneva Accord was approved to bring peace to Croatia, and it was signed, on behalf of Belgrade, by Milosevic, then president of Serbia, and not by his Yugoslav federation counterpart, who in theory should have been the signatory.


Soon afterwards, the ambassador saw the war at first hand when, told of atrocities by Serb forces at Vukovar, he tried, with Vance, to reach the town.


He was turned back by Serbian major Veselin Slijivancanin, who raised a rifle and refused to let them pass. Okrun told the court he nevertheless saw “many affecting scenes of weeping civilians” and “many rough customers” among Serb units, conveying an “air of brooding and imminent menace”.


He then went with Vance to meet Milosevic and tell him about atrocities committed by Serb paramilitary groups. “It was clear to me at the time that he knew what was going on,” Okrun told the court. “I couldn’t imagine he didn’t. He was pretending to be surprised.”


Prosecutors hope the testimony will help show that Milosevic, although at the time only the president of Serbia, was in reality the mastermind controlling Serb forces in both Croatia and Bosnia. His testimony will continue.


Judith Armatta reports on the tribunal for the Coalition for International Justice, www.cij.org.


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