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

Defence Aide Testifies to Milosevic Role in Bosnia

Prosecution witness thanks Milosevic for saving her life, then implicats him in assisting Bosnian Serb forces.
By Chris Stephen

A key witness in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic this week publicly thanked him saving her life - and went on to produce powerful evidence against him.


Dobrila Gajic-Glisic worked as chef de cabinet to former Serbian defence minister General Tomislav Simovic in 1991, and later wrote a book titled "The Serbian Army" in which she criticised Milosevic's policies.


But she began her testimony with a thank-you. "It was thanks to Comrade Milosevic that I was able to overcome my difficulties," she said. "I am alive thanks to [him] and this is my opportunity to express my gratitude."


She told the court she worked for Simovic from the end of September 1991 until December 12, when he was removed.


His removal, she said, came after Yugoslav army, JNA, chief of staff Zivota Panic accused Milosevic of trying to set up a Serbian army.


Simovic's work was to write a secret draft law for the creation of a Serbian armed force. At the time the JNA was a Yugoslav - not Serbian - institution.


"President Milosevic said that this was to be worked on secretly," she said. "No information was to be given to the media on the law of the armed forces of Serbia."


Simovic was fired and the plan to form a Serbian army shelved, and while she felt that her life was in danger afterwards, she believed Milosevic's support saved her.


After being removed from his job, Simovic supported Gajic-Glisic in writing her controversial book, in which she laid bare Milosevic's use of paramilitaries for fighting in Croatia.


She thanked Milosevic both for not blocking its publication and for ensuring no harm came to her afterwards.


However, her evidence will not help him. She claimed that although president of Serbia, Milosevic nevertheless had great influence over the JNA, and over paramilitary units carrying out war crimes in Croatia.


Milosevic ordered Simovic to make lists of generals regarded as incompetent, though officially the president had no power to hire and fire them.


She said Simovic told her that Milosevic had admitted to him helping to send weapons and volunteers to train with paramilitary units.


Later, during the Vukovar battle, Milosevic contacted Simovic to ask for JNA fighters to be sent to help paramilitary commander Zeljko "Arkan" Raznatovic, whose troops were pinned down in fighting with Croat defenders. The jets were sent, and Arkan's unit of Tigers was able to extricate itself.


Arkan met Simovic in the government building in Belgrade the next day, carrying a rifle and a Croatian cap with blood on it.


Simovic asked him about any prisoners he had taken, and Arkan told him "only two chickens" had been captured. When the general pressed for more details, the paramilitary leader pulled his fingers across his throat, telling Simovic "no prisoners".


He then confessed that his unit had executed 24 Croats, and told Gajic-Glisic that she might want to leave the room if she felt bad about such talk. She told the court that Simovic had been disgusted by Arkan's methods.


The court was then shown a video clip of Arkan boasting on another occasion of how he executed prisoners: It shows Arkan offering photographs of a mutilated body he identifies as one of his soldiers, and saying in English, "We can't forget about our past when 33 members of my family were killed in the Second World War. Tortured. No prisoners."


The witness also said Milosevic had had good contacts with both paramilitary forces and with forces of the Krajina Serbs.


On another occasion, she told the court, Milosevic ordered Arkan's forces to block the sewers of Vukovar with concrete after reports that Croat volunteers had been using them to get around during the siege.


She said she was sure that reports of atrocities committed by these paramilitary groups would have been sent to Milosevic.


Gajic-Glisic herself heard of these crimes through an unusual route - via the mothers of soldiers captured by the Croats who were fearful their sons would suffer reprisals for atrocities apparently committed by Serb forces.


In cross-examination, she told the court she supported the use of the JNA in 1991 to intervene in fighting in Croatia, saying it was necessary to protect Serb civilians.


Chris Stephen is IWPR's project manager in The Hague.