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Djindjic Fears Latest Hague Inquiry

New Hague war crimes investigation could seriously undermine the Serbian premier's influence over the security forces.

The year-long honeymoon between Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic and Hague

chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte is finally over.

On October 8, days after the anniversary of Slobodan Milosevic's fall from power, The Hague announced a new investigation of 12 former politicians and high-ranking police and military officers. The list includes two men instrumental in the overthrow of Milosevic. And their extradition to the tribunal would seriously diminish Djindjic's influence over the police and special forces.

The 12 suspects were named in the latest indictment against Slobodan Milosevic. They are said to have been involved in a "joint criminal enterprise" with him in Croatia.

Some observers believe The Hague is using its latest inquiry - which would probably lead to indictments - to pressure the Serbian authorities over 15 Hague indictees, who have not yet been arrested, despite the fact that their indictments were handed over to officials here in March.

Djindjic apparently engineered the delay to give himself time to prepare public opinion for the suspects' eventual extradition. He was keen to go ahead with the transfer as he hoped that The Hague would then give him a green light to conduct war crimes trials in Serbia.

Domestic trials have offered a way of exerting authority over the war crimes issue, staving off accusations of treachery provoked by extraditions to The Hague.

However, the new inquiry announced by the Office of the Prosecutor seems certain to frustrate Djindjic's plans for domestic trials. Any indictments arising would lead to prosecutions in The Hague, not local courts.

The list of men suspected of involvement in crimes in Croatia is causing additional anxiety in ruling circles. Most have long since passed out of power and influence, with the important exceptions of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, who are both of great importance to the current authorities.

Stanisic was the head of secret police from 1991 until his dismissal by Milosevic in 1998, after which he still managed to exert a strong influence within the state security forces. He is thought to have played a very significant role in ousting Milosevic last October, when he made his connections within the police available to the opposition.

Afterwards, the new government offered him his old position as secret police chief, but he declined. Stanisic, 50, is thought to hold unparalleled intelligence on Milosevic's precise role in the war, but has never revealed what he knows. He now lives in seclusion at his farm in Pancevo, outside Belgrade.

Simatovic was the founder and first commander of the "Red Berets", a special

secret service unit which was active at key points during the wars of the last decade. Simatovic bowed out of the unit in 1996, but is thought to have exerted considerable influence thereafter. The unit also played a decisive role on October 5, 2000, when it too sided with the opposition.

The appearance of Stanisic and Simatovic on the list places Djindjic in particular in an awkward position. Not only would their extradition erode his considerable influence over the police, but in January he told the Belgrade weekly NIN that he would never extradite those police and security figures who helped overthrow Milosevic. This problem can only add to the constant tensions between Djindjic and Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica, which has placed a great strain on the ruling DOS coalition.

The current tussle with the tribunal is above all a symptom of Belgrade's failure to devise a new strategy towards The Hague, sources close to the Serbian government have told IWPR. Unconfirmed reports say that Carla Del Ponte is due to visit Belgrade on October 22. Should she turn up Djindjic hopes to persuade her to drop the new investigation in exchange for the extradition of the 15 indictees. Certainly, the indirect threat of indictments for Stanisic and Simatovic appears to have focused his mind.

Meanwhile, Belgrade-based international law expert, Vojin Dimitrijevic, has questioned the term "joint criminal enterprise", which the tribunal have used as the basis for its investigation. He told the Belgrade news agency Beta on Tuesday that the expression has no "legal or technical significance".

No one from the government wishes to comment on the new list of war crime suspects, which reads like a Who's Who of recent Yugoslav political and military history. It includes former Montenegrin president Momir Bulatovic, former members of the Yugoslav presidency, Borislav Jovic and Branko Kostic, plus Generals Veljko Kadijevic, Blagoje Adzic, Tomislav Simovic and Alexander Vasiljevic. Former Krajina Serb leaders Milan Babic and Goran Hadzic are included, along with leader of the Serbian Radical Party, Vojislav Seselj.

Some of the suspects have been more forthcoming. Branko Kostic, a former Montenegrin member of Yugoslav presidency, told the Belgrade daily Blic on Wednesday, "I am totally at peace and my conscience is clear. This news has caused me no great anxiety." He said he would rather be investigated in Serbia or Montenegro, but was ready to face any court.

With characteristic bombast, Seselj announced that he would travel to The Hague "as soon as he gets visa". Indeed, Seselj didn't even deny that he might have committed the crimes The Hague wishes to investigate, telling a press conference on Thursday, "The gang from The Hague don't scare me. I was never a war criminal and acts I am accused of are not war crimes. On the contrary, I am proud of them".

Zeljko Cvijanovic is a journalist with the Belgrade weekly Blic News

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