Dubrovnik Indictment Unsettles Montenegrins

Many Montenegrins are dreading plans to indict the architects of the Dubrovnik siege

Dubrovnik Indictment Unsettles Montenegrins

Many Montenegrins are dreading plans to indict the architects of the Dubrovnik siege

Wednesday, 14 March, 2001

Ever since the revelation earlier this month that several people had been indicted for crimes committed during the siege of Dubrovnik, many Montenegrins have been sleeping uneasily.

The Hague did not reveal the names of those indicted but said the accusations were related to the Yugoslav People's Army, JNA, attack on the city and its surrounding area ten years ago.

"Several individuals have been charged with grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and with violations of the laws and customs of war, " The Hague statement said.

Combined federal and Montenegrin forces launched their attack on Dubrovnik, the Adriatic coastline's greatest architectural jewel, in October 1991.

Inhabitants of the Konavle region of Croatia recall how Montenegrin soldiers and paramilitaries threw themselves enthusiastically into the fray, indiscriminately bombarding Dubrovnik, torching villages and embarking on a killing and pillaging spree.

Their barbarism was such that even Serbian state-run media were appalled. The Belgrade daily Politika spoke of 'Montenegrin savagery around Dubrovnik' in December 1991.

After the three month siege, soldiers returned laden with trophies: smoked hams and cattle; drink and perfume bottles lifted from duty-free shops; works of art stolen from homes and galleries.

Montenegrin war correspondents witnessed for themselves the butchery of the campaign to "liberate" Dubrovnik and place the Adriatic's premier tourist attraction under joint Serbian-Montenegrin control.

Most of the population watched silently as the carnage was unleashed. As far as moral responsibility goes, only a few who actively opposed the attack can have clear consciences now that the perpetrators of the crime are being held to account.

The tribunal indictment includes charges of murder and the destruction of historic monuments and villages. The scope of the accusations will doubtless rattle a good number of those involved.

Those with most to fear will be military commanders on the ground as well as the political leadership of the time. However, a question mark hangs over which, if any, government officials will be included.

A team of Hague investigators visited Montenegro in November last year, interrogating a number of witnesses and former combatants.

Clint Williamson, heading The Hague team, told the independent weekly magazine Monitor that the inquiry was primarily concerned with tracking down those bearing direct military responsibility.

He also said that Belgrade and Podgorica leaders who orchestrated the campaign would be subject to investigation later on.

At that time of the siege, Momir Bulatovic was Montenegrin president; current head of state Milo Djukanovic was prime minister; and Branko Kostic was a member of the Yugoslav presidency.

Bulatovic, as commander-in-chief of the Montenegrin territorial defence forces, bears direct responsibility for giving the go-ahead for the initial attack on the city. His command was reported widely in Montenegrin and Croatian newspapers.

The order, which mobilised infantry as well as special police units, signalled Montenegro's formal entrance into the war with Croatia.

Bulatovic, who rode to power on the coat-tails of formerYugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, said on various occasions, when his mentor was still in power, that he would be surprised to find out he was included on a Hague's list of indictees.

Throughout the attack on Dubrovnik, Bulatovic's close confidante and party colleague was Milo Djukanovic.

Djukanovic recently told Deutsche Welle that his conscience was clear as far as the attack was concerned. Having already apologised to Croatia in 1999 for crimes committed against Dubrovnik, he also said that, if summoned, he would willingly go to The Hague.

Branko Kostic - now retired and residing in Podgorica - was the chief commander of the JNA. Members of the military who might also figure on the Hague's list include General Pavle Strugar, who helped to coordinate military activities on the ground, and Admirals Miodrag Jokic and Milan Zec, who oversaw the naval bombardment of Dubrovnik.

Others who may have trouble sleeping at night are former defence minister Veljko Kadijevic and the then JNA chief of staff Blagoje Adzic.

While the sealed indictment has put the wind up these and other characters some Montenegrins will doubtless greet the tribunal's moves with relief.

Don Branko Zbutega, a priest from Kotor, said, "The extradition of war crimes suspects will be cathartic and lead to the removal of collective responsibility from the Montenegrins."

Milka Tadic Mijovic is a regular IWPR contributor

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