Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Vlado Dragicevic, defence witness at the trial of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic. (Photo: ICTY)
A former senior official of the Serbian State Security Service, DB, testified this week in the trial of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic.
The two accused former Serbian intelligence officials are charged with participating in a joint criminal enterprise with the aim of forcibly and permanently removing non-Serbs from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia, through the persecution, murder and deportation of Croat, Bosniak and Bosnian Croat populations.
Stanisic served as the head of the DB between April 1991 and December 1995, while Simatovic was the founder and first commander of a special operations unit in the DB known as the Red Berets.
According to the indictment, during Stanisic's time as DB head, he and Simatovic helped to establish, arm and fund paramilitary groups that operated in close coordination with the Yugoslav People's Army, JNA, and the Serb Territorial Defence, TO, attacking towns and villages across Croatia and Bosnia and committing murder, rape and torture.
The witness, Vlado Dragicevic, previously served as head of the DB’s international relations department. As he described it, he also advised Stanisic on international matters and foreign relations.
Dragicevic, who appeared as a defence witness for Jovica Stanisic, said the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was kept regularly informed about the most important details of his department’s contacts with foreigners, “but not about the technical details, things which were of no relevance to a head of state”.
As one such case, Dragicevic noted that the CIA had approached his department of the DB in 1992, “and we agreed in an unusual way that they would send their man to the embassy in Belgrade”.
Asked to describe what the “unusual way” was, the witness added that “their [the CIA’s] presence was agreed without a written document, by means of spoken agreement; we consented that they send their man to the embassy, and we also expected to send one of ours to the embassy in Washington, DC. We only ever signed a written protocol in 1996,” he continued.
“They [the CIA] wanted us to help them establish a presence in Republika Srpska, and we did. They wanted to know information from the ground, in Croatia, in Bosnia, they wanted to know what the president [Milosevic] thought about certain issues. And we made sure we explained to them as much as was permissible,” he added.
Asked about the relationship between Stanisic and the CIA liaison in Belgrade, the witness said that “Stanisic was their man of respect and trust, and all the contacts went through him, [which] especially intensified after 1995, when Serbia became a guarantor for peace in Bosnia after the signing of Dayton [Peace Accords].
“They generally thought well of us, officially they said that we were successful in dealing with [right-wing] radicals in what was then Yugoslavia,” he added.
Dragicevic also dedicated part of his testimony to Stanisic's role in freeing more than 450 United Nations peacekeepers in Bosnia who were being held hostage by Serbs in May 1995.
He said it was Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic who was responsible for the hostage-taking, and various elements in the Serb leadership disagreed about the best way to proceed. Stanisic took the position that the hostages should be released. “If you ask me, this was proof of Stanisic's statesmanlike character; he took the initiative for the hostages to be freed,” the witness said.
He noted that Milosevic had not been convinced by Stanisic’s proposal.
“Stanisic asked him for permission; he said he doesn’t disagree but won't take any active part in it and thought that there was nothing Stanisic could do to have the hostages freed,” Dragicevic said. “Milosevic was out of sorts with the Republika Srpska leadership at the time – they were under sanctions.”
But the witness remembered hearing Stanisic say that “things were out of control and that this action [of hostage-taking] is harming the interest of all the Serbs”.
“I took part in the first meeting we had, in Bijeljina,” said the witness, without mentioning the date of the event. “I remember well that Stanisic was trying to convince President Karadzic of what this hostage thing was bringing, saying that the NATO may even bomb to get them freed.”
“We later went to speak to Mladic to free the hostages, because we knew that the responsibility for the hostage-taking was with Ratko Mladic and the VRS [Bosnian Serb army],” he continued, adding when prompted by the defence that “the RS political leadership had accepted this action”.
Mladic's reaction was “unpleasant”, the witness said.
“We even had information that the three of us” - the two accused and the witness – “were about to be killed while asleep in Mladic's staff in Han Pijesak”, in eastern Bosnia. The witness added, however, that “this information was unchecked and may have been rumours”.
The prosecution is citing Stanisic's involvement in the hostage crisis as evidence that he had considerable influence over the Bosnian Serb leadership.
In cross-examination by prosecutor Travis Farr, the witness was asked whether he thought that “the fact that Stanisic was respected by the CIA doesn't also mean that he didn't commit any war crimes”, a statement with which the witness agreed.
Asked whether he knew anything about the DB’s “operative deployment” in Bosnia and Croatia, the witness said that this was beyond his competence.
The prosecutor then asked about the relationship between the DB and Dragan Vasiljkovic, aka Captain Dragan, who was the commander of the Knindze paramilitary unit. The prosecution claims Vasiljkovic was supported by the DB and instructed DB units on the ground.
The witness claimed to have met Vasiljkovic only in 2000, in a context “not at all related to the DB”.
However, on a video dating from 1997 where Stanisic is seen awarding medals to members of the DB special operations unit commanded by Simatovic for their actions in Croatia and Bosnia and where, according to the prosecutor, the accused “greets Vasiljkovic in a very friendly way”, the witness is also seen to be present.
Having seen himself in the video, Dragicevic told the chamber that he simply forgot that he had been there with Vasiljkovic, and that he nevertheless did not believe “that there was cooperation between Stanisic and Vasiljkovic”.
Both Stanisic and Simatovic deny all the charges against them. They were arrested by the Serbian authorities on June 13, 2003.
The trial continues next week.
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.
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