Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Karadzic Alleged Links With Paramilitaries Probed
Radovan Karadzic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
A retired Bosnian Serb police officer testified this week at the Hague tribunal that it was a “generally known thing” that defendant Radovan Karadzic had asked paramilitary volunteers to come to fight in Bosnia.
According to a summary of his evidence, prosecution witness Milorad Davidovic worked as a police officer in the northeastern Bosnian town of Bijeljina before the war, and towards the end of 1991 was transferred to the Federal Secretariat of Internal Affairs in Belgrade, known as the SUP.
In summer 1992, he and a group of other officers from SUP were sent to Bijeljina to “establish law and order”, and arrest members of paramilitary formations who had committed crimes against Serbs.
However, when Bosnian Serb officials thought he was arresting too many Serbs, the Bijeljina Municipal Assembly “undertook efforts to have the witness expelled from the municipality”, states the prosecution’s evidence summary. Davidovic has previously testified in two other trials at the Hague tribunal.
This week, the witness told prosecutors that he heard from numerous people – including military personnel and then Bosnian Serb interior minister Mico Stanisic, currently standing trial at the tribunal - that Karadzic said “all those who wished to fight for Republika Srpska should report as volunteers and come to Bosnia”.
“This was a generally known thing,” Davidovic said. “It was not something that was being concealed.”
The prosecution proceeded to show video footage of one paramilitary group, known as Arkan’s Tigers (or the Serbian Volunteer Guard), lining up during a wartime ceremony in Bijeljina.
The leader of the formation, Zeljko Raznatovic – better known as Arkan – is shown greeting Karadzic. Arkan was indicted by the tribunal, but in 2000 he was gunned down in a Belgrade hotel before he could be arrested.
In the video footage, Arkan tells Karadzic that the “Serbian Volunteer Guard is lined up in your honour”.
“I am deeply thankful,” Karadzic responds. “I hope we meet again in peace.”
Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, the president of Bosnia's self-declared Republika Srpska from 1992 to 1996, is responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer which "contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory".
He is also accused of planning and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead, as well as the massacre of some 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995. Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run.
The witness said that the paramilitary groups had the support of the “local authorities and certain high-ranking functionaries” and therefore attempts to control them were mostly unsuccessful.
He noted, however, that the commander of the Bosnian Serb army, General Ratko Mladic, was “always against paramilitary [groups] but could not confront them” because they were being “protected by those [for whom the] existence [of paramilitaries] suited them”.
Mladic was arrested in Serbia on May 26 after 16 years as a fugitive. He will make his next appearance at the tribunal on July 4.
The witness further stated Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) did not leave their homes voluntarily when Serb forces took over.
“Whoever is a normal person - we all have our homes and our families -who will say, I am going to hand all of this over…how could they voluntarily say I am going to leave this area?” Davidovic exclaimed. “People tried to leave this hell one way or another. That is why [they] left all of their property, [and] handed it over to Serbs. What reasonable person would want to leave everything they had earned over the years?”
In addition, he said with “certainty” that it was a policy of Karadzic’s political party “to have Muslims moved out” of areas captured by Serb forces.
“It was a planned operation,” Davidovic said. “It could not have happened spontaneously in an identical way everywhere. The [wartime Bosnian Serb] crisis staff did nothing more or other than putting in place the instructions they had been given - it’s not a coincidence, it’s a rule.”
During the cross-examination, Karadzic – who continues to represent himself – tore into Davidovic’s credibility, even stating at one point that he wasn’t “fit” to be a witness in the trial.
“Is it correct that you are testifying here both about things you have seen and heard at the time or a long time later, and things you have learned from the prosecution?” Karadzic said.
“Mr Karadzic, before this court, I am talking only about things I did myself, saw myself, and that I learnt in direct contact with people as a police officer, while gathering information that I needed because I needed to inform my superiors,” Davidovic responded. “…Nobody taught me what I should say. I am not such a pliable man that I could be led to say anything anyone wants.”
Karadzic further claimed that the witness “overstepped his authority” during his wartime assignments in Bosnia and also “got involved in financial wrongdoing.”
“You are saying rubbish,” Davidovic retorted.
Did the lower court in Bijeljina initiate a request to conduct investigations against you and a group of other people wherein you would be the first accused?” Karadzic asked.
The witness said that after he testified for the first time in The Hague in June 2005, criminal charges were brought against him in Bosnia for “fraud and violent behaviour” but that he received only a fine and most of the charges were overturned on appeal.
“Mr Karadzic is trying to portray me as unreliable witness,” Davidovic told the court.
“As for this wrongdoing that the prosecution [in Bijeljina] accused me of, it is only fine that is levied and that is indeed what the court did…this is a minor misdemeanor that is being portrayed as some kind of grave crime.”
Karadzic then pointed out that proceedings in Bosnia were initiated against the witness three months before his first testimony in The Hague in 2005.
“How could that [criminal] report be based on your testimony three months later?” Karadzic asked.
Davidovic didn’t provide a clear answer, except to say that the proceedings in Bosnia “went on until 2009”.
The witness maintained that after he came to The Hague and testified in the trial of Bosnian Serb politician Momcilo Krajisnik in 2005, he had “very serious problems and suffered consequences”.
“Rest assured I will have some grave problems as a result of this testimony,” Davidovic said.
“I did not come here as protected witness, I came here to tell truth. What I am saying are serious allegations. I’m sorry, this is a painful truth.”
The trial continues next week.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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