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Krajina Military Divisions

Witness tells of rivalry between Martic and Babic.
By Helen Warrell
The trial of former Croatian Serb leader Milan Martic heard this week how the president of Serb-held Krajina sought to counter the accused’s feared police unit by creating his own territorial defence force during the early stages of the war in Croatia.

Prosecution witness Radoslav Maksic told the court that there was an intense rivalry between Milan Babic, president of the so-called Serb Autonomous District of Krajina, SAO Krajina, and Martic, then the entity’s minister of the interior.

Prosecutors claim that Martic had exclusive control over the training and deployment of the Krajina police, later known as “Martic’s police”. According to the indictment, these forces were created to aid the expulsion of non-Serbs from large areas of Bosnia and Croatia between 1991 and 1995.

Martic is charged with ten counts of crimes against humanity and nine of violations of the laws and customs of war for crimes including murder, imprisonment, torture and the destruction of villages.

Babic, who faced fewer charges, is currently serving a 13-year prison sentence, having pleaded guilty to committing persecutions on political, racial, and religious grounds in January 2004.

This week’s witness, a military expert who had trained troops of the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, described how he had been called to Krajina in July 1991 and assigned the task of forming a coordinated territorial defence, TO, in the region.

“I was needed to help organise the territorial defence of Krajina which, in Babic’s words, was split and disorganised,” said Maksic.

When prosecutor Ana Richterova asked why Babic had been keen to rectify this, the witness replied, “Martic had armed police under him, whereas Babic had only political power.

“Usually the one with arms and weapons was the one with real power, so I think Babic wanted to warn Martic that he had an army of his own. I think he did that in order to spite Martic.”

Maksic explained that the frequent disagreements between the two men led to a polarisation in political circles between those who supported the “Marticevci”, Martic’s men, and those who favoured the “Babicevci”, Babic’s men.

When asked by the prosecution whether he had been known as a Babicevci, the witness dismissed the labeling as being “derogatory” and “meaningless”.

Richterova then turned her attention to the command structures within the SAO Krajina, and asked who was responsible for the actions of the army, the police, and the emerging Krajina TO.

According to the tribunal’s statute on superior responsibility, Martic can be held responsible for criminal acts committed by his subordinates if the prosecution can prove that he was aware of the acts and failed to punish the perpetrators.

Maksic explained that in usual circumstances, the police would report to Martic, as minister of the interior, while the army would report to the minister of defence.

However, when there was a joint operation, the superior officer would be “someone authorised by the minister of the interior”, the witness said.

While denying that there had been any paramilitary formations “operating independently” in the Krajina region, Maksic said that there had been a unit of volunteers from the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, which were fully integrated into the JNA.

The SRS leader, Vojislav Seselj, is also indicted at the tribunal and is listed in Martic’s indictment as one of the 18 members of an alleged joint criminal enterprise.

In cross-examination, Martic’s lawyer Predrag Milovancevic referred once more to the growing tide of Croatian nationalism which led to the secession of Croatia from the Republic of Yugoslavia in June 1991. This, the defence has been claiming, was a threat to the safety of Serbs in the SAO Krajina.

Milovancevic quoted former Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, as having said that the Belgrade-controlled JNA was “defeated from within” by the defection of 17,000 Croat JNA members to the Croatian army.

When asked whether this had been the case, the witness replied, “I don’t know if 17,000 was the exact number, or if this was done by the government or by someone else.”

The defence lawyer then challenged Maksic on the legal position of various military structures during the Croatian conflict.

Having established that after secession, the Croatian leadership had termed the JNA an “occupation army” and an “aggressor army”, Milovancevic asked if this was technically correct.

The witness answered that the JNA could “in no circumstances” be considered an aggressor army in its own territory.

Finally, Milovancevic quoted passages from the indictment against Martic and asked the witness whether there had indeed been “an idea, an order, a suggestion to kill all the non-Serb population, to make them flee, to drive them away”.

Maksic answered that he had been to “a lot of official meetings”, but had “never heard anything of this sort”.

Helen Warrell is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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