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Lilic Testifies Against Milosevic

Former Yugoslav president says Milosevic helped Bosnian Serb army but was “shaken” by Srebrenica massacre.
By Emir Suljagic

Zoran Lilic, the former president of Yugoslavia, provided some damning evidence against his former ally Slobodan Milosevic when he took the stand this week in The Hague.


Appearing in court on June 17, Lilic agreed only to talk about questions for which he had been given a “waiver of liability” – essentially a guarantee by the government of Serbia and Montenegro that it would not hold him responsible for divulging state secrets. He refused to comment on anything that fell outside those waivers.


Lilic was Yugoslav president between 1993 and 1997, but was generally regarded as no more than a figurehead for Milosevic, then Serbian president. Milosevic took over the Yugoslav presidency in 1997.


Because Lilic was a member of the Supreme Defence Council, the body that oversaw the Yugoslav army, the prosecution hoped he might be able to provide some insight into how Milosevic controlled the military through the council.


The prosecution has been seeking transcripts of Supreme Defence Council meetings for almost a year but so far Belgrade has refused to provide them. Last week, however, tribunal judges ordered Serbia and Montenegro to release the transcripts. If they show that Serbian forces played a prominent role in committing atrocities in Bosnia, the documents could be damning because – as Lilic’s testimony indicated – Milosevic played the dominant role in the defence council.


Under questioning from prosecutor Geoffrey Nice, Lilic confirmed that in autumn 1995, just before the peace negotiations in Dayton, Ohio, the Yugoslav army set up a military training centre to aid and train Bosnian Serb troops. General Momcilo Perisic, then chief of the Yugoslav army, helped set up the facility, while Milosevic put paramilitary leader Dragan Vasiljkovic in charge of running it, according to Lilic.


"I was amazed, and I ordered the camp to be disbanded,” he said.


Although this training centre was set up shortly after the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre, Lilic insisted that he was sure Milosevic had nothing to do with the fall of the enclave. And upon hearing of the killings Milosevic was “shaken” and “genuinely angry”.


“He said that the (Bosnian Serb) leadership in Pale was mad," Lilic claimed.


Here the prosecutor interrupted, "but you still continued to pay (General Ratko) Mladic, didn’t you?" Nice said.


Lilic was evasive but admitted that Mladic, commander of the Bosnian Serb army, was still on the payroll after Srebrenica.


During his testimony, Lilic also answered questions about a letter which General Perisic sent to Milosevic in July 1998 voicing concern that the latter was abusing his power by sending in the army to fight the Kosovo Liberation Army.


The former president said that the Supreme Defence Council never sanctioned Milosevic’s creation of parallel command structures to bypass those generals who opposed the action in Kosovo. Perisic’s letter said that Milosevic removed the elite Guards Brigade from the military chain of command and took control of them directly, while placing several other units under MUP command.


In the four years he served as Yugoslavia president, Lilic said the power base shifted increasingly from the army to the Ministry of Interior, MUP. Within MUP, Jovica Stanisic - head of the Serbian secret service and a key Milosevic ally – was the most powerful figure. By law Stanisic was supposed to answer to the interior minister but actually reported directly to Milosevic, said Lilic.


At the same time the Serbian leader wielded considerable power over the Yugoslav army. According to Lilic, a group of generals cultivated Milosevic in order to advance their careers.


"They knew their advancement was dependant on Milosevic," he said, citing the fact that some of them made a point of joining the Yugoslav United Left, the party led by Milosevic’s wife Mira Markovic.


Lilic acknowledged the Supreme Defence Council’s role in approving payments to Bosnian Serb army soldiers who had previously been in the Yugoslav military. Following a formal decision which the council took in November 1993, some 4,000 of these troops drew pay in 1993-1997, at a cost to the Yugoslav state of about 800,000 euro per month. Although that amount was reduced in 1994 after the Bosnian Serb entity Republika Srpska rejected the Vance-Owen peace plan, Lilic said that Belgrade’s financing for the Bosnian Serb officer corps ended only in March 2001, well after Milosevic had been ousted.


Milosevic has yet to question Lilic on all his claims, but if the first court session was any indication, his cross-examination will not be confrontational. In the first few minutes of questioning, Milosevic asked his formal colleague, “Did we make every effort for peace in Bosnia and Croatia?”


“Yes, we did,” Lilic answered. “And the product of our efforts was the peace plans offered to the world.”


The cross-examination resumes on June 19. Expect more of the same.


Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.