Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Martić Trial to Continue

Judge denies defence request to halt proceedings while Babić suicide investigated.
By Goran Jungvirth
The lawyer for Milan Martić this week lost a bid to stop his trial while investigators examine the suicide of key witness Milan Babić.



Babić killed himself in a tribunal detention unit on March 5, two days before his cross examination by Martić’s defence lawyer Predrag Milovančević was scheduled to end. Even the defence has described Babić as the prosecutor’s most important witness, and Milovančević this week argued his previous statements in court were now invalid because he wasn’t “questioned till the end”.



Martic was leader of the armed rebellion in Serb-held territory inside Croatia, known as the self-proclaimed Republika Srpska Krajina, RSK, of which he became president. He is accused of expelling non-Serbs from the region and attacking civilian targets in the Croatian capital Zagreb in revenge for Croatian military action.



Babić was a one-time ally of Martić and another former president of RSK, who as an insider witness had previously confirmed that Martić started the war in Croatia, acting on instructions from Belgrade and Slobodan Milošević, with a goal of cleansing large swathes of Croatian territory and attaching it to Serbia proper in an attempt to build a “Greater Serbia”.



The defence claims his suicide raises questions about the evidence he gave in the Martić case. Babić also testified at the trials of Slobodan Milošević and the former Bosnian Serbs parliamentary speaker Momčilo Krajišnik – both of which are still ongoing.



In court this week, Milovančević insisted the investigation into Babić’s sudden death could shed light on Babić’s claims that he and his family had been exposed to constant threats because of his decision to testify.



Milovančević also argued that because he had not completed his cross examination of the witness, parts of Babic’s testimony should be excluded and questioned Babić’s state of mind during his Hague testimony. “If it is correct he committed suicide, the question arises about his capability to testify [in the past],” said Milovančević.



Prosecutor Alex Whiting countered that Babić’s statements should remain in evidence so that the judges themselves could decide what was still relevant. Legal observers believe that much of Babić’s testimony will be allowed to stand because it was already subject to robust cross-examination.



Presiding Judge Bakone Justice Moloto dismissed the defence request for an adjournment, saying the trial would go on and ordered the prosecutor to call another witness – a radio signalman in Martić’s police headquarters identified only as MM-003 and billed as an insider like Babić.



He said Martic gave weapons to Croatian Serb reservists on August 18, 1990 – the day a state of war was declared on the rebel territory. He also described how Martić was in command at a barricade of logs designed to stop Croatian police from entering the region. Much of his testimony was given in closed session.



The witness confirmed Babić’s testimony that on May 2, 1995, Martić ordered a missile attack on Zagreb in retaliation for the Croatian military action known as Bljesak, or Flash, to regain occupied territories after four years of war. “Martić requested [a hit on] the monument of Banus Josip Jelačić,” said the witness. He described the monument as a symbol of the Croatian people which lies in central Zagreb.



Seven civilians were killed and more than a hundred wounded in the two-day Zagreb bombardment.



He told the prosecutor how Martić’s forces got money and arms for the campaign from Belgrade’s State Security Service, SDB, led by Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović, who are also indicted by the tribunal and are expected to be tried jointly for war crimes across the former Yugoslavia.



He again confirmed Babić’s testimony that Martić went to Belgrade several times to meet Stanišić and Slobodan Milošević. He said Martić boasted to his men that he could “get whatever he asks” from them, adding that Martić called Milošević “Sloba” or “boss” and addressed Stanišić as “my brother” or “icy”.



Martić was always pleased to hear that villages in Krajina had been “cleansed” of Croats, saying, “Now this is Serbian land”, said the witness.



MM-003 will face cross-examination when the trial continues.



Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.