Milosevic Allegedly Angered by Zagreb Shelling

Croatian Serb leader described as “mad dog” in telephone intercept tape.

Milosevic Allegedly Angered by Zagreb Shelling

Croatian Serb leader described as “mad dog” in telephone intercept tape.

Prosecutors at the trial of former Croatian Serb leader Milan Martic this week played a previously unheard recording in which Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic apparently denounces the accused as a “dangerous troublemaker” and “a criminal who doesn’t think, but behaves like an animal”.

The telephone intercept, recorded in May 1995, documents a conversation between two men who the prosecution says are Milosevic and Borislav Mikolic, at the time prime minister of the Serb-controlled Croatian territory known as the Republic of Serbian Krajina, RSK.

This discussion is said to have occurred in the wake of the shelling of Zagreb on May 2 and 3, 1995, in which seven civilians were killed and 194 wounded. After the attack, Martic, who at this point was president of the RSK and exercised control over the Krajina police and territorial defence units, publicly admitted to having planned and ordered the shelling.

Prosecutors had suggested previously that Milosevic was initially one of Martic’s key supporters.

However, the intercept indicates that the Yugoslav president may have changed his mind following the Zagreb shelling. The voice on the tape said to be Milosevic says that only “a fool” would be proud of such an action.

Milosevic is listed in Martic’s indictment as one of several Serb leaders who apparently participated in a joint criminal enterprise to expel non-Serbs from large areas of Bosnia and Croatia between 1991 and 1995. Martic himself is charged with ten counts of crimes against humanity and nine of violations of the laws or customs of war for crimes including extermination, murder, imprisonment, torture and the destruction of villages.

The voice on the intercept refers to Martic as a “mad dog”. “Nobody has ever seen anything like this - not even Hitler did things like this,” he says.

The speaker goes on to ask whether Mikolic would seek Martic’s resignation at the next RSK assembly, adding if Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Momcilo Krajisnik wanted to “protect” Martic, then he should go off to Pale, the capital of Serb-held Bosnian territory, to be their “court jester”.

Prosecution witness Milan Babic, the accused’s predecessor as RSK president and his erstwhile political opponent, confirmed that the views expressed on the tape were consistent with what he was aware of at the time.

He explained that Martic had ordered the Zagreb shelling as retaliation against “Operation Flash”, a drive by Croatian forces to reclaim Krajina from Serb control. However, Babic corroborated Milosevic’s seeming analysis that Martic had in fact provoked Operation Flash by refusing to reopen the Zagreb-Belgrade motorway as previously agreed with Croat opponents.

“It is not true that Croatia launched an attack just as everything was ready for the motorway to reopen. Martic said it was out of the question to open the motorway, and then Croatia attacked,” the voice on the tape is heard to say.

Milosevic’s apparent criticisms of Martic in 1995 contrast with the prosecution’s claims earlier in the trial that during 1992 and 1993, the accused enjoyed extensive support from him.

In his opening speech, prosecutor Alex Whiting suggested that Martic’s victory over Babic in the January 1994 election for RSK president had been assured because he was Milosevic’s favoured candidate.

Meanwhile Babic, who is currently serving a 13-year sentence after pleading guilty at the tribunal to persecuting non-Serbs in Croatia, testified that Martic had always seemed keen to please the president.

Martic had initially been opposed to the January 1993 peace plan put forward by United Nations Special Envoy Cyrus Vance and European Commissions representative Lord Owen. But as soon as Martic heard that Milosevic backed the plan, he sided with the Yugoslav president and became “quiet” on the subject, Babic said.

The witness cited another example from 1995 when Martic was due to enter talks with US ambassador Peter Galbraith about the so-called “Z4 plan” - designed to enable the peaceful integration of Krajina Serbs into the Croatian federation.

Babic remembered attending a meeting in Knin in February 1995, in which Martic told the assembled RSK representatives that he would block the Z4 negotiations because Milosevic “would not even consider it”.

At the end of his prosecution testimony, Babic issued yet another mea culpa, explaining that during his times as RSK president, he had “succumbed to the passions of politics and ethnic superiority”. He added that even though he had never submitted an order for anyone to be killed, his role in setting up the Krajina defence forces and making speeches which incited ethnic violence rendered him responsible for the resulting attacks against Croats.

“I believed it would be possible to achieve the goals Milosevic set, to create a single state for all Serbs…without any violent clashes,” he said.

In cross-examination, defence counsel Predrag Milovancevic embarked on a wide-ranging investigation of Croatian and Slovenian nationalist tendencies and Babic’s involvement in the League of Communists of Croatia during the Seventies and Eighties.

After nearly two hours, presiding Judge Bakone Justice Moloto interrupted Milovancevic to complain, “We are moving way out of the area of the indictment and are doing a history of the whole former Yugoslavia.”

Martic’s defence lawyer protested that Babic was “the most important prosecution witness”, and that he was merely responding to the charges put forward by the prosecution.

“The court is here about Mr Martic, and you have not told us one bit about what he did between 1971 and 1991,” replied Judge Moloto.

Babic’s testimony will continue on March 2.

Helen Warrell is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
Support our journalists