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

Milosevic Linked Directly to War Crimes

Protected witness evidence suggests that Milosevic ordered Croatian atrocities.
By Chris Stephen

After 15 months of trying, war crimes prosecutors have finally produced what they hope will be the “smoking gun” evidence against Slobodan Milosevic.


A witness has produced the first testimony that the former Serbian strongman instructed his men to persecute thousands of civilians.


Until now, the Milosevic trial has produced plenty of evidence of war crimes committed in the wars of Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo – but none at all proving these atrocities were ordered by the ex Serbian president.


This changed on the morning of April 28 in court number one at The Hague.


Protected witness, C-48, a former casino manager, told the court that Milosevic had held a secret meeting in March 1993 at which Serbia's policy of ethnic cleansing in eastern Croatia was reviewed.


He said Milosevic, whom the others called “The Boss”, asked for details of deportations in eastern Slavonija.


“The accused (Milosevic) looked in the direction of Stanisic who said that everything was going according to plan and the terrain had been cleansed of Croats,” C-48 told the court. “To which the accused said, ‘very well, you have completed the main part of the job’.”


C-48 said that when Milosevic was told that there were no longer any Croats in eastern Slavonija, he gloated with satisfaction, “He said ‘I am really looking forward to how the Croats will ask for the Krajina when the majority population is Serb’.”


Next, Milosevic turned to a member of his Serbian Socialist Party, SPS, Mihalj Kertes, nicknamed Bracika, and told him, “You and Frankie (Simatovic, commander of the Red Berets commandos) just continue in this manner. You have done well so far.”


In a day of explosive testimony, the witness, named only as C-48, said Milosevic’s meeting was held not in Belgrade but in the private offices of the Royal Casino in Novi Sad, the capital of Serbia’s northern province.


The spot was chosen by Milosevic’s inner circle of secret service men with whom it was popular.


Milosevic met with secret police chief Jovica Stanisic, Kertes, Milorad Vucelic, head of state television, RTS, Marko Kekovic, director of Novi Sad TV and Radovan Pankov, head of the SPS in Partu Vojvodina.


The meeting was hosted by Veselin Vukotic, the owner of the casino.


Vukotic, pre-war assassin for Yugoslav state security, bragged to the witness about having killed Enver Hadriu, a well-known Kosovo Albanian dissident, in Brussels in February 1990, C-48 said.


The witness, himself a secret service informer, said he was at the meeting to organise the supply of whisky to the participants. But he heard everything and later wrote it up in a diary he was keeping.


The diary, which he subsequently lost when he left Serbia, was the subject of a heated exchange between the witness and the accused during the cross-examination.


The witness said he made notes on the contents of the diary while preparing for an interview with tribunal investigators in May 2002. The notes, which were introduced as evidence, were a "fabrication", Milosevic said later. C-48 maintained, however, that they were based on authentic diary entries he made a few days after the meeting.


Simatovic’s role was described by the witness later in the minutest detail.


The witness drove with him and Darko Asanin, an underworld figure, to Erdut, wartime capital of the Croatian Serbs, for a meeting with Goran Hadzic, the president of the rebel entity Republika Srpska Krajina in April 1993.


On the way back to Belgrade that day, Simatovic complained about the Bosnian Serb leadership, who around that time turned down a peace plan prepared by international envoys Cyrus Vance and Lord David Owen.


"We gave him everything, and now he is being smart," said Simatovic about Radovan Karadzic, president of the Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Srpska, RS. Unlike him, he said, Hadzic was obedient.


At the Novi Sad meeting, continued the witness, Milosevic only had words of praise for his henchmen and promised he would get the guns they needed to continue their terrible work. “As far as material equipment is concerned, just ask,” he said


Milosevic then turned to the subject of the most feared paramilitary commander, Zeljko “Arkan” Raznatovic.


At the time, Arkan’s Tigers were terrorising Croats and Muslims. “Is Arkan under control?” Milosevic asked Kertes, C-48 said. “Very well. Very well. You just keep him under control. We need people like this now but no-one should think that they are more powerful than the state.”


For prosecutors, this piece of testimony, if accepted by the judges, will show that Arkan’s forces were under the command of Milosevic - something he has denied.


Milosevic told his men that the goal was to establish a "unified Serb state", which would comprise RS, Republika Srpska Krajina, Montenegro and Serbia.


By dominating the two Serb statelets in Bosnia and Croatia, Milosevic also hoped to reign in the rebellious Montenegrin leadership. “It will be easier to keep Montenegro under control in case they start making waves,” he told the meeting.


The witness painted a picture of the casino being used as the playground for paramilitary commanders, secret service chiefs, drug dealers and television executives who, he said, formed the corrupt elite of Milosevic’s Serbia.


Here, warlords would boast of the horrors they inflicted in Bosnia and Croatia. “In the atmosphere that prevailed crimes against the Croats and Muslims were heralded as some form of prestige,” he said.


The witness said that while at the casino, he had heard that top police officers used criminals to organise the selling of large quantities of heroin to Croatian drug dealers. Asanin was in charge of the operation, but the witness said it had Stanisic’s blessing.


“He had the task of organising large quantities of heroin into Croatia. The aim was to weaken the fighting morale of Croatian youth. I was horrified and flabbergasted because these murderous acts bordered on Nazi activities,” said C-48.


Drugs were freely available at the casino. “We provided narcotics for certain members of the state security service who indulged in that relaxation,” the witness continued.


And the casino also provided prostitutes. “They worked as escorts,” he said. “They were used for - how should I put it - the satisfaction of the needs of the politicians and other people there.”


The witness began working as an informer in June 1992. His job had been to spy on local Croats, some of them his friends, and was rewarded by being trusted in Milosevic’s inner circle.


“To be quite frank at the time I accepted the offer (from the secret police), I thought I would send in some general information. I’m really ashamed. I abused the confidence in me of the people who had been my close friends. Like any young man I was enticed by the high salary and a good life,” he told the court.


C-48 said he told the court his contact was a man named Milan Popivoda, who was the chief of state security in Novi Sad, and a close friend of Stanisic. "He was also the head of state security of RSK in eastern Slavonia," said the witness.


Popivod’s men stayed in the region secretly, after it was handed back to Croatia in November 1995. In a conversation in July 1996, Popivoda told the witness that his agents would be working there as members of the transitional UN administration, UNTAES.


C-48 said the Red Berets, Serbian state security’s elite unit, was formed at the end of 1991 because Stanisic and others needed a reliable special force. “There were a lot of units there either under no control, or not under full control,” he said. “They wanted to have a unit with a firm military organisation, which they could trust.”


The Red Berets went on to become one of Serbia’s most feared units. A former commander, Simatovic, is in jail and their most recent chief, Milorad Lukokvic, is on the run, both suspected of involvement in the assassination of prime minister Zoran Djindjic. The Red Berets were formerly dissolved this month.


Milosevic denied the allegations, telling the court that he was not in Novi Sad in March 1993, ”I was there later in the 1993 election campaign, but not in March.”


However, thus far he has not provided an alibi of where he was at that time.


Chris Stephen and Emir Suljagic are IWPR’s outgoing project manager and reporter in The Hague.