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Milosevic Trial: Belgrade 'Role' in Bosnia Revealed

Bosnian Serb witness says Serbia provided guns and men for Zvornik ethnic cleansing.
By Emir Suljagic

In an effort to convince judges at The Hague that Slobodan Milosevic was directly responsible for war crimes committed outside Serbia’s borders, the prosecution have called on a former Bosnian Serb official from Zvornik to testify in court.

Throughout his trial, Milosevic has not attempted to deny that a murderous campaign of ethnic cleansing took place in the former Yugoslavia. Such things may have happened, he claims, but as president of Serbia he had nothing to do with atrocities committed in neighbouring Bosnia or Croatia.

The witness produced by the prosecution was a member of the crisis staff of the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, in the Bosnian town of Zvornik when the war started in 1992. Known to the public only as witness B-24, he gave his evidence on May 23 and 26, hidden behind a screen with his voice distorted by computer.

He told the court that paramilitary groups from Serbia proper moved into Bosnia and took control of the town of Zvornik in the spring of 1992. He said that Zeljko Raznatovic, the notorious Serbian paramilitary leader better known as Arkan, made the actual decision to attack on April 7, 1992.

In the months leading up to the war, B-24 said, Serbs in Bosnia received arms deliveries both from the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, and from police who were answerable ultimately to Milosevic.

Two-thirds of the weapons used by Bosnian Serb forces in Zvornik were provided by the JNA, the witness said. The crucial link between the JNA and the Bosnian Serbs was a man he identified as Marko Pavlovic, who he said had worked for the Serbian state security service.

"Pavlovic would dial some numbers in front of the entire crisis staff, and the result would be a load of weapons for the territorial defence force arriving within 24 to 48 hours," B-24 said.

The remaining one-third of the Bosnian Serbs’ weaponry, he said, came from Milosevic's secret police. That operation was run by a secret police official named Rade Kostic, who had helped the Zvornik crisis staff obtain some small arms from Serbia as early as autumn 1991. By January 1992, the operation was in full swing and had received "official blessing".

B-24 recounted that a delegation of Serbs from Zvornik went to Belgrade and spoke to the head of a Serbian parliamentary body called the Committee for Serbs Outside Serbia, which was headed by Radmilo Bogdanovic, Milosevic’s former minister of the interior. Bogdanovic told the Zvornik Serbs that Kostic would call them and arrange a weapons transfer within 10 days.

Kostic did call six or seven days later, and B-24 said he was told to drive a truck to Belgrade and leave it with the keys in the ignition in an empty parking lot. B-24 said he followed these instructions and returned several hours later to find the vehicle loaded with weapons. This method was subsequently used for repeated transfers of arms.

"We would find it in the afternoon and drive to Zvornik, where we would count them and then distribute them to the Serb villages," he said.

B-24 said the attack on Zvornik was part of a larger plan to carve out a Serb republic in Bosnia, and that much of the operation was explained to him at a secret SDS meeting in Sarajevo in December 1991. Zvornik Serbs, he said, were instructed to create a Serb-only police force and local administration. They subsequently created the SDS crisis staff, police and a territorial defence force, which were headquartered in Karakaj, a village about five km outside Zvornik.

He said all of the assistance needed to set up the Serb police force in Zvornik came from Serbia. "We received logistics from the border police stations at Mali Zvornik and Loznica," he said, referring to two towns across the Drina in Serbia proper. "They gave us uniforms and radio-communications equipment."

Later, B-24 said, he received another call from Kostic and was told to go to Bijeljina to meet Arkan. Again the witness did as he was told. In Bijeljina, Arkan introduced him to one of his men, Major Marko Pejic, who was reportedly in charge of the Zvornik operation.

B-24 drove around 20 of Arkan’s armed men back across the Drina into Serbia and checked them into a spa some 10 km from the border. Over the next few days, several paramilitary groups from Serbia joined them.

"There were groups like the White Eagles. They were all paid as if they were members of the military and the police force," he said.

A few days later, Arkan arrived in Karakaj in a car with license plates indicating that it belonged to the Yugoslav interior ministry. On April 7, Arkan and Pejic ordered their men and the Zvornik crisis staff to expel the non-Serbs from Zvornik.

B-24 said that Arkan remained firmly in control throughout the operation. JNA officers stood to salute him, and he beat up a JNA officer as well as several members of the crisis staff who suggested that they try to negotiate with Zvornik’s Muslims.

By 9 am on April 9, Zvornik was under Serb control, witness B-24 said. Thereafter it remained the key border crossing where JNA and special police forces entered Bosnia to aid local Serb forces there.

Kostic, the Serbian official whom B-24 says facilitated contact between Milosevic’s secret police and Zvornik’s crisis staff, was killed in 1995. An array of state officials and others close to Milosevic attended his funeral. Belgrade named a training centre housing a feared secret police strike force, the Unit for Special Operations or JSO, after Kostic.

Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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