Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Mladic on Belgrade Payroll Years After Indictment
Leaked army files on former Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic have revealed he was in the pay of both the Serbian and the Bosnian Serb military for years after he was indicted for war crimes by the Hague tribunal.
The documents, disclosed in the Sarajevo daily Dnevni Avaz on November 30, show that Mladic received an official pension from Belgrade until 2001 and was paid a Bosnian Serb army pension until 2002. IWPR enquiries, and reactions from the Office of the High Representative, suggest the documents are genuine.
The suggestion that Mladic maintained links with both Belgrade and the Bosnian Serb government is not surprising in itself.
But besides creating an awkward situation for Serbia, where some tribunal insiders privately say they think Mladic is hiding, the revelations could have particularly serious consequences for the Bosnian Serb government, which has been coming under increasing pressure lately over its failure to arrest a single indicted war criminal.
Mladic, who led ethnic Serb forces during the war in Bosnia, was indicted by Hague tribunal prosecutors in 1995. He is accused of being among those who ordered the massacre of up to 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in the area around Srebrenica in July that year.
The general’s relationship with the Belgrade government of the time is also a key issue in the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who is charged with masterminding atrocities committed by ethnic Serb forces in Bosnia.
The leaked documents had their first impact on the Hague tribunal on November 2, when prosecutor Geoffrey Nice questioned a defence witness in the Milosevic case about the issue. He asked former Yugoslav interior minister Vukasin Jokanovic whether he knew Mladic was on Belgrade’s payroll until 2001.
Chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte announced in April that, after a long struggle, she had succeeded in obtaining a copy of what she described as Mladic’s “official file” from the Serbian government. But the documents given to her only contained information for the period up to 1992 - the year Belgrade officially cut its ties with Bosnian Serb forces.
The recently leaked set of documents is the first solid evidence that Mladic remained a salaried member of the Yugoslav military long after the official split. They indicated that he was only removed from the official army pensions list nine years later, in 2001, at the request of then Yugoslav president Vojislav Kostunica.
The revelations are even more damaging for leaders of the Republika Srpska, RS, who the documents show did not officially strike Mladic from their own army pensions list until the order was given in 2002 by then RS president Mirko Sarovic.
A statement by the Office of the High Representative, OHR, issued in response to the revelations, treated the documents as authentic and slated the Bosnian Serb authorities.
“The fact that as recently as two years ago, the VRS [Army of RS] had an employer/employee relationship with Mr Mladic is scandalous,” said High Representative Paddy Ashdown.
He added that the revelations were a sign of how the Bosnian Serb government and military have disregarded both the duties placed on them by the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended the war, and their obligations to the Hague tribunal.
It has long been widely believed that Mladic and his army maintained intimate links with Belgrade for many years after the Milosevic regime announced its formal split with the Bosnia Serbs.
“That Ratko Mladic has had a Yugoslav army pension is not a surprise; everyone in Belgrade has known this,” a well-respected Belgrade editor with access to government figures told IWPR. “The Bosnian Serb army and the Yugoslav army had practically the same treasury.”
Tanja Topic, an analyst with the Banja Luka branch of Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation, said the fresh evidence of Mladic’s long-term links with the Bosnian Serb government comes as no surprise, “We all knew that there are some people and institutions in the RS who are helping war criminals.”
Emir Suljagic, an investigative reporter with the Sarajevo-based magazine Dani, agreed, saying, “It’s been obvious for a long time that the Bosnian Serb government and army officials have been under orders to support Mladic.”
International officials have told IWPR that they believe Mladic continued to receive government support even after the final dates cited in the leaked documents, but that they were unable to offer documentary evidence of this.
Though few are surprised by the notion that Mladic maintained links with the Bosnian Serb authorities, the new evidence has become public at a particularly sensitive time for the Bosnian Serb leadership.
Ashdown has made it clear on a number of occasions recently that the RS must in the near future arrest Mladic and fellow war crimes indictee Radovan Karadzic, the former Bosnian Serb president, or face the consequences.
“The internationals are preparing to move against the RS authorities, and they've been signalling this for the last month,” Suljagic told IWPR, citing as evidence not only a speech Ashdown made to the Bosnian Serb assembly, but also remarks by Del Ponte in a recent talk to the UN Security Council and an open letter from Ashdown to the Bosnian Serbs.
“The message is clear here,” added Suljagic, “punishment is on the way.”
The leaked documents can only make things worse for RS leaders. James Lyon, director of the International Crisis Group’s project in Serbia, told IWPR that the OHR is likely to use the events to justify any measures it decides to take against the RS.
“It looks like bad news for the authorities,” agreed the Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s Topic.
Zeljko Kopanja, director of the Banja Luka daily Nezavisne Novine, said the revelations could lead to a change in tactics by those exerting pressure on the RS government.
“The revelation of Mladic’s files will most probably result in diminishing the powers of certain institutions of the RS, such as the ministry of the interior and the defence ministry,” he said. “This time the institutions will be punished, not individuals as was previously the case.”
Many analysts believe that a NATO summit scheduled for December 9 will serve as a deadline for cooperation. After that, they say, Banja Luka could be subject to measures similar to those that followed the last NATO summit in July, when 59 politicians and policemen were forced to resign and were blocked from taking similar jobs in the future.
As High Representative, Ashdown has far-reaching powers in Bosnia. These include the ability to remove from office any public official that his office deems to be obstructing compliance with the Dayton accords, including cooperation with The Hague.
The RS government’s failure to arrest a single indicted war criminal in line with its Dayton obligations stands in particular contrast with the Federation, which has already delivered all its war crimes suspects to The Hague.
Hugh Griffiths is an IWPR contributor in Belgrade. Michael Farquhar and Merdijana Sadovic contributed to this article from The Hague.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight