Montenegro: Tribunal Cooperation Under Scrutiny

Is Podgorica finally beginnning to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal?

Montenegro: Tribunal Cooperation Under Scrutiny

Is Podgorica finally beginnning to cooperate with the war crimes tribunal?

The arrest and extradition of indicted war criminals in Montenegro looks set to become a painful and protracted drama.

Earlier this month, The Hague unsealed four indictments against military figures implicated in war crimes committed during the Montenegrin assault on Dubrovnik ten years ago.

The move came after the Podgorica authorities failed to arrest the indictees, retired General Pavle Strugar, retired Vice-Admirals Miodrag Jokic and Milan Zec and Yugoslav army captain Vladimir Kovacevic.

Their sealed indictments had been handed to the Montenegrin chief of police Vukasin Maras, and made known to President Milo Djukanovic, earlier this year. But despite Podgorica's professed policy of cooperation with The Hague, nothing was done.

Montenegrin police claim Jokic, Zec and Kovacevic have all relocated to Belgrade, but Strugar lives in Podgorica and local officials had made no attempt to arrest him since his sealed indictment was issued on March 1.

"We concluded that commitments towards the tribunal were not being honoured. The authorities had not arrested the indicted men. This prompted the unsealing of the indictments," said tribunal spokesperson Florence Hartmann.

Once the indictments were made public, Strugar announced that he would surrender to The Hague voluntarily. According to IWPR sources, this followed negotiations with the Montenegrin government.

After Strugar's statement, Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic made a public pledge to assist the general in every way and also announced that the government will lobby the tribunal to allow him to stay at liberty until his trial begins.

Observers claim that the government hesitated over arresting Strugar because he could prove a very dangerous witness. Along with his co-indictees - known as the "Dubrovnik four" - he was party to the secretpreparations for the "liberation" of Dubrovnik, knows the chains of command and could therefore incriminate many others.

This is particularly sensitive, since The Hague has already stated its intention to extend the Dubrovnik investigation to politicians in both Podgorica and Belgrade.

Since many in power today also held office during the Dubrovnik campaign, the authorities will have even less incentive to cooperate with the second phase of the investigation.

However, as Montenegro has been out of favour in the West for some time now, it seems likely that some help will eventually be forthcoming unless the government wants to make its position even worse.

On October 9, The Hague announced that 15 more people are under investigation for crimes committed in Croatia. These include two former high-ranking Montenegrin officials: Momir Bulatovic and Branko Kostic.

Speculation is rife in Podgorica over which names will appear on any further lists issued by the tribunal - most importantly, whether The Hague will summon President Milo Djukanovic.

At the time of the attack on Dubrovnik in autumn 1991, Djukanovic was Montenegrin prime minister, and a close ally of Slobodan Milosevic. Six years later, Djukanovic separated from Milosevic, adopted the language of peace and sought to build bridges with other Balkan states.

In 1999, he made a formal apology to Croatia for the behaviour of Montenegrin soldiers and irregulars during the attack on Dubrovnik. During the Kosovo campaign in 1999, Montenegrin officials travelled to The Hague to lobby for the indictment of those who committed crimes, but they have been far less willing to bring alleged Montenegrin war criminals to justice.

Strugar is not the only one to have strolled around Montenegro undisturbed. Milosevic and Serbian President Milan Milutinovic are also known to have visited Montenegro on various occasions, since they were indicted.

Even Hague indictee General Ratko Mladic has enjoyed the beautiful Montenegrin coast without attracting the attention of the police. Now, however, new police minister Andrija Jovicevic insists that any indictee found on Montenegrin territory will be extradited forthwith. Whether this represents a new willingness to cooperate with the tribunal or more empty rhetoric, remains to be seen.

Milka Tadic Mijovic is IWPR's project editor, and editor of the Podgorica weekly magazine, Monitor.

Kosovo, Croatia
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