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

More Evidence of Belgrade's Role in Croatia

Testimony from Croatian Serb official shows extent of Belgrade's involvement in funding breakaway Krajina.
By Emir Suljagic

Evidence heard by the Hague tribunal this week shows how closely involved Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic's regime was in supporting Republika Srpska Krajina, RSK, the self-declared entity set up by Croatia's Serbs, and determining its fate in negotiations.

Milan Milanovic, a former deputy defence minister of RSK, came back to court to be cross-examined on October 14, after giving evidence in the Milosevic trial the previous week.

Milanovic was the RSK's chief negotiator in talks with the Croatian authorities in 1995, and signed the Erdut agreement which re-integrated eastern Slavonia into Croatia.

And as he told the court, he did so with Milosevic's approval.

The Serbian president, who was in Dayton negotiating an end to the war in Bosnia at the time, sent Milanovic a message via Yugoslav deputy foreign minister Zivorad Jovanovic. Milanovic was unsure about the message and went to consult his powerful friend, Radovan "Badza" Stojicic, Serbia's deputy interior minister.

A day before the Erdut agreement was supposed to be signed, Milanovic received a further message, this time from Jovica Stanisic, the head of Serbia's state security service who was also in Dayton. The message read, "I have tried everything with the president. I have failed. We have lost Slavonia. God help them."

Although Stojicic told him to disregard the message, Milanovic insisted that Croatian forces would attack RSK if he did not sign the agreement the next day. Stojicic yelled back at him, "Didn't you hear me? When he [Milosevic] calls me, I will call you!"

Despite this, Milanovic left Belgrade and signed the Erdut agreement - and was praised by the Serbian president on his return from Dayton.

But in April 1996, Milanovic was summoned to Belgrade, where Milosevic told him that other Croatian Serb politicians were unhappy with him and wanted him out. When Milanovic replied that Milosevic himself should dismiss him, the Serbian president replied, "I can't sack you, but consider yourself sacked."

Among the documents produced in court were several that showed the extent of Belgrade's involvement in RSK, including funding its costs. They included an order to pay 12 billion dinars from Belgrade to RSK's budget, as well as a letter from the RSK's central bank to the Yugoslav national bank asking for ten billion dinars and including the phrase "since we're moving towards the end-July deadline for paying the army we are in great need".

There was also a letter dated November 1993 requesting clearance for two armed men to cross through Bosnian Serb territory to deliver cash from Belgrade to RSK.

Other documents showed how the Yugoslav army recruited soldiers to serve in RSK, even supervising their swearing-in ceremony, and trained RSK troops in specialist sabotage techniques at an anti-terrorism school.

Milosevic suggested that it was legitimate for one state to train another's army, "I am sure you know that our officers, during the SFRY [socialist Yugoslavia] were trained in different armed forces, from Russian up to the United States. So what is strange in sending specialists for a one-month course to a friendly country for training?"

The prosecution are likely to be happy with the evidence set out in court. They will be hoping to show, through these documents, that Milosevic's regime had control both over financing and military training of the RSK forces, and thus shares the responsibility for any war crimes they committed.

Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague. Chris Stephen is IWPR's tribunal project manager.