New Indictments May Follow Seselj Charges

The departure of a Serbian ultra-nationalist for The Hague could herald a series of new indictments against Milosevic regime officials.

New Indictments May Follow Seselj Charges

The departure of a Serbian ultra-nationalist for The Hague could herald a series of new indictments against Milosevic regime officials.

A leading Serbian nationalist charged with war crimes has predicted that his indictment and voluntary departure for The Hague will pave the way for more cases against of prominent former allies of Slobodan Milosevic.

Vojislav Seselj surprised the Serbian public with his apparent familiarity with the secrets of The Hague tribunal when he said he knew his indictment had been issued three weeks before it was made public on February 14.

The Serbian Radical Party leader told the Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA on February 17 that he had learnt from the same diplomatic source that informed him of his own indictment that Jovica Stanisic, chief of Milosevic's secret police from 1991 to 1998, had also been indicted.

Seselj predicted the tribunal would also indict the Serbian police chief Sreten Lukic and the commander of elite police units, Goran "Guri" Radosavljevic.

He said Franko "Frenki" Simatovic and Milorad "Legija" Lukovic, successive commanders of the Special Operations Unit (JSO) from 1991 to 2001 - which acted as the secret police's strike force - will be also charged.

Seselj said all these men, and three army officers, Ratko Mladic, Veselin Sljivancanin and Miroslav Radic - whose extradition the tribunal has sought for some time - will have been either murdered, or transferred to The Hague by the end of May.

"It is important to warn Mladic, Sljivancanin and the others whose lives are at stake here, irrespective of our mutual personal differences," Seselj told SRNA.

The indictment The Hague chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte signed on January 15 against Seselj, Milosevic's close collaborator in the wars in Bosnia and Croatia from 1991-1994 and in Kosovo from 1998 to 2000, differs from most issued against Serbian political leaders.

Once dubbed Serbia's Le Pen by the media, Seselj is charged with individual, not command, criminal responsibility. He is accused of 14 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of laws and customs of war between August 1991 and September 1993 in Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina and Vojvodina, northern Serbia

He is alleged to have participated in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at the permanent, violent extermination and expulsion of the non-Serb population from a third of Croatian territory, an even larger portion of Bosnia and from parts of Vojvodina.

As part of the joint criminal enterprise, the indictment says Seselj formed volunteer paramilitary units, and planned and prepared operations to capture villages in the eastern and western parts of Slavonia, in Croatia, and in northern and eastern Bosnia.

He allegedly took part in the deportation of the non-Serb inhabitants of those villages, and their confinement in detention centres, where they were tortured, murdered or exposed to inhumane treatment.

A novel aspect of the charges with respect to other indictments is that Seselj is accused of contributing to the joint criminal enterprise through "incendiary" and "extreme nationalist rhetoric" as well as with "war propaganda".

Seselj dismissed the charges as ludicrous. "The indictment is based on lies," he was quoted as saying in the Belgrade daily Blic on February 18. "I shall come home from The Hague victorious".

In a display of confidence about the outcome of the trial, Seselj booked an airline ticket to Amsterdam, intending to surrender voluntarily, even before The Hague prosecution office issued the indictment.

Seselj said he wanted to reach the tribunal before the other indictees he had mentioned out of "anxiety over my possible role in the bloody clashes and arrests in the next few months" that he said would accompany the handover of the new suspects.

Seselj's political predictions have often been seen as cheap and sensationalist. But even his opponents credit him as well informed, which is why analysts take his speculation about new indictments and extraditions seriously.

Many legal experts believe his indictment is too insignificant to warrant a separate trial but will probably be linked to several new indictments. "Seselj will not be the only person in the dock in this trial," the Belgrade lawyer Toma Fila, who has acted as defence counsel in several cases before The Hague tribunal, told the Belgrade news magazine Nedeljni telegraf on February 19.

Stanisic, Simatovic, Lukovic and Radosavljevic were singled out as organisers or leaders of Serb paramilitary formations in previous testimonies in The Hague. Fingers were pointed at them again in the last week's testimony by General Aleksandar Vasiljevic, former Yugoslav People's Army intelligence service chief from 1990 to 1992.

Evidence of the involvement of Milosevic and the secret police in the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina emerged at the former Belgrade leader's trial on February 19, when the prosecution showed videotape of him, Stanisic, Simatovic and Lukovic discussing military operations in Croatia and Bosnia.

All the individuals Seselj named as future war crime suspects were mentioned in the extended indictment against Milosevic in November 2001.

According to the SENSE news agency, Del Ponte, before her visit to Belgrade on February 17, informed foreign diplomats at a meeting in The Hague of new inquiries. She is reported to have revealed that about 35 to 40 war crimes suspects who were political, military or police units leaders in the Balkan wars were under investigation, though she did not disclose their names.

Citing well-informed sources, SENSE said that "a substantial portion of the ongoing investigations are focused on individuals who have been listed as participants in joint criminal enterprises in the indictments against Milosevic, and that one of them is Vojislav Seselj".

After meeting Serbian premier Zoran Djindjic in Belgrade, Del Ponte told a press conference that she was disappointed with the level of Serbia's cooperation on war crimes matters.

Her dismay is believed to have prompted the government to announce imminent changes to the law on relations with the tribunal.

The law passed in the federal parliament in April last year limits extradition of Yugoslav war crimes suspects to those indicted before the legislation was enacted.

It suggested Belgrade felt no obligation to hand over those charged after the law came into effect. This displeased tribunal representatives.

The suggestion now is that the amended legislation will extend cooperation to cover Yugoslav citizens indicted in the future.

Information from sources in the Serbian government remains contradictory. Some claim new extraditions are out of the question, while others say officials have merely asked for more time from the US, which has made financial aid contingent on fresh arrests.

Washington recently announced that the deadline for the extradition of indictees and President George Bush's decision on the resumption of financial aid to Belgrade would be June 15, instead of March 31. This suggested the US expected imminent action on the part of Belgrade in this respect.

It remains to be seen whether the Serbian government, which faces serious financial problems that have delayed the whole reform process, will now seriously addresses its international obligations.

Zeljko Cvijanovic is editor of the Belgrade weekly Blic News.

Support our journalists