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Ojdanic Seeks to Distance Himself From Kosovo Crimes

A defence witness claims Serb general had little involvement in key decisions about Kosovo.
By Brendan McKenna
Yugoslavia’s former deputy chief of staff this week tried to distance himself from war crimes committed during the Serbian military campaign in Kosovo.

A witness called by General Dragoljub Ojdanić’s defence team produced documents that he claimed showed the defendant was denied regular access to combat reports during the conflict.

Ojdanić and five other formerly high-ranking officials - Nebojsa Pavkovic, Milan Milutinovic, Nikola Sainovic, Sreten Lukic and Vladimir Lazarevic - are accused of responsibility for war crimes in Kosovo during 1998 and 1999, including the killing of hundreds of Kosovo Albanians and the forcible expulsion of an estimated 800,000 people.

But Radovan Radinović, a retired Yugoslav army general and expert witness on military issues, told the court that relations between Ojdanić and the army’s chief of staff had been cool, and that Ojdanić had little involvement in decisions.

He based this conclusion on examination of Yugoslav army records and meeting minutes that recorded Ojdanić “demanding” that regular combat reports be passed on to him.

Radinović concluded that the strong language and use of a Serbian verb tense that denotes a continuing basis meant Ojdanić felt he had been missing key pieces of information he needed to do his job.

On cross examination, the prosecution’s senior trial attorney Chester Stamp raised questions about Radinović’s conclusions.

“Wouldn’t General Ojdanić have been extremely derelict in his duty by remaining in the position of deputy chief of the general staff without getting regular [operational] reports,” asked Stamp.

Judge Iain Bonomy also expressed some doubt, noting that Ojdanić had been in his position for two years before making the “demand” noted in the minutes.

“Is it not rather odd that he let that period of time elapse without doing something about it,” he said.

Radinović said he wasn’t contending that Ojdanić didn’t get any of the reports, only that he did not receive them regularly. Radinović also added under questioning from the judges that he hadn’t found evidence explicitly stating that particular information was withheld from Ojdanić.

Ojdanić and Milutinovic are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity by using troops to deport hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.

The indictment alleges that Yugoslav forces systematically shelled towns and villages, burned homes and farms, damaged and destroyed Kosovo Albanian cultural and religious institutions, looted Albanian properties, murdered Albanians and sexually assaulted Albanian women.

Milutinovic, as a member of the Supreme Defence Council, is accused of participation in the “planning, direction, coordination and ordering” of the campaign, making him personally responsible for crimes against humanity and murder.

The indictments against Milutinovic, Ojdanić and the others were made public in 1999, though Ojdanić remained at large until April 2002 and Milutinovic did not surrender until January 2003.

Brendan McKenna is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.