REGIONAL REPORT: Pandurevic Indictment - A Step Closer to Mladic

General Ratko Mladic has good reason to fear the unsealing of an indictment against one of his former colleagues.

REGIONAL REPORT: Pandurevic Indictment - A Step Closer to Mladic

General Ratko Mladic has good reason to fear the unsealing of an indictment against one of his former colleagues.

The net is closing in on Hague suspect General Ratko Mladic, following the unsealing of an indictment against a one-time member of his inner circle. Alongside former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, the ex-commander of the Republika Srpska Army, VRS, is one of the two most prominent war crimes indictees to have eluded arrest and extradition to The Hague tribunal.

The indictment in question is against General Vinko Pandurevic of the VRS Zvornik brigade, who is accused of genocide for his role in the massacre at Srebrenica in July 1995. ICTY chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte handed the sealed indictment against Pandurevic to Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic during a visit to Belgrade in early September. The tribunal believes that Pandurevic is currently at large in Serbia. With no arrest forthcoming, the indictment was unsealed on December 14.

The indictment claims that Pandurevic's unit, which he led with the rank of colonel between December 1992 and November 1996, was responsible for executions at Potocari, Kravica, Bratunac, Tisca, Orahovac, the Petkovci Dam, Cerska, the primary school at Pilica, the Branjevo military agricultural farm, the Pilica Culture Hall, and Kozluk. Pandurevic is also charged with suppressing evidence of the crime.

Pandurevic's indictment was originally issued in sealed form in November 1998, on the same day as the indictment against General Radislav Krstic, commander of the VRS Drina corps. Krstic has since been arrested, tried and sentenced for 46 years' imprisonment for his role at Srebrenica.

According to government sources in Serbia, six further sealed indictments were issued during 2000 and 2001 as a direct result of statements made by General Krstic to Hague investigators. All the indictees are former VRS officers now living in Serbia and holding Yugoslav citizenship, accused of genocide and mass executions of Bosniak men at Srebrenica. Del Ponte is said to have also handed the indictments over to Djindjic in September.

In an interview taped over two days in February and published last August in the Bosnian daily Slobodna Bosna, General Krstic told Jean-Rene Ruiz, the ICTY's chief investigator for crimes at Srebrenica, about the "Knin Group", which he claimed shared responsibility for the executions at Srebrenica. The group comprised six VRS officers who had all been with Mladic since he headed the Knin Corps of the Yugoslav People's Army, JNA, during the war in Croatia in 1991.

Krstic said the group included Mladic's assistant, General Zdravko Tolimir, Colonels Ljubomir Beara and Svetozar Andric, and Lieutenant-Colonel Vujadin Popovic.

According to Krstic, members of the group, acting on direct orders from Mladic, dragged men off buses which were about to evacuate them from the area. The men were later murdered. "Quite simply, they were untouchable," Krstic said of the Knin Group.

IWPR sources within the Serbian government say that the sealed indictments submitted to Djindjic in September, relate to these six men. On December 12, Belgrade's Blic News magazine quoted Djindjic as announcing the transfer to The Hague of "persons named in indictments who were not born on the territory of present-day Yugoslavia" and "who have taken Yugoslav citizenship in the past few years". Djindjic didn't give names, but of all the indictees sought from Belgrade by the ICTY, only General Pandurevic and the Knin Group fit that description.

Members of the Knin group resent Pandurevic, whom they consider to be a "parade officer", who distinguished himself in the media, not the battlefield. In the winter of 1993, Mladic sharply criticised him for allowing then-UN peace force commander French General Philippe Morillon to enter Srebrenica, which was on the point of falling to Serb forces. Morillon's presence was generally believed to have prevented the capture of the enclave at that point.

The circle around Mladic regard the unsealing of his indictment as the sign of some sort of deal being struck between Pandurevic and the ICTY. "If he surrenders in the next few days, which seems likely, we have reason to believe that his statements in The Hague will facilitate the extradition of other officers close to Mladic and even of Mladic himself," a retired VRS officer thought to be close to the Mladic group told IWPR. A fortnightly magazine published in Bijeljina, Republika Srpska, RS, also claims that Pandurevic is negotiating a surrender to The Hague.

Quoting sources close to the top of the VRS, Extra magazine claimed in a recent edition that "Pandurevic has long been in contact with The Hague and might travel there as a witness-indictee". The magazine writes that Pandurevic is staking his hopes on his claim that the Zvornik brigade had nothing to do with the executions, because its "zone of responsibility did not give it authority across the entire (Zvornik) municipality".

Unnamed sources close to Pandurevic are quoted claiming that despite his rank as colonel, he had no authority over Lieutenant-Colonel Dragan Obrenovic. Obrenovic, wartime commander of Zvornik brigade engineers charged with genocide, was arrested and transferred to The Hague last spring. "Let (Obrenovic) say who gave him orders and how," said one anonymous Pandurevic associate.

IWPR's sources in the RS government announce that the date of surrender will be decided on by the Banja Luka politicians, who would probably want this date to coincide with extraditions from Yugoslavia. This would be the first time the RS authorities have given their blessing to the transfer of an indictee.

The unsealing of Pandurevic's indictment has tightened the noose around Mladic and his group. For one thing, it has brought Srebrenica back into sharp focus. Djindjic, who is thought to be afraid to arrest Mladic because of his ties to the Yugoslav Army, VJ, may have no choice but to encourage the transfer of Pandurevic and the Knin Group to The Hague. The next round of economic aid to Serbia, promised by Washington and due in March, is conditional upon cooperation with The Hague.

Should the arrest of Pandurevic and the Knin Group be carried out, the noose around Mladic would be tightened appreciably. He would lose a fanatically devoted group of officers who, although not in active service in the VJ, still wield a predominant influence in Belgrade military circles. By doing so they effectively lobby within the government in favour of the indictees.

Stripped of this small but effective intelligence network, Mladic would certainly be much less well protected from extradition and thus more vulnerable than he has been up to now. The Serbian government, already under heavy pressure to extradite men from Del Ponte's list of suspects, may in that case find itself less inclined to protect them.

Zeljko Cvijanovic is an editor for the Belgrade weekly BlicNews magazine. He is also a member of IWPR's war crimes reporting network.

Serbia, Croatia
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