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

Regional Report: Sjeverin Charges

The authorities are reportedly planning a new round of prosecutions for the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Serbia.
By IWPR

The cousin of a leading Serbian police official has been charged along with eight other men for the kidnapping and murder of 16 Muslims from Sjeverin, Serbia, in 1992, according to Belgrade radio station B92.


Milan Lukic is alleged by Serb prosecutors to have led the gang who transported the civilians out of Serbian territory into the Bosnian Serb town of Visegrad, where they were abused and murdered.


Lukic’s cousin, Sretan Lukic, is the chief of the police service’s public safety department, and enjoys good relations with prime minister Zoran Djindjic. Lukic was originally appointed during Slobodan Milosevic’s time in power, and has remained in the police under the new regime.


If true, this is the latest in a series of prosecutions brought by the Yugoslav authorities for the ethnic cleansing of Muslims living in Serbia proper.


Most war crimes cases, including those in The Hague tribunal, have focused on the huge ethnic cleansing campaign waged by paramilitary forces against Muslims and Croats only in neighbouring Bosnia.


Two of the alleged gang, Dragutin Dragicevic, and Djordje Sevic, are already in custody, said the radio report last week, while arrest warrants have been issued for the other three.


According to B92, the Belgrade district prosecution office served the indictment on October 23, charging Lukic with the two arrested men, Dragutin Dragicevic, Oliver Krsmanovic, and two more unnamed persons.


Some say the kidnapping was part of wider drive to rid Serbia of Muslims, one that was backed by the former regime.


Sandjak’s branch of the Helsinki Board of Human Rights says it has evidence of ten different abductions from the town, committed between June 1992 and April of the following year, in which 60 people were kidnapped and 37 killed.


Sefko Alomerovic of the Sandjak branch of Helsinki Board of Human Rights said the kidnapping and smuggling of the captives across country and over the border showed that the “state participated in planning and carrying out the crime”.


The president of Yugoslavia at the time, Dobica Cosic, said he knew nothing of the crime, ”What is that? I don’t know anything. This is the first time I heard of it.”


But some think the prosecutors will end up indicting high state officials. In another recent trial of alleged ethnic cleansing, in which Serbs were accused of kidnapping 18 Muslims from a train at Strpce, documents from the Belgrade Railways Transport Company indicated official compliance.


Alomerovic said these railway documents “proved that highest representatives of Yugoslav military and civilian authorities knew about the abduction, but that they did nothing to prevent the kidnapping.”


Velja Muric, a lawyer acting for the victims’ families, has filed criminal charges related to this incident against Cosic, Slobodan Milosevic; former army chief, secret police head and Yugoslav premier Zivota Panic, Jovica Stanisic and Milan Panic respectively; together with 14 other ex-state officials.


Cosic is known to have recommended the “humane movement” of non-Serbs from the country during the war years.


Under pressure from moderate politicians, the former president established a commission to investigate such cases of ethnic cleansing, but no report was ever made public.


Approximately 12,000 Muslims lived in the Priboj municipality, encompassing Sjeverin, before the war: All have now gone.


Data from the Humanitarian Law Centre shows that 500 families and children were moved out of the area. Unlike the brutal paramilitaries in Bosnia, the children were first allowed to finish their school year before their families were expelled in June 1992.


If there is a silver lining to this dark cloud, it is that the Belgrade authorities are demonstrating their commitment to the often painful task of investigating ethnic cleansing in their own country and confronting awkward questions about the past.


Milka Saponja Hadzic is a freelance journalist in Serbia.