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Running Guns to Bosnia

Arms convoy escort describes how Serbian leaders organised secret shipments for Bosnian Serbs.
By Emir Suljagic

A man who led convoys smuggling arms from Serbia into Bosnian Serb territory this week told the Hague tribunal that Slobodan Milosevic was kept closely informed about the operation.

Referred to only as witness B-1709, he told the courtroom that his job was to shepherd some of the hundreds of convoys which drove into Bosnia, in defiance of United Nations sanctions.

Subordinates and associates of Milosevic, he said, formed a small group of men who ran weapons and ammunition across the border into Croatia and Bosnia between 1991 and 1995.

The witness told the court how arms were supplied through a chain with several links. Milosevic needed the help of his security service to provide connections between the supplier – the Yugoslav army, JNA – and the Serbs in neighbouring countries. He then used a third organisation, the Association of Serbs and Immigrants to Serbia, ASIS, to transport the shipments, disguised as humanitarian aid.

"In 1992 alone, around 1,200 truckloads of weapons and ammunition were transported into Bosnia and Croatia," he said.

The witness first volunteered for the ASIS in 1991, spurred into action by hearing that a group of Serb refugees had drowned in the river Sava while fleeing from Croatia. But he soon discovered that for every truck carrying humanitarian aid that the association sent to Croatia and Bosnia, there were between five to ten with arms and ammunition on board.

The group which ran the operation, said B-1709, consisted of Milan Prodanic, head of department 6 of Serbia's secret service, Colonel Bora Stanisic, commander of the JNA garrison in Belgrade, and Brana Crncevic, a well-known writer and head of ASIS.

These men met on a daily basis with Jovica Stanisic, head of the secret service. He chaired meetings where decisions were taken about where the weapons were to go. At these meetings, participants often referred to Milosevic as "daddy", said the witness.

Prodanic and Bora Stanisic were most closely involved in managing the operation, so it was them that the witness met most often. And he said they kept Milosevic informed of what they were doing. "I heard a conversation between Prodanic and Stanisic, and one of them said that the president had to be kept up to date with everything they had done," said B-1709.

ASIS head Crncevic also maintained close contact with the Serbian president. "Crncevic had a direct telephone line to them,” said the witness. “Many people came to the office and told him what was going on at the front line, and he passed it on to Milosevic and the security service.”

When the operation started in 1991, the Serbian security service did not possess enough weapons to meet the demand, and it was then that JNA colonel Bora Stanisic was recruited to the operation. Stanisic was commander of the Belgrade garrison, and controlled one of the largest military warehouses anywhere in the former Yugoslavia. Bubanj Potok 2, as the arms depot was known, was located on the outskirts of Belgrade and was home to all the weapons that the JNA had brought with it when it withdrew from Slovenia and Croatia.

These weapons were never officially registered in the warehouse. Instead, said the witness, they were loaded onto trucks and found their way to Serb forces in Croatia and Bosnia.

The vehicles used to transport the guns belonged to the JNA or the Serbian interior ministry. The security service provided fuel and the use of its warehouses to conceal the trucks so as to keep the operation as covert as possible. It also paid for items which the JNA did not possess, such as a shipment of silencers requested by Serb forces in Croatia.

The witness went on to describe one convoy which he escorted to Sarajevo in June 1992, as a way of illustrating that the shipments were highly coordinated and involved the highest level of Serbian government.

Part of the convoy was supposed to be unloaded in Pale, the Bosnian Serb headquarters, and the other part was supposed to go to the besieged capital Sarajevo. But when it arrived in Pale, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic forbade B-1709 from taking it any further. The witness called Serbia’s deputy minister responsible for Serbs living outside Serbia, and after Karadzic had a brief conversation with the official, he relented and allowed the convoy to travel into Sarajevo.

Another Bosnian Serb official whom B-1709 met in 1992 was General Ratko Mladic, commander of the Bosnian Serb army. "A phone call came in while we were in Bubanj Potok 2. It was Mladic on the other end, requesting to see the people who armed him. We met him in a café in New Belgrade," he said.

As well as weapons, B-1709 transported money for the Bosnian Serbs on one occasion. He collected dinars from the Serbian government mint and took it to Knin, capital of Republika Srpska Krajina. "Our driver went there and loaded between seven and eight tons of dinars. We brought back a truck-load of hard currency from Knin."

According to B-1709, the convoys never had any problems crossing the border. Travelling under the protection of security service, he escorted convoys into Bosnia during the phony embargo that Milosevic imposed on the Bosnian Serbs in early 1994.

When the war was over, orders were given for all documents at the arms warehouse to be burned, but B-1709 says he managed to save a number of them, although the security service confiscated some in a raid on his home in 1998.

In cross-examination, Milosevic accused the witness of lying, saying he could not prove he was a member of the ASIS. B-1709 promptly produced an identity card for the organisation.

He also explained why he had decided to testify against his former boss: "My family is being threatened, I am being threatened and I had to move very quickly," he said.

And he told the court that he will be producing more documents.

Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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