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Serb Special Forces Created Disorder in Krajina

Prosecution witness describes role of Serbian security services during period of occupation.
A former Serbian military intelligence officer told the Hague tribunal this week that special units operated throughout the entire period of Serb rule in the Krajina region of Croatia, from early 1991 until its end in August 1995.

Slobodan Lazarevic, a former officer in the Serbian Counter-Intelligence Service, KOS, was giving evidence in the trial of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, former officers in the Serbian State Security service, DB.

They are charged with participating in a joint criminal enterprise, with the objective of forcibly and permanently removing non-Serbs from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia through persecution, murder and deportation of the Croat, Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat populations.

Stanisic served as DB head from 1991 to 1998, while Simatovic worked under the authority of Stanisic as commander of the Special Operations Unit, JSO.

According to the indictment, Stanisic and Simatovic established, organised and financed training centres for Serb forces, with the purpose of establishing military actions in Croatia and Bosnia.

The indictment states that Stanisic and Simatovic sent these forces to Croatia and Bosnia, where they committed crimes and took control of towns and villages in Serb-held areas in Croatia and Bosnia, forcing non-Serbs to leave the territories.

Lazarevic already testified at the Hague tribunal in the trial of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in October 2002, when he told the court that all military, police and political structures of the Republika Srpska Krajina, RSK, were controlled from Belgrade.

Lazarevic this week gave evidence as a prosecution witness on the influence of Stanisic and Simatovic on events in the RSK.

His testimony was largely based on the relevant transcript from the Milosevic trial and had, together with related documents from that case, been entered onto the record at the beginning of the trial.

At the beginning of his testimony, the witness said that as a KOS member he had been dispatched to the Krajina region as the international liaison officer for the 21st Kordun Corps of the RSK army.

Asked by the prosecution as to who had paid him, he answered, "I was paid by two sources, from the RSK army, or more precisely the 21st corps, while I received some other benefits from Belgrade."

Describing the methods used by the DB to influence the military situation in the Kraijna, the witness said that one of their instruments on the ground was the anti-terrorist unit which had been part of the 21st corps since 1991 and had remained active until the fall of RSK in August 1995.

"Their task was to carry out the dirty jobs, terrify people and cause disturbances in order to provoke crisis. For example, whenever things weren't tense enough in a certain area, that would influence the black market and prices would fall, so the members of this unit would create disorder wherever they could, and prices would be back within ten days," the witness said.

"They acted even when the situation would turn, let me say so, almost reasonable, which is something Belgrade didn't like as the international community would immediately start proposing negotiations with Croatia. Belgrade didn't like this idea, so it needed to create a situation in which negotiations would be impossible.”

"Who financed the unit?" asked the prosecution.

“I knew 90 per cent of the unit, these were youngsters in their twenties and the only thing they had in common was that they all had a criminal record at that age already. They claimed they were being paid by police in Serbia," answered the witness.

Lazarevic stated that in early 1991, Stanisic often came to RSK in order to solve "organisational issues", clarifying that "once the problems were solved, Stanisic would send his deputies to the terrain, Franko Simatovic and Radojica Raja Bozovic".

The witness said his belief in the influence of Stanisic and the Serbian DB on the events in Krajina, was based, among other things, on information he received from his then-friend Toso Pajic, one of the most influential police officers of the Krajina police, MUP.

Lazarevic claimed that Pajic kept regular telephone contact with Stanisic, even calling him "dad" in informal situations.

"I met Toso Pajic at least five times a week and I stayed often in his office and came to the conclusion that the person he referred to as 'dad' or 'old guy' was Stanisic. Pajic always spoke with a smile about Stanisic," Lazarevic said

He also testified on the founding of the joint command staff known as Pauk, which he claimed marked the "peak of engagement by the Serbian secret service in Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina in 1993".

According to the witness, Pauk, meaning spider, included 400 soldiers from the 21st corps, 200 members of Republika Srpska police, some hundred Serbian paramilitaries under the command of Zeljko Raznatovic – the notorious warlord known as Arkan - and some soldiers loyal to Fikret Abdic's self-proclaimed Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia.

The witness said that Pauk was established to send police and paramilitary troops from Serbia to Western Bosnia in order to help Muslims fight against their co-nationalists from the Bosnian army 5th Corps.

This was a special unit created of people from Bosnia, Serbia and Krajina, whose members had the most modern weaponry and uniforms and were almost as equipped as NATO troops, Lazarevic said.

"The main seat for Pauk was in Bosnian territory, some 200 metres away from the border with Croatia, whereas the other command point was in Croatian territory, and it was headed by Frenki Simatovic,” he said.

“Therefore there was close cooperation and coordination between whatever was going on in Bosnia and in Krajina as part of the Pauk operation.”

Stanisic and Simatovic, arrested by Serbian authorities on June 13, 2003, have both pleaded not guilty.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.

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