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

Serbia: Police Chief Sacking Seen as 'Purge'

Removal of senior police chief is widely seen as completing a politically-inspired clear-out of Serbia’s security apparatus.
By Daniel Sunter

Serbia’s government has sacked the commander of the elite police formation known as the Gendarmerie to complete a purge of security force officials seen as close to the first post-Milosevic government, Belgrade analysts say.


The interior ministry dismissed Goran “Guri” Radosavljevic as Gendarmerie chief on August 17, replacing him with his deputy Borko Tesic.


Radosavljevic was shifted to an inferior post at Serbian police headquarters.


The dismissal marks the completion of a purge of the police and security apparatus by the ruling Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS. The party has edged out virtually everyone linked to its principal rival, the Democratic Party, DS, which governed Serbia for three years after the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.


Since Vojislav Kostunica formed a government in February, the cabinet has dismissed the entire top echelon of the secret police, the Internal Security and Intelligence Agency, BIA, and the Ministry of the Interior, MUP.


Rade Bulatovic, Kostunica’s former security adviser, was made head of the secret police, while several top officials were sacked from the MUP, including Sreten Lukic, head of public security, who has been indicted by the Hague war crimes tribunal in connection with the war in Kosovo. Another casualty was Milan Obradovic, chief of police in Belgrade.


Sources close to the Serbian police perceive Radosavljevic’s sacking as the completion of this security clear-out, as it has left almost no one close to the previous administration in the police leadership.


Sources in the Gendarmerie, meanwhile, have told IWPR that members of Radosavljevic’s unit did not welcome their chief’s removal, as he commanded popularity and respect among the force.


Radosavljevic was well known to the public. Famously, he refused to use force against street protesters on October 5, 2000 as the Milosevic regime entered its death throes. This ensured good relations with the incoming government of Zoran Djindjic, and resulted in his promotion.


The Gendarmerie was formed in 2001 under Radosavljevic, as a highly professional police unit specialising in tasks such as riot control and counter-insurgency.


It was set up as a replacement for the specialised police units of the Milosevic era, without the historical baggage associated with them. One of the main reasons for creating the Gendarmerie was the government’s plan to disband the Special Operations Unit, JSO, known as the “Red Berets”, an elite force that the Milosevic regime had deployed widely in the battlefields of former Yugoslavia.


Under Milosevic, Radosavljevic commanded a separate elite police unit, the Operative Search Groups, OPG, which formed part of the Special Police Units, PJP. According to Natasa Kandic, head of the human rights group, the Humanitarian Law Fund, the Milosevic regime made wide use of the PJP as well as the JSO in the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo.


The OPG were linked to the security forces’ action in the Kosovo village of Racak in 1999, where 45 ethnic Albanians were killed.


The government defended the operation as “a legitimate anti-terrorist action”, claiming most of the targets were combatants of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA. But on January 16, 1999, after visiting the village, William Walker, head of the Kosovo Verification Mission, told a press conference that a “massacre of civilians” had occurred.


The Hague tribunal has not indicted Radosavljevic in relation to war crimes in Racak, or elsewhere in Kosovo.


After the fall of the Milosevic regime, Radosavljevic was engaged in a far less controversial police action in southern Serbia, where some local ethnic Albanians had taken up arms against the new government. Here, the external verdict on his work was positive, and he even received a NATO medal for his role.


Serbian government sources say Radosavljevic’s dismissal has no connection with the bloodshed in Kosovo. Instead, they cite Radosavljevic's closeness to the DS-led government and the fact that the Gendarmerie spearheaded the Operation Sabre, which police launched in 2003 after Djindjic’s assassination.


During Operation Sabre, many people close to Kostunica’s DSS were held in police detention for months without charges, causing a good deal of resentment. Ever since, the DSS has castigated the former government for violating people’s human rights under the cover of Sabre, and for politicising the police.


Kostunica’s close associate, Rade Bulatovic, was one of those arrested in the police sweep. The government claimed that several times he had met leaders of the underworld Zemun gang, which was accused of organising and carrying out Djindjic’s assassination. But Bulatovic was released after three months without any charges. Kostunica was furious, describing Bulatovic as “a political prisoner, and not the only one”.


Security analysts interviewed by IWPR fear Radosavljevic's dismissal merely confirms the existence of an unwritten law according to which each new government in Serbia sacks everyone affiliated with its predecessor, regardless of their qualities.


Some human rights organisations have also said they suspect Radosavljevic was removed principally for political reasons.


“This is a politically-motivated move,” Aleksandar Radic, military analyst and editor of the bi-weekly publication Defence & Security, told IWPR. “He might have been sacked earlier but his successor was not ready yet. The DSS needed a reliable man.”


Radic claimed the DSS was close to “people from the army”, which he said explained why Borko Tesic was transferred from his earlier post of Guards Brigade chief of staff to the Gendarmerie.


Natasa Kandic, of the Humanitarian Law Fund, also criticised the sacking of Radosavljevic, Describing it as “very bad”, she said the criteria for his removal clearly had no connection with his role in Kosovo - and everything to do with political patronage.


“His sacking has nothing to do with events that might lead to the dismissal of a police chief in a normal country,” she said.


The fact that everyone connected to Operation Sabre was being removed from their posts was equally obvious, she added.


Daniel Sunter is an IWPR contributor in Belgrade.