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Simatovic Case Revelations

IWPR sources link ex-Serbian secret service official with war crimes.
By Emir Suljagic

Documents which appear to show that Hague indictee Franko Simatovic, a former leading member of the Serbia’s secret service, DB, played a prominent role in sending thousands of Serbian paramilitaries to fight in Croatia and Bosnia, have been seen by IWPR.


According to several documents IWPR obtained from western sources, the DB bankrolled and commanded the various paramilitary groups that committed the bulk of ethnic cleansing and war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia.


It is unclear whether the papers have been handed to the prosecution. If they have, then it will greatly enhance the prosecution’s chances of getting Simatovic to testify against Milosevic as a part of a plea bargain, legal analysts say.


Simatovic appeared before the tribunal on June 2 and pleaded not guilty to all five counts of his indictment.


Charged with crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war, Simatovic appeared calm, though a little worse for wear after two months of imprisonment in Belgrade.


Simatovic was arrested by Serbian police in March in connection with the assassination of prime minister Zoran Djindjic. The tribunal issued an indictment against him on May 1, and he was extradited to The Hague on May 30.


Simatovic, who once headed the intelligence department within the secret service which ran the notorious Red Beret unit, was a close confidant of DB chief, Jovica Stanisic. In the mid-Nineties, both men were considered to be Slobodan Milosevic’s most reliable allies.


The indictment against Simatovic alleges, that as head of the DB’s intelligence unit, he helped "form, finance, supply and support of special units” of the secret service.


These included not only official special police units, but also a range of paramilitary groups that were in effect run by the DB.


The IWPR material describes alleged meetings between Bosnian Serb officials and their counterparts in Serbia proper, telephone intercepts and journals – all of which suggest that Simatovic played a prominent role in sending several thousand Serbian volunteers to fight in Bosnia and Croatia as members of The Tigers, The Serb Guard, The Serb Chetnik Movement, The White Eagles, The Serb National Guard, as well as lesser known paramilitary groups such as The Yellow Wasps or The Gray Wolves.


One of the documents is said to be a report by Velibor Ostojic, a close ally of Radovan Karadzic, detailing a 1991 meeting that he had with then Serbian prime minister Radoman Bozovic. The report, believed to have been prepared by Ostojic before the war began in Bosnia, says that Belgrade planned to make both military equipment and instructors available to Bosnian Serb forces.


The IWPR material seems to paint a picture of Serbian involvement with the Bosnian Serb leadership prior to the war not as incidental but central, and appears to implicate both Simatovic and Stanisic in war preparations.


The telephone intercepts described in the documents include alleged conversations between Karadzic and Stanisic in 1991 in which the DB chief says, “We have done a good job” - a reference to the wartime preparations. Stanisic also apparently refers to Milosevic as “the big boss”.


In one intercept, Stanisic apparently passes Simatovic’s regards to Karadzic from the frontline in Croatia, and says that he is sure that the Karadzic and Simatovic will have an opportunity “to work together” in future.


Another intercept appears to show that Simatovic's men were involved in operations in the summer of June 1995, in the vicinity of Sarajevo. In it, a police detachment from Serbia named Cayman, which was fighting around Trnovo in June 1995, reports that it has taken two casualties.


The intercepts suggest that in early July 1995, as Bosnian Serb troops were attacking Srebrenica, Simatovic’s men were still around Sarajevo, fighting on Mount Treskavica. They withdrew to Belgrade in the last week of July.


Another document is believed to be a 1995 operational diary – a duty officer’s journal that meticulously details military operations – for Operation Spider, the codename for the Serbian military and police assistance provided to Fikret Abdic's breakaway autonomous province in western Bosnia.


The diary alleges that several hundred special police troops under Simatovic’s command were sent to Velika Kladusa, the capital of the rebel region, to help Abdic. They included Tigers, under the command of Milorad “Legija” Lukovic – a notorious paramilitary leader who is now wanted in Belgrade in connection with the Djindjic assassination – and Red Berets under the command of Radojica Bozovic.


Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.


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