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

Top Milosevic Henchmen Indicted

Secret police leaders may turn on their former master and expose link between Milosevic and war crimes.
By Stacy Sullivan

In a move that has been expected for weeks, the tribunal announced on May 6 that it had issued war crimes indictments for Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, two of Slobodan Milosevic’s most notorious henchmen.

Stanisic was chief of Serbia’s state security secret police force, and Simatovic, better known as Frenki, was the commander of the Red Berets, one of its special operations units. They were among the thousands arrested in Belgrade in connection with the March 12 assassination of Serbian prime minister Zoran Djindjic.

Both men had long been the subject of war crimes investigations and their names have cropped up frequently in prosecution evidence against Milosevic. So when the foreign minister of Serbia-Montenegro, Goran Svilanovic, made it clear after their arrest that both men would be extradited to the tribunal if an indictment were issued, it seemed only a matter of time before that happened.

They are scheduled to arrive in The Hague some time in the next two weeks, said Branko Todic, head of investigations at the Belgrade district court, where the men are due to appear in preparation for their extradition.

The indictment, which charges Stanisic and Simatovic with crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war, accuses them of participating in a “joint criminal enterprise” whose aim was “the forcible and permanent removal of the majority of non-Serbs” from Bosnia and Croatia.

It alleges that the men “organized, trained and financed” Serbian paramilitary units, such as the Red Berets and the Tigers, which committed some of the most heinous atrocities in the Bosnian and Croatian wars.

Among the crimes they are allegedly responsible for is the killing of 255 Croats and other non-Serbs who were taken from the hospital in Vukovar, Croatia, and executed in November 1991.

The indictment also accuses Stanisic and Simatovic for the 1992 ethnic cleansing of the Bosnian towns of Bijeljina, Bosanski Samac, Doboj, Mrkonjic Grad, Sanski Most and Zvornik.

Depending on whether they choose to cooperate with the tribunal, Stanisic and Simatovic’s arrival at The Hague could prove to be a boon for prosecutors in the Milosevic trial.

Stanisic rose to prominence in the late 1980s, along with Milosevic, first becoming the chief of Belgrade’s security operations, then being promoted to head Serbia’s entire secret service.

He is often named as the link between the former Yugoslav president and the dirty work that was done on the ground by paramilitary and special operations units.

Among those units were the Red Berets, whose leader was Simatovic. He reportedly fell out with Milosevic in 1997 after he tried to persuade him not to order a violent crackdown on the tens of thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets of Belgrade demanding that the president step down.

Stanisic’s recommendations allegedly infuriated the one person in Serbia whose power rivaled Milosevic – his wife, Mira Markovic, whose Yugoslav Left Party was urging Milosevic to crush the demonstrations.

Stanisic left the secret service in 1998, and Simatovic followed suit – and when Milosevic was ousted in October 2000, the Red Berets stood aside.

The prosecution has reason to hope that Stanisic and Simatovic will turn on their former ally and reveal what they know. That they are in a position to do so is not in question. Whether or not they will remains to be seen.

Stacy Sullivan is IWPR’s project manager in The Hague.

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