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Tribunal Defence Lawyers Reject Belgrade Journalist's Charges

Belgrade journalist Milovan Brkic alleges that Milosevic's secret police handpicked a team of defence lawyers to defend Serbs appearing before the Hague Tribunal but ordered them to bury evidence linking the regime to the crimes - even if that meant drivi
By IWPR Balkans

A Belgrade journalist claims that Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic ordered his secret service to hire lawyers to represent Serbian war crimes suspects at the Hague Tribunal, and told them to put the state's interests before those of their clients even if that meant damaging their defendants chances of acquittal.

So determined was Milosevic to ensure that key defendants did not leave a trail to his cabinet and the rest of the political-military elite, alleges journalist Milovan Brkic, his secret police was even willing to press defendants to commit suicide rather than endanger the regime with their evidence.

Brkic's claim, made to the Tribunal itself on August 31, was said to be based on information from highly placed sources within the Serbian State Security Service (UDBA). He declined to give names, as that would sign their death warrants, he alleges.

But Brkic's claims are not new. He has been making similar charges since March 1995, starting with an article headlined 'UDBA Goes To The Hague' in the magazine Srpska Rec. A reporter with a long record of hard hitting allegations, he has been frequently brought before magistrates in Serbia for his writings and has many times been beaten up, apparently on the orders of the angry officials who read his exposes.

Years of court appearances allow him to claim that he knows the law as well as any judge. Thus his interest in the Hague Tribunal, where Milosevic has been indicted for his part in the Kosovo debacle, is no surprise either.

However he has a record of making wild-sounding charges based on limited evidence and unnamed sources and even though many of them turn out to be true much later, this habit, plus his sensationalist style, undermines his credibility. IWPRs own sources within the police suggest that Brkic is allowing himself to be used by different factions within the force, who selectively leak information to him with the aim of undermining the other sides.

Brkic came to The Hague to testify in connection with a contempt of court charge brought against lawyer Milan Vujin, the former lawyer of Bosnian Serb defendant Dusko Tadic. Tadic sacked Vujin at end 1998, alleging that Vujin had failed to properly act in his defence, but had skewed the case to protect higher-ups.

Vujin vigorously denies the charge and says Brkic is making the whole thing up; Brkic claims to have concrete evidence to back up his claims, but again declines to release it claiming that this would endanger his sources.

Most sensationally, Brkic claims that the lawyers hired by the UDBA to represent Serb defendants at The Hague had a meeting at which one Toma Fila bragged that he was the 'biggest Judas' and that there was 'no client that he would not sell out'.

Fila represented Slavko Dokmanovic, charged with war crimes in the Serb-Croat war of 1991, in connection with the attack on the town of Vukovar. Amid talk that the case would draw a direct line of guilt through to the highest ranks of the Yugoslav army and the Belgrade regime, Dokmanovic committed suicide in his cell in Holland, the day after telling staff at the jail that his family in Serbia was under threat.

In a short phone interview with Balkans Crisis Report, Fila rejected all Brkic's charges, whether directly made or merely intimated. He said that no one should take Brkic seriously.

"Brkic is well known as a person who makes up things. We lawyers took action against him two years ago when he first published these claims. But the case never concludes, as he never attends the hearings. In two years we saw him just once. Most times the court cant find him and can't serve the papers on him.

That case is scheduled to reconvene on October 19. The allegations made in The Hague on August 31 are certain to add spice to the hearings, when Brkic finally faces the lawyers he has accused in court. If he turns up.

Othon Zimmerman is a Balkan affairs analyst for the Rotterdam daily Algeemen Dagblad. Gordana Igric is a senior IWPR editor.

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