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

Wanted Serb General Surrenders

Commander indicted for alleged war crimes in Kosovo is expected in The Hague next week.
By Tatjana Matic

General Vladimir Lazarevic has decided to surrender voluntarily to The Hague Tribunal during talks with Serbian prime minister Vojislav Kostunica.

The Serbian authorities confirmed on January 28 that Lazarevic will leave for the Hague by the end of next week, accompanied by government ministers.

“I’m ready to fulfill my obligation and so help my homeland and the Serbian people in Kosovo,” Lazarevic was quoted as saying in a government press release.

General Lazarevic was indicted by the Hague tribunal on October 3, 2003 -together with army chief of staff Nebojsa Pavkovic and generals Vlastimir Djordjevic and Sreten Lukic - for crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war during the Kosovo conflict, particularly throughout the first six months of 1999.

General Lazarevic was commander of the Pristina corps from December 1998 throughout the state of war which commenced on March 24, 1999. He was promoted several times under then president Slobodan Milosevic and under the democratic government that followed him until August 2003, when Lazarevic retired.

The decision to surrender came at a delicate moment for Serbia. Talks on completing preparations for a feasibility study on joining the European Union are taking place this week in Belgrade.

They followed the cancelation of a planned visit to Belgrade by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, due to Serbia’s non-cooperation with the Hague, and the United State’s decision to halt financial aid worth ten million US dollars for the same reasons.

Michael Polt, the US Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro, said on January 14 that the aid decision could be changed only if “Serbia demonstrates full and unconditional cooperation with Hague tribunal and [hands over] the indicted persons”.

Within the Serbian government, the coalition partners of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica’s Democratic Party of Serbia, DSS - namely the reformist G17 Plus and the Serbian Renewal Movement, SPO - have threatened to leave the government if the wanted generals were not handed over.

G17 Plus last week set a January 27 deadline for their decision on whether to leave the government.

However, Kostunica has always insisted on voluntary surrender as the only way of cooperating with the Hague.

Since the indictment of the four generals was made public, speculation about the government’s negotiations with them have been a hot topic in the Serbian media.

Lazarevic himself has made numerous statements to the media in the year since he was indicted, mostly in order to deny media allegations that he was about to surrender. Only yesterday, January 27, there was news that the latest negotiations with the government had fallen through.

In a June 2004 interview with the Podgorica daily Dan, Lazarevic said he would surrender only if citizens confirmed in a referendum that “the defence of the country from aggressors was a crime”.

Lazarevic afterwards insisted on receiving strong government guarantees that he would be released before trial to prepare his defence.

A government press release on January 28 states that the state would offer all the guarantees Lazarevic needed. They fully supported his defence, it read.

Military analysts in Serbia say Lazarevic continues to enjoy a high reputation in military circles, as do his fellow indictees Pavkovic and Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic - the most wanted war crimes fugitive of them all.

They believe that Lazarevic’s cooperation may possibly help to secure the surrender of Pavkovic and Lukic who are still believed to be living in Serbia. The third, Djordjevic, is understood to be in Russia.

Tatjana Matic is an IWPR reporter in Belgrade.