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A former high-ranking police officer described this week how senior Bosnian Serb leaders had dismissed his concerns about robbery and looting by paramilitary forces in 1992.
Milorad Davidovic, a former officer in the Yugoslav police force, was giving evidence as a prosecution witness in the trials of Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin, who are accused of participating in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at the permanent removal of non-Serbs from the territory of an intended Serbian state.
Stanisic and Zupljanin are accused of crimes committed between April 1 and December 31, 1992, in 20 municipalities across Bosnia and Hercegovina.
Zupljanin, who in 1994 became an adviser to the Serb president Radovan Karadzic – now on trial in The Hague – is accused of the extermination, murder, persecution, and deportation of non-Serbs in north-western Bosnia between April and December 1992.
Stanisic is charged with the murder, torture and cruel treatment of non-Serb civilians, as well as for failing to prevent or punish crimes committed by his subordinates. The indictment against Stanisic states that he was appointed minister in charge of the newly-founded Bosnian Serb interior ministry, MUP, in April 1992 and was also a member of the Bosnian Serb government.
Both defendants – whose indictments were joined together in September 2008 – have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Before the war, Davidovic served as chief of police in the Bosnian town of Bjeljina, and then as inspector with the Yugoslav state police, SUP. He clarified that he was still employed by the SUP in May 1992, when he was sent to Bosnia to help set up a special unit for the Bosnian Serb police.
Prosecutor Thomas Hannis presented Davidovic with intercepted conversations from May 1992, in which Stanisic was informed by the SUP chief, Petar Gracanin, that he had already spoken to Ratko Mladic and that Davidovic should meet him.
Mladic, the overall commander of the Bosnian Serb army from 1992 to 1996, is wanted by the Hague tribunal on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“The reason for meeting with Ratko Mladic was to be able to ask him for anything I needed: weapons, ammunition, any other needs for the special police unit,” the witness told the court.
It was at his meeting with Mladic – in which they were joined by Bosnian Serb leader Karadzic – that Davidovic said he pointed out that many Serb volunteers were looting Muslim property, and he asked for this to stop.
“Ten to 15 minutes into the meeting with Mladic, Radovan Karadzic walked into the same room,” Davidovic said. “I used his arrival with the intent to inform both of them about the major pillaging and robberies committed by members of the armed forces, of reserve troops, and of informal groups that were lingering around in the Vraca area and were entering apartments, taking away property they could find.”
Mladic then proposed that looted property should be collected in one place so that it could be distributed to Serbs, the witness said.
“General Mladic asked for a centralised warehouse to be founded and all stolen property found with these people should be taken there and later given to families of fallen soldiers or wherever else it is needed,” he said.
Davidovic said that Karadzic agreed in principle, but said looters should not be punished, so as to prevent tensions among Serb forces.
“Karadzic said that we always have to ensure that a Serb never strikes another Serb, or heaven forbid, that a Serb may shoot another Serb, whatever the other Serb may or may not have done,” the witness said.
Davidovic said he also informed Stanisic about the robberies, to which the latter replied that “this was war and these crimes were normal in times of war”.
When the prosecutor asked about Serb troops driving away vehicles from the TAS car plant in Sarajevo, Davidovic recalled that Stanisic said that “Karadzic had given his consent for the Bosnian Serb police to take away motorcars from TAS. They were to be sold and the money was to be used for buying police equipment”.
In cross-examination, Stanisic's defence lawyer Slobodan Cvijetic questioned Davidovic about his second visit to Bosnia, in July 1992. His task was to task was to disarm and detain members of paramilitary units linked to the Bosnian Serb side, and he told the court that Stanisic gave him “absolute power” to arrest them.
Davidovic noted that it was the Bosnian Serb authorities which invited paramilitary volunteers to come in the first place. He argued that they tolerated and maintained ties with these units until they became a nuisance.
“The question is how these people could do what they did in the face of legal government authorities,” he said. “The local leadership wasn’t independent; they were carrying out the politics of the Serb Democratic Party [SDS] which was the governing party in the RS [Republika Srpska]. SDS had a planned policy of ethnically cleansing Muslims from all areas they lived in. Whoever claims the opposite, I… claim that they did it in a conscious, planned and organised manner. This was not just the case in Bijeljina, Zvornik and Brcko, but throughout Republika Srpska.
“Local authorities and the police were connected with the paramilitaries for as long as they were pillaging non-Serb property and creating an atmosphere of fear. Only when they became independent and started stealing even from Serbs, that’s when they [Bosnian Serb authorities] understood something has to be done.”
Stanisic surrendered to the Hague tribunal in March 2005. Zupljanin remained in hiding until June of the same year, when he was arrested in the town of Pancevo, just outside the Serbian capital Belgrade.
The trial continues.
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.
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