Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Slobodan Milosevic wanted the 1999 NATO bombings of Yugoslavia because they gave him a reason to eliminate the opposition in Serbia and to cleanse Albanians from Kosovo, a witness told the trial of six former Serbian high-ranking officials.
Ratomir Tanic, a former Serbian politician and agent of both the Serbian and British intelligence services, has been given a new identity under the witness protection programme and testified this week under protected measures, using his former name and with voice and face distortion techniques.
He was a prosecution witness in the case against ex-Serbian president Milan Milutinovic, former deputy prime minister of Yugoslavia Nikola Sainovic, former Yugoslav army, VJ, chief of staff Dragoljub Ojdanic, and police and VJ officials Sreten Lukic, Nebojsa Pavkovic and Vladimir Lazarevic.
They are accused of responsibility for war crimes in Kosovo during 1998 and 1999, including the killing of hundreds of Kosovo Albanians and the forcible transfer of an estimated 800,000 civilians.
Tanic described the political situation in Serbia in the run up to the conflict, which reached boiling point in 1998.
He claimed that between 1995 and 1997, he and Ratko Markovic, the former vice president of the Serbian government, took part in secret negotiations with Kosovo Albanians in order to resolve the status of the province.
Then he described how in 1997, Milosevic started preparing for an all-out war in Kosovo.
He talked about a 1997 meeting he had with Milosevic and Dusan Mihajlovic, the then head of the Nove Demokratija party, to which Tanic also belonged.
At this meeting, Tanic claims Milosevic told him that he needed to sacrifice civilians – including Serbs – to have a reason to begin a war there.
Tanic explained that because of opposition in the Serbian parliament, Milosevic was having trouble implementing his Kosovo policies. He decided to wage his own “private war” on the region, said the witness.
Milosevic established a "parallel chain of command" which bypassed the Yugoslav army general staff, the head of the state security service, the government and assembly and other proper channels, said Tanic.
Through this chain of command, Milosevic had complete control of the Serb police, army and secret service and used it to plan military operations in Kosovo beginning in 1997.
Sainovic had a very important role in that chain, he said, and passed orders he received from Milosevic to the Serb army and police.
Tanic said that in 1999, he visited the home of the then chief of the VJ general staff Momcilo Perisic, who showed him a letter he had written to Milosevic in 1998. Perisic protested that the military was being used illegally in Kosovo, and that the proper chain of command was being bypassed, with unauthorised persons giving orders.
Tanic claims that Perisic told him that it was through Pavkovic that Milosevic ordered police and military operations in Kosovo. Pavkovic became commander of the Third Army in Kosovo in 1998.
Milosevic, along with his associates, built a “terror spiral”, said Tanic, which created a growing number of “freedom fighters” from what began as a small group of rebels in Kosovo.
“The result was chaos in Kosovo and the growth of Albanian terrorism,” said Tanic.
It was at a reception at the German Embassy in Belgrade in October 1998 that Vladimir Stambuk, a member of the Yugoslav Left party, JUL, told the witness that Serbian authorities were not against the “small-scale bombing” of Yugoslavia.
According to Tanic, Stambuk said bombings would provide a pretext for the “cleansing of the Serbian opposition and Albanians terrorists in Kosovo” – comments also said to have been heard by the German and British ambassadors.
Tanic told judges that during the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, which began in March 1999, he was part of a team of Serbian politicians who met with representatives from the international community and tried unsuccessfully to find a peaceful solution.
Tanic said that Milosevic ignored complaints that civilians were being killed in Kosovo during the NATO campaign.
“The [then] head of the Serbian state security service, General Perisic and my party Nova Demokratija told Milosevic about victims from both sides in Kosovo, but he didn’t want to do anything about that,” said Tanic.
Tanic also claimed that he listened to a telephone intercept of a conversation between Sainovic and Lukic. He said he heard Sainovic instruct Lukic to hide corpses of Kosovo Albanians and other evidence after a January 15, 1999 massacre in Racak, a village in Kosovo where 45 civilians were killed.
He also claimed that the Serbian police’s special operation unit kidnapped him and his wife and tortured them for several days in October 1999, because he wanted to publish a book on Milosevic’s involvement in Kosovo.
John Ackerman, who is defending Pavkovic, said that Tanic had been arrested as spy and not kidnapped by secret police and tortured.
He asked Tanic to reveal his source of information about Milosevic’s policies and the operations in Kosovo between 1995 and 1999. Tanic replied it was his contacts in the Serbian secret police who’d passed on the information.
Toma Fila, defence counsel for Sainovic, said that while Tanic worked for the Serbian security service from 1992 under the code name Rabin, he also spied for the British secret service and had betrayed his country.
Tanic replied that he didn’t spy against his country, but was merely trying to stop Milosevic’s aggressive policies.
Judge Iain Bonomy warned the witness several times to answer questions that were put to him and not to choose those he wanted to answer, at one point turning his microphone off.
The trial continues next week.
Aleksandar Roknic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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