Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
A retired colonel in the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, this week told the court in the trial of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic that he had seen both the accused in Knin, in Croatia’s Krajina region, in 1991.
Stanisic and Simatovic are charged with participating in a joint criminal enterprise with the aim of forcibly and permanently removing non-Serbs from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia, through the persecution, murder and deportation of Croat, Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat populations.
They are also charged with having formed and supported units in Krajina and with sending police and paramilitary forces from Serbia which took part in crimes against non-Serbs in that part of Croatia.
At the time of the events in 1991, Stanisic headed the State Security Service, DB, part of Serbia’s interior ministry, MUP, while Simatovic was the commander of the special operations unit of the DB.
Prosecution witness Radoslav Maksic described how he accepted a request by the then president of Krajina, Milan Babic, to come from Belgrade to Knin, the capital of Serb-controlled Krajina, to help establish a territorial defence force, TO. He arrived in late September, became chief of staff of the Krajina TO and stayed there until December 1991.
According to Maksic –who in February 2006 testified at the trial of another Krajina president, Milan Martic – the military and police in Krajina at first relied completely on aid from the authorities in Serbia.
“The TO staff was fully dependant on support and aid from the Ministry of Defence of Serbia, in terms of personnel, finances and logistics,” he said. “The same can also be said of the Krajina MUP. They enjoyed full support from the Serbian Ministry of Interior, which included support with equipment including radios.
“The Krajina authorities had too little personnel, too little equipment and too little money to establish a TO. Although in theory the units were [subject] to the Krajina Serb Autonomous Region TO staff, they were in reality subordinate to JNA units stationed in the area,” the witness added.
Prosecutor Travis Farr asked where the donated equipment came from.
“The Belgrade Corps had a large warehouse in Bubanj Potok, close to Belgrade,” said the witness, who was an officer in the corps.
“Was the Belgrade corps ever ordered to give anyone equipment or weapons?” asked the Farr.
“The general staff, or rather its technical department, issued an order that certain persons be given a part of the equipment and weaponry,” Maksic answered.
“And who were these certain persons?” asked the prosecutor.
“Mostly commanders or organisers of volunteer units,” replied the witness. “These were organised mostly by political parties, such as the Serb Radical Party of Vojislav Seselj [currently on trial at the Hague for war crimes] and the Serb Renewal Movement of Vuk Draskovic.”
On the journey to Knin, the witness was accompanied by “a certain Kuzmanovic, who was an assistant to the Serbian minister of defence”, he said.
“After some days spent at the military barracks, we four officers were finally settled in two rooms in a hotel... and we installed our staff in four offices in the building of Knin municipality.”
Upon coming to Krajina, Maksic was invited to a meeting in Knin with Martic and man whom he was told was “a certain Frenki”.
Later on, he found out that Frenki was Simatovic, whom he saw again during his stay in the region, at the Korenica hotel in Knin. Maksic also said he saw Stanisic at both places, although he did not specify whether he saw them on those or different occasions.
“The meeting was held at the fort – it is an elevation above Knin, a typical fortress,” the witness said, explaining that, while he knew little about Simatovic, he was not surprised to see Stanisic in Knin.
“Many prominent people came to Knin, and it was normal for me to see him there, since he was the commander of the DB,” the witness added.
Apart from Stanisic and Simatovic, the witness also stated he saw Seselj, wearing an army uniform and “looking like a circus artist”.
Seselj, he said, arrived without an appointment, wishing to meet Babic.
“Volunteers from the Serb Radical Party were integrated into the JNA 9th Corps, and they received their orders in the established chain of command,” he added.
Maksic said he also saw paramilitaries led by Zeljko Raznatovic, known as Arkan, in eastern Croatia in 1991. When he asked army commander Andrija Biorcevic, of the Novi Sad corps in Serbia, who these men were, he was told that he “was asking too many questions”.
According to the indictment, Stanisic and Simatovic established, organised and financed training centres for Serb forces, with the purpose of pursuing military action in Croatia and Bosnia. The indictment states that Stanisic and Simatovic sent these forces to Croatia and Bosnia, where they committed crimes and took control of towns and villages in Serb-held areas in Croatia and Bosnia, forcing non-Serbs to leave these territories.
“A part of the paramilitary units took part in attacks against Pakrac [town in western Croatia] – Arkan’s boys, Captain Dragan’s troops - I couldn't remember all the names," the witness said.
Dragan Vasiljkovic, known as Captain Dragan, was the leader of a paramilitary force known as the Knindze.
The witness emphasised that he thought these paramilitary units were not subordinate to the JNA, but were “rather acting for a joint goal, independently from each other”.
Farr then asked the witness whether he had heard of Vasiljkovic before going to Krajina.
“Yes, I had heard of that name, from press and television in Serbia,” Maksic answered. “When I came to Knin, I found out from the local officers that he and his units had used facilities in the Knin fortress.”
The witness also explained how he met Vasiljkovic some time later, during the autumn of 1991.
“At the hotel, I came to the room to sleep and on the right there was a TV room and inside there was a person in uniform,” he recalled. “It was Dragan. A combat vehicle was parked in front of the hotel and I asked him why, for God’s sake, he was driving around in a combat vehicle. He told me it was Martic who gave him the vehicle and the permission to use it.”
Stanisic and Simatovic, arrested by Serbian authorities on June 13, 2003, have both pleaded not guilty.
The trial continues next week.
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.
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