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Witness Insists Stanisic Not Part of VRS Command

Former Bosnian Serb officer says although the accused held senior rank, he had limited influence.
By Velma Šarić
  • Manojlo Milovanovic, defence witnes for Jovica Stanisic. (Photo: ICTY)
    Manojlo Milovanovic, defence witnes for Jovica Stanisic. (Photo: ICTY)

The trial of two former senior Serbian intelligence officials, Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, continued this week with the appearance of a defence witness who told the court that Stanisic was not involved with the Bosnian Serb Army, VRS, chain of command in any way.

Stanisic and Simatovic are charged with participating in a joint criminal enterprise, the aim of which was to forcibly and permanently remove non-Serbs from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia, through persecution, murder and deportation of Croat, Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat populations.

The witness, Manojlo Milovanovic, is a retired VRS officer. In 1994 and 1995, Milovanovic served as chief of staff of the VRS, which was commanded by General Ratko Mladic, arrested last May after 16 years on the run, and now awaiting trial at the tribunal.

Milovanovic described Mladic as “someone he regularly saw as a colleague”, and added that during the war, they actually shared a small office with two chairs and one desk.

The appearance this week was not Milovanovic's first at the Hague tribunal, or even in the Stanisic and Simatovic trial. He appeared before the chamber in this case in April 2010, where he confirmed the authenticity of the so-called “Mladic diaries”, seized in February 2010 from the Belgrade apartment of Mladic’s wife.

The wartime diaries, which contain Mladic’s handwritten notes for the period between June 1991 and late 1996, have already been used in several other trials at the tribunal.

At the outset of what was referred to as an “additional examination of the witness”, Stanisic’s defence counsel Wayne Jordash said the questioning would relate primarily to “those parts of the diaries which, at the time of the witness’s first appearance, were not available in any other language except their Serbian original”.

Jordash said that “the defence did not doubt the witness testimony about the diaries’ authenticity, nor their authenticity itself”, but that there “were parts of the diaries which were clearly of dubious authenticity and were being closely reviewed by the defence”.

Mladic was described by the witness as an “old-school Yugoslav officer – one who would jot down everything that was said in a meeting as soon as the meeting was over, including his own observations”.

Milovanovic added that "this was a feature most trained army professionals learned during their military training in the [Yugoslav People's Army] JNA”.

Asked by the defence counsel whether he knew why “there were no entries from the period in 1995 in which the events around Srebrenica had happened”, the witness said that he did not know, and had never felt the need to “ask Mladic anything about these events”.

In the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995, some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were murdered by Bosnian Serb forces.

Milovanovic added that he was “personally deployed elsewhere during that time so [he] knew only that what everyone else knew, and that was nothing special”.

According to the indictment, between April 1991 and December 1995, Stanisic and Simatovic helped to establish, supply with arms, and finance paramilitary groups that acted in close coordination with the JNA, the Serb Territorial Defence, the VRS, and the ethnic Serb force in Croatia, SVK. These groups became known for carrying out atrocities against non-Serb civilians.

In relation to one group known as ‘Knindze’, which was commanded by Dragan Vasiljkovic, aka Kapetan Dragan, Mladic remarked that “one policeman complained about [the group] having gone wild”, after which, according to Milovanovic, Mladic told him “to ensure that these things don't happen any more. They must either be under our control or sent back to Serbia or wherever else they came from”.

The co-accused Simatovic was allegedly the first commander of a Serbian state security special operation unit, known as the Red Berets, which is accused of carrying out ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Croatia.

The witness said that there was little he could say about the unit, but that he did meet Simatovic in western Bosnia, where the accused “presented the unit” to him.

"But it didn't seem that there was much to be added about them, they seemed to be assisting; doing what special police units do in their regular work,” Milovanovic said.

The witness also said he could not remember a meeting which Mladic allegedly recorded on August 2, 1992, in which wartime Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic is noted as asking “to have the Red Berets put under [VRS] control when operating in Republika Srpska”.

Milovanovic added, however, that he “saw no reason as to why that particular statement would not be accurate”.

When Jordash asked the witness whether he knew when Mladic and the accused Stanisic had met for the first time, he said he did not and could not know.

When Jordash remarked that Stanisic's name only appeared in Mladic's notes on a meeting held on July 2, 1993, Milovanovic said, “Stanisic was a name I myself had personally already heard, but not through Mladic, nor was the name ever discussed in any meetings which we held at the general staff”.

He said he regarded Stanisic as an important figure because of his rank, but did not consider him to be involved with the VRS chain of command in any way.

However, asked by Jordash why the notes from that same meeting on July 2, 1993 also mentioned “financing for training centres in [Serb-held] Pale and Hercegovina”, the witness said that “it makes very little sense, since it would be the first time I ever heard of any VRS training centres in either Pale or Hercegovina”.

Regarding financing, asked whether he could give any comment about a July 8, 1993 entry in Mladic's diary alleging that “Stanisic said that they [Serbian DB, security service] would take over the financing of the [Republika Srpska] police forces”, the witness said that he considered this to be “unrealistic”.

"The police forces, as far as I know, did not receive any funding from Serbia,” he said. “The army did receive salaries for more than 7,000 officers in the VRS, as help from the VJ [Yugoslav Army], but I don’t imagine that there was a similar arrangement for the police. In fact, they were poor and ill-equipped throughout the war.”

Stanisic and Simatovic were arrested by the Serbian authorities on June 13, 2003.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR trained reporter in Sarajevo.

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