Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
A former acquaintance of Serbian intelligence officials Franko Simatovic and Jovica Stanistic testified this week that an infamous paramilitary unit acted independently and without support from the accused men.
Franko Simatovic and Jovica Stanisic 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.
Simatovic was commander of the special operations unit of the Serbian State Security Service, DB, a unit also known as the JSO or Red Berets, while his co-accused and former boss Stanisic was director of the DB at the time of the events.
According to the indictment, Stanisic and Simatovic also helped establish, supply with arms, and finance paramilitary groups that acted in close coordination with the Yugoslav Army, the Serb Territorial Defence, the Bosnian Serb Army, and the SVK, a Serb force operating in Croatia.
After the closing of Stanisic's defence proceedings, Simatovic’s defence began by calling Dejan Lucic as its first witness.
Asked to introduce himself, Lucic said that he was “a little bit of everything, and a man who tried to do whatever was in his power for the progress of the Serb people”. He said he had worked as “an analyst, reporter, editor and novelist”, and had authored a number of “books related to political theory and reality”.
The witness said he had known both of the accused for quite some time and considered them “acquaintances”, since he knew “Simatovic from elementary school, and Stanisic from university times”. He said he occasionally met them, the last time being in 2008 when he gave Stanisic one of his books.
Lucic said that he had only been politically active for a very short time, but that this time had been “significant” since it gave him an “insight into very relevant issues”. The witness joined the opposition Serb Renewal Movement, SPO, party, in 1990, because its ideals reflected those he and his family believed in.
The SPO was founded in Serbia by Vuk Draskovic in 1990 as a traditionalist, monarchist and nationalist party.
According to Lucic, alleged paramilitary leader Dragan Vasiljkovic, known as “Captain Dragan,” was also a member.
Vasiljkovic allegedly founded and commanded the Knindza paramilitary force based in Knin, Croatia, as well as a paramilitary training camp located in nearby Golubic. According to the indictment, this training camp received logistical support from the Serbian DB and from the defendants.
The indictment further states that persons who completed training at Captain Dragan's centre would then be deployed to other paramilitary units supported by the DB, or special ops units of the DB proper.
Vasiljkovic, who appeared as a witness in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic in 2004, has become an Australian citizen and goes by the name Daniel Snedden. He is currently awaiting extradition from to Croatia to face war crimes charges.
“Snedden [Vasiljkovic] was a very individualistic man, a lone shooter of sorts,” the witness said. “Nobody quite understood him. But he had this driving desire to help Serbs wherever they lived, particularly in Krajina, where he wanted to do everything in his power to prevent a repeat of World War II. He wanted to prevent another genocide of the Serbs.”
Lucic confirmed that he had known Vasiljkovic because they were both SPO members.
“In 1990, he came to the party and said that he wanted to help the Serbs in Knin and meet Milan Martic,” the witness said. Martic was leader of the Serbs in the breakaway region of Krajina in Croatia.
“In late 1990, he asked for the party's approval to travel to the US and meet the Serbian diaspora and American authorities and warn them about what was going to happen,” the witness continued. According to Lucic, “Snedden [Vasiljkovic] had failed in his trip, but he nevertheless continued his close contact with Milan Martic and the Krajina Serbs”.
Asked by Simatovic's attorney, Mihajlo Bakrac, about Vasiljkovic's Knindza unit, Lucic said he “had the impression that it was never supposed to be a military success, but was much more a moral kind of effort” by means of which Vasiljkovic wanted to “aid the Serb people and give them a sign that they had to fight”.
It was all Vasiljkovic's idea, “but one which made him the most popular Serb alive in Krajina, more popular than the Patriarch Paul [the head of the Serbian church]”, the witness said.
Simatovic’s lawyer claimed that rather than helping Vasiljkovic, the DB was spying on him and that there were reports to prove it. In one conversation intercepted by the DB, dating from late March 1991, Vasiljkovic complained that the “Serbs had given up on him”.
The witness was unable to confirm nor deny this statement, but felt that it “fits well into the general impression”.
Prosecutor Adam Weber referred to Lucic’s own website, and said it included claims that the witness was a “good friend” of the accused Simatovic and contained links to the website of the Red Berets, which the defendant once commanded. The witness dismissed this “merely a marketing trick to boost sales of books”, while the web link was “simply of general interest to his audience”.
He denied being a friend of the accused, but restated that he knew them both defendants as acquaintances.
The prosecutor also alleged that the witness was connected with the DB and had been expelled from the SPO because of this link.
The witness dismissed this as “nonsense”, although he acknowledged that he stopped being a member of the SPO in 1991.
When the prosecutor confronted him with a video clip showing Vasiljkovic boasting about having developed a friendship with Simatovic, the witness said he couldn't say anything about the nature of that relationship.
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 reporter in Sarajevo.
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