Witness Says Serbian Police Controlled Paramilitaries

Army officer said irregular Serbian forces in Kosovo were regarded by police officials as a “necessary evil”.

Witness Says Serbian Police Controlled Paramilitaries

Army officer said irregular Serbian forces in Kosovo were regarded by police officials as a “necessary evil”.

A Serbian army general testified at the Hague tribunal this week in the trial of former Serbian police chief Vlastimir Djordjevic about the ties between Serbian police and paramilitaries active in Kosovo.

Djordjevic’s trial started on January 27 with the prosecution outlining the charges against him – which include counts of murder, deportation and persecution committed between January and June 1999 as part of an alleged conspiracy to rid Kosovo of its majority Albanian population.

Djordjevic, formerly head of the public security department of the Serbian ministry of internal affairs, MUP, is charged for his part in what prosecutors claim was a “systematic campaign” that resulted in hundreds of deaths and the expulsion of approximately 800,000 ethnic Albanians. This exodus took place in an atmosphere of fear fostered through the use and threat of violence, they say.

The accused has denied the charges and said Serbian officials in the province acted lawfully to suppress a separatist rebellion by the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA.

But General Aleksandar Vasiljevic told judges this week that according to official information he received, the paramilitary groups blamed for much of the mayhem in Kosovo functioned under the effective control of the MUP and that Djordjevic was complicit in employing them.

Vasiljevic, who served as deputy head of the security administration of the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, in the early 1990s, and as deputy head of security administration of the Yugoslav Army, VJ, from March 1999 until 2001, has previously testified in the Hague trials of former Serbian presidents Slobodan Milosevic and Milan Milutinovic.

The witness described how in late April 1999, he received for the first time official information about crimes committed in Kosovo, from Lt. Col. Lakic Djorovic, a security officer of the Pristina corps.

“I inquired of him what was happening in the field. He replied, ‘individual cases of crime, rape, and murder’,” he said.

He said he then received additional information – from Djorovic and from the VJ’s Novi Sad counter intelligence group – that members of the Scorpions, a paramilitary group operating as a part of a special anti-terrorism unit belonging to the public security division of the MUP, were alleged to be involved in crimes.

He said that from certain dispatches he received from Djorovic, it became clear to him that “there were paramilitary formations outside the classical organisation of the military and the MUP” in Kosovo.

He said that these dispatches revealed that one paramilitary group called Arkan’s Guards – named after their leader, notorious warlord Zeljko ‘Arkan’ Raznatovic – “was not part of any legal structures or establishment,” even though “most of [its members] had MUP personnel cards or identity passes”, he said.

Once news of the alleged involvement of Serbian police in criminal activity reached Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, orders were passed down through the chain of command for Vasiljevic and army general Nebojsa Pavkovic to conduct internal investigations “and to attend a meeting at the command post on May 17, bringing the written reports”, he said.

Through the results of Pavkovic’s inquiry, Vasiljevic said he learned that Arkan’s Guards “had arrived in Kosovo following the orders of General Djordjevic of the MUP, and that the MUP would collect them and send them to those areas where the situation was the worst on the ground”.

At a meeting on May 16, Pavkovic “suggested to [police] general [Sreten] Lukic that they set up a joint commission to determine who might have been responsible for those crimes, judging by the areas where those corpses were found – maybe the army or the MUP of Serbia or some third party”, said the witness.

However, Lukic didn’t support this idea, said Vasiljevic. He explained that he found this unsurprising because “there were bad relations between the military security service and MUP organs”.

At the May 17 meeting, Vasiljevic and Pavkovic briefed Milosevic about what they had discovered, he said.

According to Vasiljevic’s notes of what was said during the meeting, Rade Markovic, chief of the MUP state security department, confirmed the presence of Arkan’s group in Kosovo.

“[Markovic] said that I was correct, that Arkan had contacted him offering about 100 of his men,” said the witness.

According to Vasiljevic, Markovic said he accepted around 30 men on the grounds that they wear uniforms, claiming that paramilitaries “are a necessary evil”.

Vasiljevic explained that many of the paramilitaries “represented themselves as ‘big Serbs’”, and this bothered Milosevic because he believed that this characterisation “tarnished the image of what he had achieved in Kosovo”.

Vasiljevic’s testimony suggested there was disagreement at the meeting between the army and police over who bore greater responsibility for crimes committed.

The witness said that during the meeting, Lukic reported that all organs of the MUP in Kosovo were “sent a letter by the MUP [command] that said that there were about 800 corpses for which the VJ was responsible in terms of committing crimes”.

According to Vasiljevic, Pavkovic then explained that based on his own investigation “it was established that there were 271 corpses in the areas where the army was, and there were 326 in the area where the MUP units were active”.

The prosecution tendered Vasiljevic’s notebook of his shorthand record of these meetings into evidence.

Following the May 17 meeting, Vasiljevic said he was ordered “to go to Kosovo as soon as possible to contact subordinate security organisations to collect information on everything that was going on there, but also to perform a classical inspection tour of security organs in light of their counter-intelligence activities”.

He said that he departed for Kosovo on June 1, 1999, and reached the capital Pristina in time for an evening meeting of the joint command of the VJ and MUP operational in the province at that time.

The meeting took place at what appeared to be the operations centre of the Pristina corps, and was led by Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, he said.

The witness then said he remained in Kosovo for 7 days, and visited 12 security organs and subordinate units. On the last day, he said, he went to Pristina and collated all of the information that he had about crimes and victims, amounting to 42 cases of wrongdoing or criminal activity.

In the aftermath of his investigation, MUP personnel “were dissatisfied”, said Vasiljevic.

“They did not like the fact that we were reporting on their work. General Djordjevic hinted at that. He said ‘let’s each of us do our own work. Pay attention to what you do and not [what we do].’”

Djordjevic’s trial continues next week.

Andrew W Maki is an IWPR contributor.

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