Witnesses Link Belgrade to Serb Forces in Croatia and Bosnia

Court hears Yugoslav army assisted fighters in Serb breakaway Serb entities in both republics.

Witnesses Link Belgrade to Serb Forces in Croatia and Bosnia

Court hears Yugoslav army assisted fighters in Serb breakaway Serb entities in both republics.

Saturday, 16 May, 2009

Witnesses testifying in the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav army, VJ, chief Momcilo Perisic said the VJ provided personnel and logistical support to ethnic Serb forces operating in Bosnia and Croatia during the early Nineties conflicts.

Perisic, the most senior Yugoslav army officer to be charged with war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia, has pleaded not guilty to charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity – including aiding and abetting the 43-month Bosnian Serb siege of Sarajevo, the shelling of the Croatian capital Zagreb and the massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys after the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995.

In his testimony at the Hague tribunal this week, former VJ colonel Rade Raseta said that the most important posts in the Srpska Krajina Army, SVK, of Croatia's breakaway Republika Srpska Krajina, RSK, were held by officers provided by the 40th Staff Centre of the VJ, who were paid by the VJ for their work.

According to Raseta, apart from personnel support, the VJ also provided the SVK with logistical help, such as “fuel, equipment, and vehicle spare parts”.

The indictment against Perisic – who will be 65 next week – says that he provided military assistance to Bosnian Serb and Croatian Serb separatist forces during the Balkans conflicts of 1991 to 1995. It further states that he personally set up the structures that allowed VJ officers to work covertly in Bosnia and Croatia as part of their service.

Raseta told judges that he served with the SVK while he was employed by the VJ.

“While on duty for the SVK general staff, were you still a part of the Yugoslav Army?” prosecutor Daniel Saxon asked Raseta during the examination-in-chief.

“Yes,” replied the witness.

During its cross-examination of Raseta, the defence tried to get the witness to refute his statement and prove that the SVK was actually independent from the VJ.

The second witness testifying this week was Milomir Kovacevic, a former truck driver with reserve units of the Serbian Ministry of Interior, MUP, who said he was on duty in the Serb-held territory around Gorazde, in Bosnia, during the war.

Kovacevic testified that VJ members and MUP forces had a special role in escorting convoys, providing security for logistical support and personnel coming from Serbia. He added that the goods were also transported in VJ trucks.

When asked by the prosecution who paid him for his work, he said, “I was paid…by the Serbian ministry of interior and I know, based on talking to other drivers, that they were paid by the VJ.”

Kovacevic testified that in March 1994, a convoy of ten to 15 trucks left Serbia and drove towards the border with Republika Srpsk, RS.

“I got the specific order by my superior in the police. The order was underlined with a red pen,” he said.

“I drove a tank full of fuel from Pancevo (near Belgrade) to the VRS (RS army) stationed in Banja Luka. The convoy took the route: Sremska Mitrovica, Bjeljina, Brcko, Derventa, Bosanski Brod, Prijedor, Knin, Banja Luka.”

Saxon asked Kovacevic how often he drove trucks from Serbia to RS and RSK.

Kovacevic answered that it was “very often, almost every week”.

The witness also testified that buses were used to transport several lower-ranking VJ officers from Belgrade to serve in RS and RSK.

When asked by Saxon to tell the court how many people can fit into a bus, the witness replied, “55 persons.”

During cross-examination, Perisic’s defence lawyer, Novak Lukic, tried to discredit the witness by mentioning his apparent criminal record.

Kovacevic answered that this was related to bar room brawls.

Lukic also asked Kovacevic how he came to be a prosecution witness.

“We want to know whether you reported yourself to the tribunal’s investigators, or [whether] they invited you to give your statement,” explained Lukic.

“A friend had asked me to help and give my statement in another trial, of which I [can] not speak publicly. This is how I got into contact with [Hague tribunal] investigators,” replied Kovacevic.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.

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