Analysis 19 Nov 10

Hague Says Serbia Let Mladic Slip

War crimes prosecutor's claim that Belgrade fumbled key chance to arrest former Bosnian Serb commander, wanted for genocide, puts secret services under spotlight.

Branka Trivic

The UN prosecutor Serge Brammertz has accused Serbia of having failed to arrest the country’s top war-crimes fugitive, Ratko Mladic, in 2006.

Brammetz, Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia, ICTY, on Thursday said Belgrade deliberately passed up a chance to seize the former Bosnian Serb commander.

Although Mladic’s arrest is a key condition for Serbia if it is to join the European Union, many analysts do not believe he will be seized as long as Serbia’s security services remain in the grip of officials from the era of Slobodan Milosevic.

 “There is no full civilian control over the intelligence and security services”, Dejan Anastasijevic, an expert in the field for the weekly Vreme, said.

The Department of State Security, as it was then known, was renamed the BIA, the Bureau of Security and Information, after Milosevic's downfall in 2001.

But for all its change of name, the workings and agenda of the agency remain as little known today as they were then.

Former security heads and analysts say various Milosevic-era figures in the security services have stymied the hunt for Mladic.

Goran Petrovic, head of the BIA security agency under the pro-European premier Zoran Djindic, who was assassinated in 2003,  predicted that Mladic would never be arrested until his “de facto” defenders within the security service were themselves rooted out and put on trial.

Petrovic named Djindjic’s nationalist successor as prime minister, Vojislav Kostunica, his military intelligence chief, Aco Tomic, “and others” as Mladic’s “principal helpers and patrons”.

Serbia’s war-crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic earlier told the weekly Vreme that Rade Bulatovic, head of the BIA security agency under Vojislav Kostunica, disastrously obstructed the hunt in mid-2006.

Vukcevic informed his ICTY colleague of this fact during his recent visit to Belgrade, which may explain Brammertz’s outburst.

As Vukcevic said in the Vreme,  in mid-2006, Mladic was hiding in a village in Serbia’s northern province of Vojvodina in the summer house of Stanko Ristic, a retired lieutenant-colonel.

The war-crimes snatch team, Vukcevic said, had Mladic in their reach. But at the decisive moment, Bulatovic ordered the arrest of Ristic, sending a signal to Mladic to flee.

It remains unclear why Vukcevic has not opened an investigation into Bulatovic’s apparent sabotage. By law, assisting the perpetrator of a crime is a criminal offence.

Instead, Vukcevic socialised with the former BIA chief at the agency’s anniversary celebration in October.

Vukcevic was not the only one sharing the former BIA head’s company that day.

Toasting the agency alongside Bulatovic were President Boris Tadic, ministers Dragan Sutanovac and Ivica Dacic, Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, the speaker of parliament, Slavica Djukic-Dejanovic and other members of Serbia’s political elite.

Bruno Vekaric, deputy war-crimes prosecutor, told Balkan Insight that it was “up to prosecutor Vukcevic to decide whether to open an investigation into Bulatovic”.

While the Interior Minister, Ivica Dacic, has pledged that the police will explore allegations that Tomic and others helped Mladic evade justice, most observers doubt Serbia’s police or courts can break through the impenetrable-looking defences that the secret services have built around Mladic.

Danica Draskovic, wife of former foreign minister Vuk Draskovic, who has spent years investigating the special services, told Balkan Insight that these structures had remained largely unreformed since the end of the Milosevic regime.

“Svetko Kovac, current head of the VBA [the military security agency] was a top figure in military security during Milosevic’s rule,” she noted. “Kovac’s deputy, Zivko Terzic, also worked in Milosevic’s security service”, Draskovic added.

“The military security service without doubt continues to work in much the same way as they did under Milosevic and they’re the ones protecting Mladic,” Draskovic continued.

Draskovic said regular parliamentarians like Rasim Ljajic, head of Serbia’s council for cooperation with the ICTY, almost certainly have no idea where Mladic is hiding.

“The people in power are just being manipulated by the secret services - but the top military security people do know Mladic’s whereabouts,” Draskovic concluded.
The secret police played a crucial role in the Milosevic regime. Among other business, they recruited paramilitary fighters to assist the Yugoslav army in its bloody campaigns in Croatia and Bosnia.

Anastasijevic said Serbia’s politicians were unable to control the intelligence structures because they feared their potential to blackmail them.

“The might of those services rests in the secret files they have compiled for half a century,” he explained.

“Everyone one is scared that some dirt will be leaked to the tabloids about themselves or some family members,” Anastasijevic added.
Serbia is the only former communist nation in the region that has not opened up its secret police files following the fall of the Communist regime.

Ljubodrag Stojadinovic, military analyst and former Yugoslav army colonel, agrees that the security services continue to hold Serbia’s political elite in thrall.

Among those named in the secret service archives as informants and denunciators are key figures in the current Serbian government, he explained.

“People like [ex-BIA chief] Bulatovic are needed to gaurantee that those secrets will remain secrets for as long as they [the named politicians] are in power, or alive,” Stojadinovic told Balkan Insight.  

Jelko Kacin, the European Parliament’s rapporteur for Serbia, said Brussels ws running out of patience with Belgrade’s endless prevarication over Mladic.

The ICTY indicted Mladic in 1995 for the massacre of thousands of Bosniaks [Muslims] in Srebrenica, eastern Bosnia, and for the key role he played in the 1992-95 Bosnian war.  

Following his visit to Belgrade on October 15, Brammertz has filed a fresh report to the UN Security Council on Serbia’s cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, which is due for release on December 6.

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