News 03 Nov 14

Last Yugoslav Defence Minister Dies in Russia

Veljko Kadijevic, the wartime commander of the Yugoslav People’s Army, who was accused but never convicted of war crimes during the conflict in Croatia, has died in exile.

Marija Ristic
Veljko Kadijevic. Photo: Interpol.

Kadijevic, the last defence minister of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, died at his home in the Russian capital on Sunday at the age of 89.

He served as a defence minister from 1988 until 1992 and commanded the Yugoslav People’s Army as the country fell apart, during the ten-day war with Slovenia and the early years of the conflict with Croatia.

Born in the Croatian town of Imotski in 1925 to Croat and Serb parents, Kadijevic always considered himself a Yugoslav. He started his military carrier as a partisan fighter during World War II and later joined the Yugoslav Communist Party.

He resigned from the command of the Yugoslav People’s Army in 1992, when he retired, then fled to Russia in 2001, asking for refugee status. He got Russian citizenship in 2008.

In one of his last interviews, given to Serbian public broadcaster RTS in 2007, Kadijevic said he went into exile because there were indications that he would be indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which he saw as a “political” court.

“I knew they would come after me, either as a witness or a defendant,” Kadijevic explained.

“At the moment when people from the Belgrade office of that court appeared in front of my door at around eight in the evening, I decided to leave Belgrade right afterwards, in the morning,” he said.

Kadijevic was never indicted by the ICTY, but in the initial stages of the UN-backed court’s indictment against late Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, he was listed as part of a joint criminal enterprise for his involvement in the war in Croatia. However the ICTY decided to drop the case against him and other Yugoslav officials and focus on Milosevic.

Zagreb issued three indictments against Kadijevic for his role in the Croatian war, and also requested his extradition from Russian authorities on the basis of an Interpol arrest warrant, but Moscow never approved the extradition.

He was indicted for war crimes against civilians, war prisoners and destruction of cultural and historic monuments during the shelling of the Croatian towns of Vukovar and Dubrovnik by the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA).

Kadijevic completely rejected the charges, saying that JNA acted legitimately during the war.

“Everything I did and everything my army did while I was a minister was not a war crime, it was defence, our attempt to defend the country,” he said.

“The JNA was the only legitimate army, every other one was a paramilitary force, including the Croatian army, which was illegal… We didn’t attack anyone first, we only defended our country,” he explained.

In 2007, Kadijevic published his memoirs, entitled ‘Counterattack - My View of the Dissolution of Yugoslavia’, in which he blamed the US for the break-up of the country and the wartime violence.

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