News 19 Sep 17

Serbia’s ‘Red Berets’ Accused of Croatia Crimes

A witness told the retrial of former Serbian State Security Service chiefs Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic that the Red Berets unit, allegedly controlled by the defendants, committed crimes against non-Serb civilians in Croatia.

Radosa Milutinovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Stanisic and Simatovic in court. Photo: MICT.

The protected witness codenamed RFJ-151 told the Mechanism for International Tribunals in The Hague on Tuesday that regular and reservist police forces in Croatia’s Baranja region and a Serbian State Security Service unit known as the Red Berets committed crimes against non-Serbs in villages in Croatia’s Baranja region from the summer of 1991 onwards.

“These were mainly deportations, as well as murders, but most of all, the pillaging of property… The criminal acts continued until 1995, albeit with reduced intensity, but murders happened, among other things,” said the witness, whose testimony implied that he was a State Security Service member in the Baranja region town of Beli Manastir.

He also said that a Catholic church in Beli Manastir was burned down.

When asked how he knew that the Red Berets was an operational unit of the Serbian State Security Service, SDB, the witness said that “the SDB chief in Beli Manastir” told him that.

He was testifying at the trial of Jovica Stanisic, the former chief of the Serbian SDB, and his assistant Franko Simatovic, alias Frenki.

They are being retried for the persecution, murders, deportations and forcible resettlement of Croat and Bosniak civilians during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1991 to 1995.

According to the charges, they were part of a joint criminal enterprise led by former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, aimed at forcibly and permanently removing Croats and Bosniaks from large parts of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to achieve Serb domination.

The indictment alleges that the Red Berets were under the control of the Serbian SDB.

Stanisic and Simatovic both pleaded not guilty in December last year after the appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia overturned their acquittal in their first trial.

The appeals chamber ruled that there were serious legal and factual errors when Stanisic and Simatovic were initially acquitted of war crimes in 2013, and ordered the case to be retried and all the evidence and witnesses reheard in full by new judges.

Prosecutor Adam Weber presented the witness with a report from the Beli Manastir police, saying that “Goran Hadzic and Zeljko Raznatovic, alias Arkan, came to the police station in [the village of] Dalj [in the Baranja region] and took more than 25 prisoners away on September 21, 1991.”

Hadzic, the former prime minister and president of the self-proclaimed wartime Republic of Serbian Krajina, and paramilitary boss Raznatovic are both named as participants in the joint criminal enterprise. Both have since died.

Witness RFJ-151 said that the Red Berets returned to Baranja in the spring of 1995 and “introduced a reign of terror”.

“They mistreated the local population,” the witness said, adding that SDB units had control over the area at the time.

The trial continues on Wednesday.

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