News 24 Feb 15

Serbian Minister Defends Support for Wanted Paramilitary

Serbia’s justice minister said he would continue to fight the extradition of paramilitary leader ‘Captain Dragan’ from Australia to Croatia to stand trial for alleged war crimes.

Marija Ristic

Daniel Snedden, alias Dragan Vasiljkovic.

Photo: Media Center.

Justice minister Nikola Selakovic said on Tuesday that he was continuing to lobby Australia for Daniel Snedden, formerly known as Dragan Vasiljkovic, alias ‘Captain Dragan’, to be prosecuted in Serbia rather than Croatia, where Belgrade alleges he will not get a fair trial.

Selakovic said he had sent a third letter to his Australian counterpart last month. “One part of the reply I got is that there are more legal means before Dragan Vasiljkovic,” he told Australia’s SBS radio station.

Selakovic said that the former paramilitary commander, who is accused by Croatia of war crimes during the 1991-95 conflict, had already spent too long in detention as the extradition battle continues.

“Dragan Vasiljkovic is someone who maybe spent the longest time in extradition detention in the whole world . It’s not six months, it’s not one year. If I am not wrong, the extradition is now in its eighth or ninth year,” Selakovic said.

“The conditions of his extradition detention are among the strictest in the world… He is detained with people who are suspected of committing serious bloody criminal offences,” he added.

Selakovic said that Serbia was “fully prepared to conduct criminal proceedings”.

“We fundamentally doubt that Croatia's justice system would be impartial,” he added.

The Serbian minister’s intervention came after an Australian court dismissed Vasiljkovic’s appeal against his extradition to Croatia.

But Vasiljkovic’s lawyers are now appealing to a higher court to have one more chance to appeal against the extradition. According to Australian law, this is could be his last chance to avoid being sent to Croatia to stand trial.

The former paramilitary commander, who is an Australian citizen, was arrested on a Croatian arrest warrant in 2006, and has been fighting extradition ever since.

Selakovic alleged there had been attempts to smear his reputation in Australia, which has significant numbers of citizens of ex-Yugoslav origin.

“Captain Dragan had a reputation, especially in the Australian-Serbian community, because in the 1990s he was a television personality in Serbia, and now someone is trying to cast that reputation in a darker light,” he said.

He took the name of Daniel Snedden in Australia but reverted to his original name of Vasiljkovic at the end of the 1980s, when he returned to the collapsing Yugoslavia with the intention of building a business.

Due to his military experience but also because he was well-known in nationalist circles, Serbia’s interior ministry sent him to the town of Golubic near Knin, where there was a Serb uprising.

Captain Dragan, as he became known during the conflict, formed a unit known as the Knindze – a pun on the words ‘Knin’ and ‘ninja’.

He also instructed the notorious Serbian warlord Zeljko Raznjatovic, alias ‘Arkan’, and members of his Tigers paramilitary unit, amongst others.

Hague Tribunal indictments have connected the Tigers directly to Slobodan Milosevic’s government, maintaining that they were financed out of Serbia’s state budget.

Vasiljkovic testified as a prosecution witness at Milosevic’s trial in The Hague in 2003, when he denied having had any connection to Belgrade. The Tribunal in 2007 named him as a participant in crimes against Croats and other non-Serbs in the case of former Croatian Serb leader Milan Martic, but did not request his arrest.

The Croatian prosecution accuses him of war crimes during the 1991-95 conflict in Croatia in the Benkovac and Knin area, where he served as a paramilitary commander.

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