News 30 Jan 15

Serbia Leaders Condemn Army Chief War Crimes Claim

The Serbian President and Prime Minister said claims in a new report that Army chief Ljubisa Dikovic committed war crimes in Kosovo were malicious and intended to destroy the military’s reputation.

Marija Ristic
BIRN
Belgrade

 

 

Dikovic and Nikolic. Photo by BETA

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, after a meeting with Serbian army chief Ljubisa Dikovic on Friday, said Dikovic was "an honourable officer of the Serbian army" and the attacks on him aimed to destabilize and discredit the army.

"It is clear that there are some circles that don't have an interest for Serbia to become a modern, developed state...They want to cause instability in Serbia by any means and return the country to chaos," Nikolic said after the meeting.

"It is clear that this is an orchestrated campaign against the Army of Serbia," the President added.

Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic also slated Thursday's report by the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Centre, which held Dikovic responsible for an attack on four villages in Kosovo's Drenica region during the 1990s Kosovo war.

Vucic also called it an attack on the army.

"Attacks on the Serbian Army started after the army helped during the flooding in May," Vucic told journalists on a visit to Austria, adding that all them aimed "to destabilize the country.

"I see this as a continuous campaign against an institution that has the biggest support of Serbian public and it is obvious... that one part of the public and politicians want to destroy everything good in Serbia," he added.

The Humanitarian Law report on Thursday said Dikovic as commander of the 37th Brigade of the Yugoslav Army was responsible for attacks on four villages in the Drenica area between April 5 and May 27, 1999, in which at least 69 Kosovo Albanians died.

The report also said the 37th Brigade was responsible for the subsequent removal of the bodies from the villages of Rezala, Staro Cikitovo, Donji Zabelj and Gladno Selo in an attempted cover-up.

The defence ministry has denied the allegations.

Sandra Orlovic, director of the Humanitarian Law Centre, said that convincing evidence had been assembled that showed that the 37th Brigade was involved.

“Our evidence, which is based on documents from the Hague Tribunal and witness testimonies, without doubt show that his unit was present in the villages when the attack took place and was later in charge of the removal of the bodies,” Orlovic said.

Forty-seven of the victims’ bodies were found 15 years later in a mass grave at the Rudnica quarry, near the town of Raska in southern Serbia.

Reflecting on the role of Dikovic in Kosovo war, Vucic said while he personally does not believe Dikovic is a war criminal. "institutions should do their job... and show if this is the true or not".

Several local Serbian Progressive Party councils across Serbia meanwhile called meetings to condemn the "attack" on the army, aimed at "causing the collapse of the legal system and the country’s security".

The Humanitarian Law Centre report is the first to claim proof of the involvement of the Serbian Army in the removal of the bodies.

So far, only Vlastimir Djordjevic, a former interior ministry assistant, has been convicted of transporting the bodies to Serbia. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison by the Hague Tribunal.

No one has been prosecuted in Serbia itself for removing the bodies.

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