News 08 Nov 17

Serbian State Security ‘Controlled Scorpions Paramilitary Unit’

An ex-member of the Scorpions told the trial of former Serbian State Security chiefs Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic that the wartime paramilitary unit was “sponsored” by Belgrade.

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

Witness Goran Stoparic told Stanisic and Simatovic’s trial at the Mechanism for International Tribunals in The Hague on Tuesday that the Scorpions were formally part of the armed forces of the rebel Republic of Serbian Krajina statelet in Croatia “but the unit was sponsored by the Serbian SDB [State Security Service]”.

Stoparic, who was a member of several Serb units from 1991 to 1995, said that the Scorpions’ commander, Slobodan Medic, also known as Boca, was part of a chain of command that led to the SDB chiefs.

“Boca reported to Milan Milanovic, alias Mrgud, assistant minister of defence of the RSK, while Milanovic reported to Frenki [Franko Simatovic], and Frenki to Jovica Stanisic,” he explained.

The witness said Milanovic used to “issue orders for Scorpions’ operations” under “great influence” from the Serbian interior ministry. 

He also said that “30 per cent of Scorpions members were Frenki’s Red Berets [a Serbian interior ministry force]”, and had been trained at Serbian SDB camps. 

Stoparic testified that the Scorpions, whose base was located in the village of Djeletovci in the Eastern Slavonia region of Croatia, received salaries and equipment from the SDB in Belgrade.

In addition to the Scorpions, the witness also named the Tigers commanded by Zeljko Raznatovic, alias Arkan, the Vipers, the Wolves from Drina and others as paramilitary units that he thought were “the satellites of the Serbian SDB”. 

Stanisic, the former chief of the SDB, and his former assistant Simatovic, are charged with being responsible for the persecution, murder, deportation and forcible resettlement of Croat and Bosniak civilians during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The witness confirmed that paramilitary groups killed, pillaged and persecuted the non-Serb population in the village of Tovarnik and in Vukovar, Croatia, as well as in Brcko in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Stoparic also said he personally saw the shooting of Bosniaks from Srebrenica in Trnovo area in July 1995. 

He testified that he was an eyewitness to the murder of six Bosniaks from Srebrenica, which Scorpions members committed and video-recorded.

He said the order to kill the captives and record the crime was issued by the Scorpions commander, Boca.

According to the charges, Stanisic and Simatovic 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.

They 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.

Stoparic continues to testify on Wednesday. 

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