News 20 Sep 17

Yugoslav Army ‘Armed Serb Forces in Croatia’

Former Serbian State Security chief Jovica Stanisic’s defence told the Hague war crimes court that Serb forces in Croatia’s Baranja region in 1991 were controlled by the Yugoslav People’s Army, not the security service.

Radosa Milutinovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Former Serbian state security officials Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic. Photo: MICT.

Jovica Stanisic’s defence lawyer Wayne Jordash told the Mechanism for International Tribunals in The Hague on Wednesday that today that “individuals” from “JNA [Yugoslav People’s Army] intelligence services” armed Serbs in Baranja in 1991, although there was no “official decision” about it.

Jordash was attempting to refute testimony by a protected prosecution witness codenamed RFJ-151, who said on Tuesday that the Serbs in Baranja were armed by the Serbian State Security Service, SDB, which was headed by Stanisic and his deputy Franko Simatovic, the other defendant at the trial.

RFJ-151, whose face is blurred and voice electronically altered to conceal his identity, first confirmed this, but then said he was “not sure”.

He said that the “illegal” arming of the Serbs happened first, but was followed by “legal” arming.

Stanisic and Simatovic 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.

RFJ-151 claimed on Tuesday that the Red Berets unit, allegedly controlled by the defendants, committed crimes against non-Serb civilians in Baranja.

But Stanisic’s lawyer suggested that “the JNA, as the leading armed force, superintended the activities in Baranja”.

When asked whether Serb police forces in Baranja reported to the JNA, the witness said “they collaborated whenever it was needed”.

The lawyer then asked RFJ-151 whether the police forces were subordinate to the JNA during armed activities.

The witness responded: “I suppose so, because they entered the JNA’s zone of responsibility.”

Responding to a suggestion by Stanisic’s lawyer that in 1991, the police filed criminal reports against perpetrators of crimes, the witness said that “very little was done according to the law and rules of service, only a few were processed for committing crimes”.

“In general the police did not mention crimes in so far as they happened. Courts did not exist,” RFJ-151 added.

He accepted a suggestion by the defence lawyer that it was difficult to identify perpetrators of crimes and that “even the well-armed JNA had problems with controlling criminal activities”.

When asked if Serb refugees from other parts of Croatia “attacked Croats” in Baranja, the witness responded: “Attempts were made to banish the few remaining non-Serbs, because they needed accommodation for Serb refugees.”

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.

The cross-examination of the witness continues on Thursday.

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