On 28th of Febuary the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) acquitted on appeal Momcilo Perisic, the former Chief of Staff of the Army of Yugoslavia. He had originally been sentenced to 27 years for his role in assisting and supporting war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia. The trial chamber originally found Perisic guilty of assisting and supporting the killing of around 7,000 Bosniak civilians and displacing the Srebrenica population in July 1995, artillery and sniper attacks on civilians in Sarajevo and for the rocket attacks on Zagreb in May 1995. Sadly his acquittal means that so far nobody from the former JNA high command has been convicted by the ICTY for war-crimes in Bosnia. After sixteen years of existence this has to be considered to be a monumental failure on the part of the ICTY. As someone already remarked; whether it´s a failure of the prosecution or the judges is certainly open to debate. And it has been debated furiously ever since.
The decision follows another controversial decision from November last year to acquit two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac. There was certainly no shortage of evidence against Perisic, he had from the moment he took over as Chief of Staff of the Army of Yugoslavia from Zivota Panic, actively supported both the rebel Bosnian Serb army (VRS) under the leadership of Radovan Karadzic and the rebel Croatian Serb army (RSK) under the leadership of Milan Babic and Milan Martic.
One of the reasons for the acquittal given by the appeals chamber was that the trial chamber did not Identify VRS (The Bosnian Serb Army) as a criminal organization per se and that only some of their actions were criminal, the appeals chamber writes ;
“With respect to the first inquiry, the Appeals Chamber recalls that the Trial Chamber did not characterize the VRS as a criminal organization; indeed, it stated that “Perisic is not charged with helping the VRS wage war per se, which is not a crime under the Statute. Having reviewed the evidence on the record, the Appeals Chamber agrees with the Trial Chamber that the VRS was not an organization whose actions were criminal per se; instead, it was an army fighting a war. “
However the appeals chamber goes on to say that the Trial Chamber did find, “that the VRS’s strategy was inextricably linked to crimes against civilians” but that it also was an army fighting a war, and that the Trial Chamber limited its findings to characterizing as criminal only certain actions of the VRS and the appeals chamber agrees with that. That is clearly problematic, and contradictory, certainly crimes are committed during wartime, and crimes were committed on all sides but claiming that the VRS was simply an army fighting a war and that during that time it “committed crimes” shows a lack of understanding for the nature of the Bosnian War both from the prosecution and the appeals chamber. The JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) planned thoroughly the invasion and dismemberment of Bosnia.
It also flies in the face of other verdicts concerning amongst other Sarajevo. In the Stanislav Galic verdict the trial chamber concluded that;
”the evidence demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that Sarajevo civilians were indeed made the objects of deliberate attacks by VRS forces. The Chamber heard from local witnesses who had experienced multiple attacks in their neighbourhoods. They were attacked while attending funerals, while in ambulances, trams, and buses, and while cycling. They were attacked while tending gardens, or shopping in markets, or clearing rubbish in the city. Children were targeted while playing or walking in the streets. These attacks were mostly carried out in daylight.”
“They were not in response to any military threat. The attackers could for the most part easily tell that their victims were engaged in everyday civilian activities. The topography of Sarajevo, with its ridges and high-rise buildings, provided vantage-points for VRS personnel to target civilians in the city. Certain locations in Sarajevo became notorious sniping spots. For example, several witnesses testified that the main thoroughfare in Sarajevo was known as “Sniper Alley”. Although civilians adapted to some extent to the frequent attacks, by closing schools, by living at night and hiding during the day, by moving around Sarajevo as little as possible, and by setting up steel containers to shield against sniper fire, they were still not safe. They were still seen and targeted. There was little effective protection against shelling”.
This was the reality of life during the 44 month long siege of Sarajevo, the longest siege of a capital city in modern time, a siege that cost the lives of 11541 people. The fact that the VRS engaged in combat with the defending Bosnian Army at the same time does not mean that the criminal nature of the VRS should be ignored, to quote Florian Bieber;
”First, the purpose of the VRS seems hard to reconcile with lawful combat activities, second arguing that not all activities were criminal is about as convincing as stating that the Mafia is not only involved in criminal activities and thus supporting it does not mean that one is “aiding and abetting” criminal activities.”
The other reason given for the acquittal is that Perisic had no way of knowing that the support that the VJ (Yugoslav Army) gave to the Bosnian Serb Army, would go to the commission of crimes. Now certainly the evidence presented by the prosecution can be interpreted differently but the assertion that Perisic did not know that the support Belgrade and the VJ was giving to the Bosnian Serb Army would be going to the commision of crimes is hard to swallow for anybody with any kind of insight into the horrors of the Bosnian War. Or any kind of insight into the previous verdicts of the tribunal. Or even those who tuned in to watch the news every night for the three and a half bloody years. The sense of disbelief at the conclusion that Momcilo Perisic couldn´t have known that the equipment he was sending to Bosnia and Croatia would be used for other the ”lawful combat” is difficult to shake of, and even more so now a good month and a half after the verdict.
At the end of 1991 the JNA started dismantling and disarming the Bosnian Territorial Defense, and handing over those Bosnian weapons to Serbian nationalists and extremists loyal to Karadzic and his party SDS. That left Bosnia pretty much defenseless against the might of the Yugoslav People’s Army and their massive arsenal. During the months leading up to the attack on Bosnia SDS leaders in Eastern Bosnia began with the recruiting, equipping, and apparent training of the new “Serbian Territorial Defense” Also leading up to the attack, there were military exercises organized by the JNA in which only Serbs participated. At the end of March 1992, Serbian paramilitary units and units of the Serbian State Security apparatus, most prominently Arkan´s Tigers and the Red Berets assisted by the Yugoslav Army and their heavy weaponry crossed the border into Bosnia and joined up with the members of Radovan Karadzic´s SDS and the Serbian Territorial Defense and attacked towns and hamlets all along the border and along the Drina Valley.
Most of the towns fell in a matter of days; the Bosnian government had tried to negotiate with Belgrade with the JNA and the Bosnian Serbs and had done gone out of its way to provoke neither the Bosnian Serbs nor the JNA. It had certainly not started preparing for a war, and had at the start of the invasion of Bosnia, no standing army other than a few poorly equipped units and those policemen and members of the Interior Ministry that had stayed loyal to the Bosnian government. The Bosnian government naively believed that it could avoid war and that it could prevent the bloodshed that followed. Ed Vullimy summed up the Bosnian government’s official policy towards the Bosnian Serb rebellion in his book Seasons in Hell;
“the government´s official policy was as the deputy president Ejup Ganic explained “ to try and slowly defuse the mine so as to prevent it from exploding” We´re just talking, talking. When you are face to face with a wolf the only option is to work with it until it becomes a pet” There was however nothing domesticated about the wolves stalking the Serbian-held hills above Sarajevo.
( Vullimy, page 74-75)
Belgrade and the Bosnian Serbs played along and negotiated with the Bosnian Government all the while they were in fact preparing an invasion. They were simply buying time until they could put their plan into action. By then Slobodan Milosevic was in full control of the JNA but he was to cunning to use it openly against Bosnia. The leadership in Belgrade opted for a more Machiavellian method.
They relocated every Bosnian Serb serving in the JNA to units in Bosnia, this way most of the command chain, weaponry, and higher-ranked military personnel, including General Ratko Mladić, (who is Bosnian born) remained in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Army of Republika Srpska (Vojska Republike Srpske, VRS) as the armed forces of the newly created Bosnian Serb republic. According to the UN report on the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, in April when the war broke out the JNA had some 80,000 troops deployed there, as well as armour that was coming back from Croatia had come through Bosnia. Much of it simply changed hands, and the former JNA soldiers changed uniforms and seemingly overnight the newly formed Bosnian Serb Army found itself with some 80 000 well equipped and well trained soldiers as well as a wast array of heavy weapons, all handed to them by the JNA. In fact, it´s officers were on JNA´s payroll and continued to be so during the entire war, and well after the Dayton peace accords. As it was shown during the trial of Momcilo Perisic, both the VRS an the RSK (Republika Srpska Krajina) were dependent on funds and logistical support from Belgrade. Without the help of the reformed Yugoslav army (VJ) the two rebel Serb armies in Bosnia and Croatia could not have continued fighting for very long.
According to the same UN report, in August 1991, Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante Markovic released a tape- recorded conversation between Serbian President Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic, the leader of the Bosnian Serbs. The tape recording revealed that Milosevic instructed Karadzic to receive delivery of weapons. The arms would be supplied by General Nikola Uzelac, the head of the Banja Luka Corps of the Yugoslav People’s Army.
In 2008 during the trial of Vojislav Seselj, prosecution tendered into evidence tapes and transcripts of intercepted telephone conversations from 1991 and 1992, in one of those conversations, this one between Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic from 8th July showed how the Joint Criminal Enterprise worked and the control that Milosevic had over the JNA. In the recording, ( the same one Ante Markovic realesed in august 1991) Milosevic can be overheard giving instructions to Karadzic ;
“to get in touch with General Uzelac, the commander of the Banja Luka Corps of the JNA. General Uzelac was to provide arms and helicopter transport for all Serbian Democratic Party volunteers supposed to reinforce the ‘Banja Luka group’ in the Bosnian Krajina and in Kupres.” This was ‘of strategic importance for the future RAM’. Milosevic then went on to praise ‘the lunatic Seselj’ for having violently and vulgarly attacked Serbian opposition for their criticism of the JNA.”
The UN report goes on to say that Slovenian newspaper Delo, published a story about a plan developed by the JNA to supplement the already existing RAM-plan about the dismemberment of Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to Delo the plan reportedly called for the mass killings of Bosniaks (Muslims) and the use of mass rapes as a weapon of psychological warfare. According to the Delo article, the JNA plan stated that, “analysis of the Muslim’s (Bosniaks) behavior showed that their morale, desire for battle, and will could be crushed most easily by raping women, especially minors and even children, and by killing members of the Muslim nationality inside their religious facilities”
By the end of March the stage was set for the dismemberment of Bosnia, Serb paramilitaries backed by the Yugoslav People´s Army and local fighters loyal to Radovan Karadzic SDS attacked Bjeljina in North Eastern Bosnia. As reports of the terror in Bjeljina reached Sarajevo the presidency, the Bosnian government decided to send a delegation to investigate what had happened in the town, one of those sent was Biljana Plavsic a Bosnian Serb and member of the SDS, she was for a time inmate at a women’s prison here in Sweden not long from where I live, she had been sentenced to 11 years for war crimes in Bosnia. Upon her arrival in Bjeljina she was greeted by Zeljko Raznjatovic Arkan, who´s forces had participated in the attack on Bjeljina. Arkan too had a past in Sweden he had robbed banks and had also worked as a hitman for the Yugoslav Security Services, now he was working for Milosevic. She embraced Arkan, affectionatelly calling him a “Serbian hero” and thanked him for “saving the Serb population of Bjeljina from Muslim Genocide”
That if anything showed the dire situation in which Bosnia was in, the state was from the onset doomed, it had no army, and those willing to fight had no weapons, aside from rag-tag poorly armed units and those police units that had stayed loyal to the government, they would however play an crucial role in the weeks ahead. The civil defense groups were poorly armed, as well as the various armed groups that had formed independently. And most importantly there was no cohesion. Which is what the JNA and the Bosnian Serbs were depending on for their attack on Bosnia. The pattern from Bjeljina was repeated in other towns along the border with Serbia. Local SDS officials the Serbian territorial defense together with Serbian paramilitary units such as Arkan´s Tigers as well other units from Serbia were in charge of the attack backed by the heavy artillery of the Yugoslav army that pounded the towns from across the border.
In some instances foreign eye witnesses such as members of the UNCHR were present and could later testify as to what they saw, one of them was José Maria Mendiluce, who witnessd the ethnic cleansing of Zvornik. According to Mendiluce, Yugoslav artillery shelled Zvornik from the Serbian side of the Drina river while units of the Red Berets (Serbian state security) and Arkan´s men togheter with The White Eaegles paramilitary group rampaged thru the town. According to Mendiluce , he could see four or five trucks filled with dead children, women and old people. They were dumped on the trucks by serb militiamen. In an excerpt from “This Time we Knew: Western Responses to Genocide in Bosnia”, Mendiluce comments on what he saw in eastern Bosnia;
“I saw kids put under the threads of tanks, placed under there by grown men, and then run over by other grown men. … Everywhere people were shooting. The fighters were moving through the town, systematically killing all the Muslims they could get their hands on
These people had a coherent strategy. The whole point was to inflict as much terror on the civilian population as possible, to destroy as much property as possible, and to target as much of the violence as possible against women and kids. After the irregulars had done their work, the established authorities — the JNA [the federal army of the former Yugoslavia which since the breakup has been in the service of Milosevic of Serbia] or Karadzic’s forces, or the local police — would come in, ostensibly to restore order. But of course, that would mean that the ethnic cleansing of that particular place had been successful, and the White Eagles could move on.”
But things were about to get worse, in the coming weeks more and more towns and hamlets across along the Drina Walley fell to pray to the Serb onslaught, Rudo, Visegrad, Foca, Cajnice, and Rogatica, while in the north east, Bratunac, Vlasenica and Srebrenica fell into the hands of the serb paramilitaries. The pattren was the same in all those places, the towns were shelled by the Yugoslav Army while paramilitary units went in to ”sweep” the area.
Approximately six weeks into the campaign the Bosnian Serbs controlled some 60 percent of Bosnia, and by June 1992 some 750 000 people mostly Bosniaks and Croats had been “ethnically cleansed” from large portions of Eastern-Northern and North West Bosnia, all in a bid to link those territories with the Krajina region in Croatia and Eastern Slavonia, those regions had fallen prey to the JNA and various Serb paramilitary units during the summer and fall of 1991. The pattern from Croatia was now repeated in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That Momcilo Perisic had no way of knowing the true nature of the VRS and the campaign being waged in Bosnia is hard to believe, looking at the SDC transcripts, it´s clear that he was very active in lobbying for more comprehensive assistance to the Bosnian Serbs and the Krajina Serbs. To argue that Momcilo Perisic couldn´t have known that the support he was giving to the Belgrade´s clients was going to the commission of crimes mean that he would have had to have lived in a vacuum those three and half years.
One must also remember that during it´s now 20 years of existence the tribunal has indicted over 160 people, most of them members of the Bosnian Serb army or security forces, as well as members of the Serbian state security and above all Slobodan Milosevic.
Most of those indicted have been found guilty of crimes against humanity, Dusko Tadic, former SDS leader in Kozarac and a former member of the paramilitary forces supporting the attack on the district of Prijedor, was found guilty of crimes against humanity for his actions in the Prijedor region, including the Omarska, Trnopolje and Keraterm detention camps.
Milomir Stakic who had been the Vice-President of the Prijedor Municipal Assembly as a member of the Serbian Democratic Party, was found guilty of murder, persecution, extermination and deportation, all crimes against humanity. Stakic rose to prominence, during the May 1992 Serb takeover of the municipality of Prijedor. According to the judgement;
“the takeover was an illegal coup d’état which had been planned and coordinated for months and which had as its final goal the creation of a Serbian municipality eventually to form part of an envisaged pure Serbian state.
A comprehensive pattern of atrocities amounting to a campaign of a persecutorial nature was proved to have been committed against non-Serbs in Prijedor municipality in 1992. This included killings on a massive scale in the Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje camps, in Bosnian Muslim towns and villages throughout the municipality, and, finally, on Mount Vlasic. The Trial Chamber held Dr. Stakic responsible for more than 1,500 killings and was able to identify by name 486 victims. Rapes, sexual assaults and beatings were committed at the camps and at least 20,000 non-Serbs either fled Prijedor or were deported”
Radislav Krstic the former commander of the Bosnian Serb Drina Corps was the first person to be convicted for genocide by the tribunal, for his and the roll the Drina Corps played in the Srebrenica Genocide. According to the appeals chamber judgment was found guilty of;
“aiding and abetting genocide, aiding and abetting murder (violation of the laws or customs of war), aiding and abetting extermination, aiding and abetting persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds”
“Among the grievous crimes this Tribunal has the duty to punish, the crime of genocide is singled out for special condemnation and opprobrium. The crime is horrific in its scope; its perpetrators identify entire human groups for extinction. Those who devise and implement genocide seek to deprive humanity of the manifold richness its nationalities, races, ethnicities and religions provide. This is a crime against all of humankind, its harm being felt not only by the group targeted for destruction, but by all of humanity.
The gravity of genocide is reflected in the stringent requirements which must be satisfied before this conviction is imposed. These requirements – the demanding proof of specific intent and the showing that the group was targeted for destruction in its entirety or in substantial part – guard against a danger that convictions for this crime will be imposed lightly. Where these requirements are satisfied, however, the law must not shy away from referring to the crime committed by its proper name. By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction
the forty thousand Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica, a group which was emblematic of the Bosnian Muslims in general. They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity. The Bosnian Serb forces were aware, when they embarked on this genocidal venture, that the harm they caused would continue to plague the Bosnian Muslims. The Appeals Chamber states unequivocally that the law condemns, in appropriate terms, the deep and lasting injury inflicted, and calls the massacre at Srebrenica by its proper name: genocide. Those responsible will bear this stigma, and it will serve as a warning to those who may in future contemplate the commission of such a heinous act.” -Theodore Meron
Biljana Plavsic, a former biologist a university professor and member of the SDS as well as the former Bosnian Serb president, and one of Radovan Karadzic close associates was found guilty on grounds of;
”Persecution on political, racial and religious grounds. In her role as co-President of the Serb leadership, acting individually and in concert with others in a joint criminal enterprise, Biljana Plavšić participated, planned, instigated, devised and executed the persecutions of Bosnian Muslim, Bosnian Croat and other non-Serb populations in the following 37 municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Banja Luka, Bijeljina, Bileća, Bosanska Krupa, Bosanski Novi, Bosanski Petrovac, Bratunac, Brčko, Čajniče, Čelinac, Doboj, Donji Vakuf, Foča, Gacko, Hadžići, Ilidža, Ilijaš, Ključ, Kalinovik, Kotor Varoš, Nevesinje, Novi Grad, Novo Sarajevo, Pale, Prijedor, Prnjavor, Rogatica, Rudo, Sanski Most, Šipovo, Sokolac, Teslić, Trnovo, Višegrad, Vlasenica, Vogošća and Zvornik.
“She embraced and supported a campaign of ethnic separation which resulted in the death of thousands and the expulsion of thousands more in circumstances of great brutality. Plavšić contributed to the campaign of ethnic separation in various different ways, by inviting paramilitaries from Serbia to assist Bosnian Serb forces in effecting ethnic separation by force, and by encouraging participation through public pronouncements justifying the use of force against non-Serbs in the territory.”
One of Biljana Plavisic´s most infamous statements came at the height of the Serbian campaign to create a “state for all serbs” in 1993 she said that ;
Thats true [i.e. that the Bosnian Muslims were originally Serbs]. But it was genetically deformed material that embraced Islam. And now, of course, with each successive generation this gene simply becomes concentrated. It gets worse and worse, it simply expresses itself and dictates their style of thinking and behaving, which is rooted in their genes…”
(Svet, Novi Sad, 6 September 1993).
As a concrete example of her thesis about Bosniaks being ‘genetically deformed material’, she used Ejup Ganic: “I have never met a more deformed person than him in political circles, which abound with such deformed people.”
(On, Belgrade, 12 November 1996).
“This has led, she further ‘explained’, to a degeneration of the Serb people, as a consequence of the ‘mixing of blood’: ‘We are disturbed by the fact that the number of marriages between Serbs and Muslims has increased… because mixed marriages lead to an exchange of genes between ethnic groups, and thus to a degeneration of Serb nationhood.”
(Oslobodjenje, Sarajevo, May 1994).
Of all the members of the Bosnian Serb political elite, Plavsic´s statements thruought the war are the ones that resembeled the Nazi ideology of racial purity. Other members of the Bosnian Serb political elite that have been sentenced for crimes against humanity in the war in Bosnia are; Momcilo Krajisnik guilty of being a member of joint criminal enterprise which carried out persecution and deportation of Bosniaks Croats and other non-Serbs. He was the co-founder of the SDS and a member of the Republika Srpska Presidency.
More recently, in March this year Mićo Stanišić and Stojan Župljanin were convicted of persecution on political, racial or religious grounds. Both men were a part of a Joint Criminal Enterprise and committed or individually instigated or otherwise aided and abetted the planning, preparation or execution of persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds; murder; torture; cruel treatment; inhumane acts; deportation and forcible transfer committed against the Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat populations in the municipalities of Banja Luka, Bileća, Bijeljina, Bosanski Šamac, Brčko, Doboj, Donji Vakuf, Gacko, Ilijaš, Ključ, Kotor Varoš, Pale, Prijedor, Sanski Most, Skender Vakuf, Teslić, Vlasenica, Višegrad, Vogošća and Zvornik.
Stanišić was head of the Bosnian Serb Interior Ministry while Župljanin was chief of the Regional Security Services Centre in Banja Luka member of the Autonomous Region of Krajina (ARK) Crisis Staff, and an advisor on internal affairs to the President of Republika Srpska (RS)
While the two of the most prominent members of the Bosnian Serb military and political elite, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are still on trial indicted for “genocide, extermination, murder, persecutions, deportation, inhumane acts, acts of violence the primary purpose of which was to spread terror among the civilian population, unlawful attack on civilians, and taking of hostages”
As I wrote before, this acquittal has been debated furiously, and my own thoughts on it are more the clear, for whatever that´s worth. One thing is perfectly obvious, the fact that the VRS was engaged in lawful combat against the defending Bosnian Army does not and should not obstruct the fact that most of the Bosnian Serb political and military leadership as well as high ranking members of the police and Ministry of the Interior have been found guilty of genocide,murder,persecution on political, racial or religious grounds cruel treatment and other inhumane acts in municipalities all across Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We must not forget that Vojislav Seselj, former leader of the Serb Radical Party is still awaiting judgemnet, he was by far the most vocal suporter of the idea of a “Greater Serbia” and he collaborated from time to time with Milosevic sending his ultra nationalist Chetnik volonteers to fight in both Croatia and Bosnia. Other still awaiting judgements are Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic. Simatovic was the was the head of the Serbian secret police of Slobodan Milosevic, the Special Forces of State Security of the Serbian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Jovica Stanisic was former head of the State Security Service within the Serbian Ministry of the Interior and a close ally to Milosevic. Both men are charged with crimes committed during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia.
If nothing else the Perisic trial showed the reasoning of the Belgrade regime in dealing with their Bosnian Serb and Croatian Serb clients. On May 11 2011 Sense Agency reported that since the seal of confidentiality had been lifted from some of the Yugoslav Supreme Defense Council meetings the public could see what the Trial Chamber saw in the Momcilo Perisic trial, on 9 December 1992 Slobodan Miloevic argued that the VJ (Vojska Jugoslavije /Yugolsav Army) and the Supreme Defense Council should try to assist ”them” the with the most necessary things and what assets, technical equipment etc. they need’. ”Them” being the Serb armies in Krajina and Bosnia that fought in the wars in which ‘Serbia didn’t participate’. Two months later Zivota Panic, Momclio Perisic´s predecessor reported to the Yugoslav Supreme Defense Council that ”VJ ‘gave complete equipment to form one corps’ to the Serbian Army of Krajina (SVK). Panic also said that ‘there have been great demands for the infantry ammunition’, but the ‘biggest problem is with purchase of artillery ammunition and tank ammunition’
The minutes form the Supreme Defense Council meeting on 10 February 1993 show that the Bosnian Serb army the Republic of Serbian Krajina were in fact dependent on Serbia for its war effort, according to then fedral prime minister Radoje Kontic;
“the financial situation in the Yugoslav Army was more than tragical, since the army had requested 800 million dollar for that fiscal year, with the “ Republic of Serbian Krajina requesting 341 million dollars per month, and the total budget of the FRY amounts to 320 billion per month” Kontic said that ”if there is a need for helping the Republika Srpska, we have to do it again from the fund for special purposes because the Army has no funds for such purposes. I can assure you that in four to five months we will face a situation where Topcider [printing enterprise] will not be able to print that amount of money. The situation is more than tragic.”
During this time the Supreme Defense Council was made up of names like Dobrica Cosic who at the time was the Yugoslav president as well as Serbia´s offical national guru, others were the president of Montenegro, Momir Bulatovic Zoran Lilic and of course Slobodan Milosevic. In august 1993 Momcilo Perisic replaced Zivota Panic as Chief of the General Staff of the VJ. The minutes of the Supreme Defense Council clearly show that Perisic continued to provide large quantities of weapons, ammunition, materials and other logistical support to both the Krajina Serbs and Bosnian Serbs, according to the minutes Perisic argued that the Bosnian Serbs and Serbs from Serbia were ‘single people’ which can be interpreted as of course an argument for the continued support of the Bosnian Serb war effort. The minutes also show that he argued strongly for continued aid to both the Bosnian Serbs and the Krajina Serbs thruough the war, including some 66 million for medical aid which the VJ (Yugoslav Army) had been providing to all the wounded soldiers from Republika Srpska and the Republic of Serbian Krajina. By early 1994 the amount required by the VJ (Yugoslav Army) was 2,325,000,000 dollars, this of course included the needs of the Army of Republika Srpska and the Republic of Serbian Krajina. The minutes also show that Perisic requiested funds the for”training and education’ of 4,100 soldiers from Republika Srpska and the Republic of Serbian Krajina.
According to Sense Agency
“850,000,000 of that went to the VRS and SVK. Almost 27 million dollars were earmarked to cover the payroll for about 16,000 officers. According to the minutes of the 19th meeting of the Supreme Defense Council, the Bosnian Serbs expected the FRY to give them 522 million dollars. The money was supposed to pay for ‘equipment, scientific research work, construction of military facilities and configuration of terrain, housing construction and strategic war reserves’. At the 22nd meeting of the Supreme Defense Council held on 11 July 1994, defense minister Pavle Bulatovic delivered the message from the VRS and the SVK: ‘Unless they receive assistance, this state will bear responsibility for their future”.
It´s clear from the SDC minutes that while the VJ (Yugoslav Army) had provided logistical support to the Bosnian Serb Army and the Army of the Republic of Srpska Krajina, according to the Trial Chambers verdict;
”Assistance became more centralized, structured and coordinated during his tenure. General Perišić organized a procurement procedure for the Yugoslav Army General Staff to review requests for logistic assistance. He also regularly met and conferred with General Mladić and General Čeleketić, the VRS and SVK’s respective Commanders, about their armies’ military needs. General Perišić and the Yugoslav Army General Staff did not grant all requests for assistance, although they approved a substantial proportion of them, including millions of infantry bullets and thousands of shells. For instance, in 1994, the VRS Main Staff estimated that it had obtained from the Yugoslav Army over 25 million infantry bullets and over 7,500 shells, among other ammunition.”
”A large number of VRS and SVK officers were drawn from the ranks of the Yugoslav Army. They officially remained members of the Yugoslav Army even as they were fighting in Bosnia and Croatia under the banners of the VRS and SVK. General Perišić proposed and carefully implemented the idea to create “Personnel Centres” to regularize the status of these officers and allow them to lawfully remain part of the Yugoslav Army. VRS officers retained their salaries and benefits as Yugoslav Army members through what was known as the 30th Personnel Centre, and SVK officers through the 40th Personnel Centre. General Perišić further intended the Personnel Centers system to help legalize the deployment of additional personnel to these armies. In December 1993, General Perišić stated that there were over 7,000 Yugoslav Army officers serving in the VRS and SVK through the Personnel Centers. While many officers voluntarily accepted transfer, General Perišić made clear that those who refused to be sent to the VRS or SVK would be dismissed from the Yugoslav Army in one way or another. General Perišić and other leading Yugoslav officials sought to keep the real function of the Personnel Centres secret in order to avoid further criticism or sanctions from the international community”
The minutes from The Supreme Defense Council are of course a veritable goldmine, since it´s basically all there, in black and white when it comes to who did what, and above the state of mind of those involved. It gives a more complete picture, of Milosevic´s inner circle and the mechanisams put in place both in Croatia and Bosnia. On 16 March 1994 Perisic ‘personally proposed’ that Belgrade set up an air-defense system for the VRS, the Bosnian Serb Army, which would be integrated into the VJ system. In September 1994 Momir Bulatovic, then president of Monte Negro argued that the Yugoslav Army should provide the VRS with “ammunition for 76mm mountain cannons and 76mm pack howitzers” saying that the request had come to him from Ratko Mladic and that Mladic was still ”the most reasonable option and alternative in Republika Srpska”
The mechanisms put in place by the regime in Belgrade have been dissected in numerous trials over the past sixteen years. It´s clear who did what and where, most of it is in black and white with the trail leading back to Knin Pale and above all Belgrade. Yet to this date no member of the JNA or VJ high command has been convicted by the ICTY for war-crimes in Bosnia nor have any members of regime in Belgrade been convicted for crimes in Bosnia. With the death of Slobodan Milosevic also died the great opportunity ICTY had to at least show that the main architect of aggression and genocide would not escape justice, sadly Milosevic died before his trial was finished, it had by then gone on for four long years.
Many attribute the failure to finally convict Milosevic to the fact that he was allowed to defend himself, and that court found itself hostage to his tendentious, time-consuming diatribes. The court seemed, in my opinion anyway, feeble in dealing with Milosevic and for those of us following his trial it seemed clear that he got away with more than most defendants would have, and he did it time and time again. He was after all indicted on 66 counts which charged him with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. It is however possible that mere fact that Milosevic chose to defend himself and that for the first time since the founding of the ICTY there was a head of state on trial, may have played a role. With the world´s media attention on the Milosevic trial the judges could not risk appearing to in any way limit his time. Which he ceartinly exploited to it´s fullest.
The trove of documents, the long list of witnesses and the evidence all takes time to present. One can only compare to the Nuremberg Trials, and wonder how it would have looked if Wilhelm Keitel or Rudolf Hess or Herman Göring for that matter had been allowed to hold time consuming irrelevant speeches for four years? In the end Milosevic died before a verdict came. In a very real sense his death can be seen as a victory for Serbia and Serbian nationalism and as a major defeat for International Justice and the victims of Milosevic´s ”Greater Serbian” project.
However Milosevic´s trial was not a complete loss, During the marathon trial a plethora of documents and evidence was presented and a number of key witnesses, many close to Milosevic gave testimony which could be then backed up by the existing evidence to build a clear picture of a man in charge ”a Svengali figure” to paraphrase Oliver Kamm, who had ultimate control of over the likes of Milan Babic, Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Milan Martic. If for no other reason than beacuse they were selected by him and because they were completely dependent on him and Belgrade. As it was shown in the Perisic trial, neither the Bosnian Serbs nor the rebel Krajina Serbs or “Croatian Serbs” would have been able to carry on with their war effort for long without the much need financial and logistical support from Belgrade.
For further reading I strongly recommend Danijel Toljagas autohorative account on the the systematic ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs in Eastern Bosnia in the first stages of Belgrade’s assault on Bosnia and Herzegovina.
As well as former UN Secretery General Kofi Annan´s report on the fall of Srebrenica from 1999.