This Week: Bosnian military restructuring begins; another Canadian peacekeeping scandal; Karadzic resigns … again.
14 July 96, Sun
Slovenia issued a summons to Milan Aksentijevic, a retired Yugoslav general and former member of the Slovenian legislature. Aksentijevic is wanted for questioning about his role as leader of the Yugoslav forces that fought a 10-day war against Slovenian secession in 1991. Aksentijevic said he would freely answer the summons “because I want to resolve things myself”. Aksentijevic has lived in Belgrade since his Slovenian citizenship was revoked in 1992. He was served the summons on a visit to his family, which still lives in Slovenia. If found guilty of undermining Slovenia’s independence, Aksentijevic could be sentenced to eight years in prison. “I think that I have been punished enough by being separated from my wife and children for five years,” Aksentijevic said. He has not been accused of war crimes.
Comment: Aksentijevic was doing his duty as member of the armed forces to prevent the fragmentation his country. Peaceful and legislated dissolution of a country is the very rare exception, rather than the rule. (Czechoslovakia is the only one that comes to mind.) A country’s government will use military means to hold it together if other forms of persuasion do not work. The morality of a country’s attempt at self-preservation can be debated, but it’s legality cannot. Nowhere is it legal for a country’s components to secede of their own accord. Aksentijevic was no more breaking the law in 1991 than U.S. Grant was in 1865. If Aksentijevic, and others in his position, is convicted then it is victor’s justice, not true justice. Victor’s justice would cheapen the true crimes that were perpetrated in the Balkans and it would be wrong.
The OSCE delayed the start of Bosnia’s campaign season by five days in an attempt to induce the resignation of Radovan Karadzic as head of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS). Bosnia’s Muslim-led government has been hinting that it would boycott the elections if Karadzic retained leadership of the SDS.
15 July 96, Mon
Ibran Mustafic, Srebrenica’s representative in Bosnia’s parliament, said the Bosnian presidency and general staff betrayed Srebrenica by “consciously” sacrificing the town to the Serbs in July, 1995. Mustafic accused the Bosnian using the area’s U.N. protected safe haven status to stage attacks against Serbs. Army commander General Rasim Delic said that Bosnian units in Srebrenica did not carry out instructions from his headquarters to link-up with other Muslim-held territory. But Delic did not explain why 25 army officers were withdrawn from Srebrenica “for consultations” a month before Srebrenica’s fall.
The U.N. revealed that the police chief of Pale said last week he was aware of training being conducted by IFOR to arrest Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. He said that if there was even an attempt to arrest the indicted war criminals, the Serb population would be mobilized against IFOR. He also threatened to harm or detain IPTF personnel. The threats came two days before a car-bombing directed at the IPTF in Vlasenica. (Serbs also recently burgled the IPTF office in Sarajevo.) Republika Srpska Interior Minister Dragan Kijac assured the U.N. that he would do his utmost to ensure the safety of all peacekeepers.
IFOR grounded Bosnia’s military aircraft after finding four anti-tank weapons and ammunition aboard a helicopter that should have been carrying passengers. IFOR called the the incident in Gorazde a flagrant violation of the ban on weaponry outside approved storage sites.
ICTY investigators exhumed the sixtieth corpse from a mass grave near Cerska. Evidence collected from the corpses — included some with hands wired behind their backs — contradicts Serb allegations that the corpses belong to soldiers killed in action.
Determining that the situation in Croatia continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security, the U.N. Security Council unanimously voted to extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission of Observers in Prevlaka (UNMOP) until January 15, 1997.
Yugoslavia ordered police and soldiers to seal off several regions in south Kosovo to prevent the spread of hoof-and-mouth disease. Though the disease was only detected in Kacanik, Strpci, Kosovska Vitina and Prizren, all of Kosovo has been declared an “endangered zone”. At least 1,600 animals have been slaughtered, livestock markets have been shut down and open field grazing has been banned.
16 July 96, Tue
U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke began a three-day swing through the Balkans by meeting with Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic. Izetbegovic reiterated government threats to boycott the September elections if indicted Serb war criminals are allowed to take part. Holbrooke’s mission is to pressure Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to oust Karadzic. Holbrooke, architect of the 1995 Dayton Accord, came out of diplomatic retirement to make this week’s trip to the Balkans. His recall by Clinton reveals the depths to which Western relations have sunk over disagreements on how to deal with Karadzic’s continued influence in Bosnian politics. (France is seeking a U.N. Security Council decision expressly authorizing IFOR to hunt down war criminals; currently, IFOR will only arrest them if it happens to bump into them.)
Muslim troops began digging fortifications in the village of Dugi Dio, which was supposed to be transferred to Serb control at the end of March. U.N. observers said the 250 troops had cleared lines of fire; positioned wrecked vehicles as barricades; and bricked up windows, except for firing holes. The Muslims refused to show their ID cards to IPTF officers. Five houses were blown up in Dugi Dio in April by unknown assailants.
A Croatian court acquitted six Croats accused of murdering elderly Serb civilians during last summer’s blitzkrieg to recapture Krajina. The six soldiers were charged with killing 16 Serbs in the villages of Varivode and Gosici. Another soldier, accused of murdering a Serb civilian in Zrmanja, was sentenced to six years in jail.
Serb authorities in Doboj threatened to take IPTF officers hostage if IFOR tries to arrest Radovan Karadzic. The threat was broadcast by radio, a tactic of Serb authorities often us to whip up sentiment against IFOR, the UN or Muslims trying to visit pre-war homes. U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke said that if the Serbs take any action against IFOR, “they’ll be met with swift military action”. The Serbs took hundreds of U.N. hostages during the war — a tactic that often prevented NATO air strikes.
After a two week delay, the war crimes trial of Dusan Tadic resumed in The Hague. Tadic is being prosecuted for crimes committed at the Omarska prison camp near Prijedor. One eyewitness said he was hit with a karate blow by a man he later identified for prosecutors as Tadic. (Tadic is a black belt). Another witness also placed Tadic at the camp during the time in question. The defense has objected to this sort of testimony as hearsay, but under international law a wider context must be established for prosecuting crimes against humanity. That has been the ICTY’s objective in calling it’s first 16 witnesses against Tadic.
Outgoing NATO commander Admiral Leighton Smith received the NATO Medal for his leadership of IFOR’s mission in Bosnia, the largest operation in NATO’s history. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana, speaking at the award ceremony at NATO’s Brussels headquarters, said, “You have made an outstanding contribution to peace on this continent.”
17 July 96, Wed
The U.N. reported that the Bosnian government is continuing to ignore harassment of Sarajevo’s remaining Serbs. A Serb woman was recently murdered; a Serb Orthodox church burned down; 67 Serb graves vandalized; barns have been burned; shots fired; and families threatened. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic dismissed the incidents as being insignificant compared to the suffering Serbs previously inflicted on Muslims. U.N. spokesman Alexander Ivanko said that “If the Bosnia government is fully dedicated to multiplicity, as it says it is, they are really blowing their chances in Serb-Sarajevo … we believe that the Bosnia government is doing absolutely nothing to stop the harassment of the Serbs.” The Serb suburbs of Sarajevo were remanded to Muslim custody by the Dayton Accord. Many of the Serbs fled in March prior to the suburbs’ transfer.
Another Muslim survivor of the Omarska prison camp, testified before the ICTY that he saw Dusan Tadic pistol-whipping prisoners. Unlike yesterday’s witnesses, Mehmedalija Huskic personally knew Tadic before the war, when his work as truck driver would take him to Kozarac, where they would meet in cafe’s or bars. British defense attroney Steven Kay is attempting to prove Tadic’s assertion that he is a victim of mistaken identity. Under cross-examination, Kay got Huskic to admit that his testimony was inconsistent with his signed statements. Asked if he told the truth in his earlier statement, Huskic said: “I think so. There must have been a translation mistake.”
U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke met with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman in Zagreb. Holbrooke said no progress was made in the meeting with Milosevic, who has been unable or unwilling to turnover Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. If Milosevic is unwilling, it is because it might cause political problems for himself or because Karadzic may turn’s state’s witness against Milosevic. Holbrooke said reimposing sanctions on the Bosnian Serbs and Yugoslavia remains an option, but sanctions remained an option if Milosevic failed to deliver Karadzic.
18 July 96, Thu
Bosnian Croat authorities arrested Emin Zebic, Muslim police chief of Jablanica, for alleged war crimes. Zebic was detained while attending a U.N.-sponsored meeting of Croat and Moslem police chiefs being held on the Croat side of Mostar. Ironically, the subject of the meeting was freedom of movement within the Muslim-Croat Federation.
The Muslim-led Bosnian government retaliated by detaining eight Croat militia officers near Jablanica. Bosnian army commander Rasim Delic freed the eight Croats after a strong protest by IPTF Commissioner Peter Fitzgerald. However, Zebic remains in Croat custody.
U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke held a second round of talks with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade. Holbrooke continued to press for the ouster of Radovan Karadzic. Meanwhile, the pressure to turnover Karadzic continues to increase tensions in Bosnia: Today, the Serb mayor of Ugljevik said that IPTF officers would be captured and killed immediately if IFOR made an attempt to capture Karadzic.
The excavation of the mass grave at Cerska is winding down. Approximately 150 bodies have been recovered so far, with about 16 more to go. The ICTY investigators will start work on a mass grave at Nova Kasaba on Saturday. Today was the first time Bosnian Serb officials observed the excavations. Republika Srpska Deputy Justice Minister Goran Neskovic refused to comment.
Another eyewitness testified before the ICTY that he was beaten by Dusan Tadic. Edin Mrkalj said Tadic struck him numerous times on the head with a baton, breaking bones and teeth, and causing him to bleed heavily. After the beating, Tadic forced Mrkalj to beat another prisoner who had passed out after being beaten by Tadic. Mrkalj was a policeman in Prijedor before the war and Tadic’s occasional drinking partner.
19 July 96, Fri
The ‘Free Election Radio Network’ began broadcasting from Sarajevo. IFOR and the UN are other foreign organizations with a local radio presence, but FERN is the first non-partisan station. The 24-hour station broadcasts election information, music, weather, sports and general information. Though the station presents political information, it avoids selecting political music. The station will remain on the air until at least one month after the elections to broadcast news about the selection of parliament and other developments. FERN was set up and paid for by Switzerland, under the auspices of the OSCE.
20 July 96, Sat
A Bosnian Croat court remanded Muslim police chief Emin Zebic to Croat custody for 30 days, pending an inquiry into war crimes allegations. Zebic will be held in Rodoc prison, notorious for mistreatment of Moslem detainees during the war. IPTF police stationed in Bosnia to deter and report on human-rights abuses said the Croats had produced no concrete charges against Zebic: “We have asked west Mostar police if they had specific charges. They couldn’t produce any. We asked them if they had a pending arrest warrant, they couldn’t produce that either,” said spokesman Alexander Ivanko.
General Zdravko Tolimir, deputy to Serb army chief General Ratko Mladic, repudiated threats by local Serb authorities to harm IFOR and U.N. personnel in retaliation for any attempt to arrest Radovan Karadzic. He told IFOR ground commander Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Walker the Serb military was indifferent to Karadzic’s removal. The Bosnian Serb army has been estranged from Karadzic and his closest allies for over a year. The Bosnian Serb generals blame Karadzic and his clique for last year’s military collapse and loss of territory, accusing them of profiteering and graft that sapped resources needed for the battlefield.
The ICTY excavation of the Cerska mass grave ended after almost two weeks of work. Forensic investigators recovered 154 bodies from the site.