By Emir SuljagicInstitute for War and Peace Reporting
June 12, 2003
Damning testimony by a former Serbian paramilitary this week apparently showed that Slobodan Milosevic was in charge of troops who carried out atrocities in Bosnia. Significantly, the witness also expressed remorse for what was done in his name - something that has not happened in the 14 months since the trial began.
Protected witness C-17 was a member of the Red Berets, the armed wing of Milosevic's secret service. He said that soon after joining the unit, he became shocked and outraged by its behaviour. "I am here in the name of those who will never talk again, people killed just because they were of other nationality," said C-17. Unlike a number of so-called insiders who have testified at The Hague, some of whom were senior Milosevic allies, this witness provided a graphic account of alleged atrocities by Serbian forces. His testimony described the events in Bosnia in the spring of 1992, when paramilitary groups such as the White Eagles, the Red Berets and Vojislav Seselj's Chetnik movement converged on Buna, a summer resort just outside of Mostar where middle-class Yugoslavs often spent their holidays.
When C-17 arrived there, he saw three members of Red Berets assaulting a local Croat, Pavo Gagro, whose house they had just burnt down. They kicked him like a ball down the road until he died, the witness said. A Yugoslav National Army, JNA, officer demanded to know who had sent the Red Beret men. "You know who sent us here," one of them, a man C-17 identified as Njegos Kusic, replied. "Kusic said that he would call Frenki, to tell him who had sent them," the witness said, referring to Franko Simatovic, the commander of the Red Berets who was known to be a close Milosevic ally. That threat apparently scared the JNA officer, who promptly dropped his protest. C-17 did not know who the JNA officer was at the time, but later discovered that he was Momcilo Perisic, the man who later became the Yugoslav army chief of staff. The witness's observations appeared to show that Milosevic's secret service held power over the JNA and that the Red Berets in particular were in charge.
To further support those allegations, C-17 said that he saw a document bearing Milosevic's signature ordering Perisic to disband a paramilitary unit called the Sunflowers, who were based in a JNA barracks in Mostar. C-17 said that the Red Berets, Seselj's Chetniks, the JNA under Perisic's command, together with local Serbs attacked Mostar, on May 5, 1992, killing a number of civilians. The witness recalled how one man was pushed into a manhole and a grenade thrown in after him.
After the attack on Mostar, in an operation supported by the Yugoslav army, the Red Berets, along with a newly-arrived paramilitary group, the Vukovarci, attacked a village north of the town called Bijelo Polje. C-17 said survivors were killed by the Red Berets, and described how one pararmilitary cut off an old man's ears and threw his body in a pool of water, "He then started throwing bricks at him until the man sunk."
But worst was to come. In early June, when JNA forces began withdrawing from Mostar, the witness was ordered to keep an eye on an enemy position along the riverbank. He climbed a tall building in the barracks and saw a group of civilians being escorted by men in camouflage uniforms toward the Neretva river. "That is the reason I am here," he said. Along the river, he said he saw Serb troops killing the men with pistols, knives, guns and "all kinds of other things". Among the killers, C-17 said he recognised a member of Red Berets and Seselj's Chetniks, Pero Divljakovic, and a man he referred to as Vranjanac.
After withdrawing from Mostar, the witness said the Red Berets went to another holiday resort, this one at Lake Boracko. There, he said, Simatovic visited them. "Frenki came by helicopter. We were lined up and he gave a patriotic speech about Serb knights, I can no longer remember, but it was some sort of patriotic trash," he said.
C-17 also testified that Red Berets kept women in one of the bungalows in the camp, which they had frequently visited. "I don't know what happened to them, but I saw Red Berets members going in and out of their bungalow," he said.
The witness later became a member of the White Wolves, a paramilitary group - including Russian and Bulgarian mercenaries - operating in the area of Sarajevo, which answered only to Bosnian Serb general Ratko Mladic. Based on Mount Jahorina, outside the city, C-17 said that the paramilitaries helped take UN soldiers hostage in the spring 1995 when NATO bombed Bosnian Serb positions around the capital. The order to do so, C-17 said, came from the office of Momcilo Krajisnik, the president of the Bosnian Serb parliament.
In the cross-examination, Milosevic accused C-17 of concocting the story about the JNA attack on Mostar and the massacre that took place on the riverbank. But C-17 rebutted the former Yugoslav president's allegations with seemingly irrefutable evidence. "There are over one hundred graves in Mostar bearing the names of the people killed that day," he said.
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