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Belgrade, Hague Exchange Fire

Four new Hague indictments infuriate Serbian authorities. 27 October 2003 BELGRADE, Serbia and Montenegro--Four new indictments, handed down by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague for war crimes committed in Kosovo, have earned the wrath of Belgrade and triggered protests by some 4,000 policemen.

The Hague tribunal indicted four top Serbian generals on 20 October for war crimes relating to the 1998-1999 Kosovo conflict, charging them with having taken part in “a campaign of terror and violence against Kosovar Albanians.”

The indicted include Sreten Lukic, chief of police in Kosovo in 1999, and now deputy interior minister in charge of public safety; General Nebojsa Pavkovic, commander in 1999 of the Third Army in Kosovo and former chief of staff of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA); General Vladimir Lazarevic, commander of the Pristina army corps in 1999; and General Vlastimir Djordjevic, head of public security at the Serbian Interior Ministry in 1999.

The four have to answer for forced “expulsion, inhuman acts, and murder,” amounting to crimes against humanity and war crimes, in their capacities as commanders.

The development has been met with anger and frustration in Belgrade.

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic described the indictments as “a drastic violation” of an informal agreement, between ICTY Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte and Belgrade authorities, that says that new war crimes cases would be tried by the newly established Serbian Special Court for War Crimes rather than the ICTY. More importantly, Zivkovic claimed that there had been an understanding between Belgrade and The Hague that there would be no new indictments based on the principle of command responsibility.

The Hague Prosecutor’s Office denied the existence of any such agreement.

Zivkovic also slammed Del Ponte’s timing, saying the indictments would deal a “blow to reform in Serbia.”

“We have a law that obliges us to cooperate with the ICTY. But why new indictments now, seven days after the meeting in Vienna with the Kosovo Albanians, in the middle of the campaign for presidential elections [on November 16] and of a parliamentary debate of no confidence in the government?” Zivkovic asked.

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac said Del Ponte “did not show understanding” for the “political consequences of the new indictments.”

Lukic’s chief, Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic, said he would sooner resign than arrest his deputy.

“I will respect any decision of the government, but I will not be the minister who transfers Generals Lukic and Lazarevic to The Hague,” Mihajlovic told state television RTS on 26 October.

POLICE PROTEST

On 24 October, some 4,000 policemen in uniform--mostly members of the special Gendarmerie units, but also the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit (SAJ)--gathered at Belgrade’s downtown Republic Square to protest Lukic’s indictment.

The protesters demanded an end to The Hague indictments and called for all war crimes trials to be held in Serbia.

Although the police insisted the protest was not political, analysts and media said the government had given the protest the green light in an attempt to show The Hague the amount of discontent the indictments have engendered among the security forces.

“This indictment is an indictment against all of us. We know very well that General Lukic was a role model for us,” Colonel Srbislav Randjelovic said at the protest.

Lukic refused to comment on the indictment during his appearance at the parliament’s Security committee.

General Lazarevic, however, urged the state to “resolve the problem now.”

In an interview with the weekly Nedeljni telegraf, published the week before the indictments were handed down, General Pavkovic said that “crimes in Kosovo were all individual cases.”

“No one ordered or planned those crimes. Some were done for profit, some for revenge, some for fear, some we will never know. But none of them, at least as far as the army is concerned, has remained unprocessed or hidden,” Pavkovic said. “It was a war. Heavy. Dirty. That’s the way Albanian terrorists made it, by killing their adversaries and even their own Albanians, just to create chaos.”

The fourth indictee, General Vlastimir Djordjevic, fled the country as early as 2000, following former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s departure from power, according to local media.

CAUTIOUS CRITICISM

While openly showing discontent with Del Ponte’s decision, however, Belgrade repeated on several occasions during the week--most notably during the visit of European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Javier Solana--that authorities would continue cooperation with the ICTY.

Belgrade also made a series of concrete moves to that respect.

On 22 October, the police, acting on an anonymous tip, led an operation aimed at arresting former Bosnian Serb Army chief, General Ratko Mladic, an indicted war criminal.

Though unsuccessful, Prime Minister Zivkovic said the arrest of Mladic was “a priority” for Belgrade.

Belgrade has repeatedly argued that Mladic was not hiding in Serbia, while Del Ponte has insisted that he was. The arrest of Mladic is one of the key conditions for Serbia and Montenegro’s admission into NATO’s Partnership for Peace program.

On 23 October, Belgrade transferred to the ICTY Vladimir Kovacevic “Rambo,” a former army officer indicted for war crimes in Dubrovnik, Croatia in 1991 and arrested in late September by Serbian police.

Three days earlier, on 20 October, the Supreme military court of Serbia and Montenegro sentenced three former soldiers of the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) to seven to nine years in prison for the murder of an Albanian couple during the 1999 Kosovo conflict.

On 24 October in Belgrade, authorities opened the building of the Special Court for War Crimes and Organized Crime, which will process lower-profile war crimes cases, in supplement to the ICTY.

A FRUSTRATED PUBLIC

But two other events led to the further frustration of Serbian public opinion regarding war crimes and The Hague.

The ICTY on 23 October confirmed that former wartime Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic had been under investigation for war crimes against Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats. His death on 19 October, the ICTY said, meant that the case is now closed.

Serbs, both in Bosnia and in Serbia, have long argued that The Hague’s failure to indict Izetbegovic was proof of the international court’s “double standards and hypocrisy.”

This news coincided with another incident, on 23 October, when Slovenian police arrested and then released Agim Ceku, the head of the Kosovo Protection Corps (TMK) and former military commander of the Albanian separatist guerillas the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), which fought Serb forces during the 1998-1999 conflict.

Ceku was arrested on an Interpol warrant, issued by Serbia, on charges of war crimes committed against Serb civilians.

Ceku was released several hours after his arrest, when United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) chief Harri Holkeri intervened, arguing that war crimes in Kosovo were under his institution’s authority.

The 26 October edition of the Blic daily wrote: “While officials of the international community release arrested UCK chiefs from prison with a simple phone call, Serbia must hand over its indictees ‘immediately,’ or in the best of cases ‘as soon as possible.’”

Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic, harshly criticized the release of Ceku, saying that “in any normal communication, Ceku would have been extradited” to Belgrade. Batic said evidence against Ceku and other former UCK commanders had been compiled and was ready to be transferred to the ICTY.

“There can be no more excuses. If Carla Del Ponte, even after the latest documentation which we will send to her next week, does not publish an indictment, she will be a direct UCK accomplice in crimes against Serbs,” Batic told the daily Danas.

--by Sasa Grubanovic

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