Accessibility links

Breaking News

Balkan Report: April 5, 2000

5 April 2000, Volume 4, Number 24

'The Net Is Closing.' NATO peacekeepers have arrested the highest-ranking civilian indicted war criminal to date. The move appears to be a sign of a new determination to get serious about bringing the wanted men to justice. SFOR troops arrested Momcilo Krajisnik at 3:17 a.m. on 3 April in Pale under a "sealed indictment" from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The former Serbian representative on the Bosnian joint presidency is "the highest-ranking person" arrested and sent to The Hague so far, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said in Brussels.

Krajisnik faces charges of "genocide, crimes against humanity, violations of the laws and customs of war, and grave breaches of the Geneva Convention including murder, willful killing, extermination, complicity in genocide, deportation, and inhumane acts," according to Robertson. He added that the arrest of the former top aide to Radovan Karadzic "is good news for justice and good news for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina."

"To those individuals who remain at large I will repeat...the net is closing. It is time to give yourselves in." Robertson praised the "courage, professionalism, and dedication" of the troops who carried out the arrest.

Krajisnik's son Milos (21) told AP in Pale on 3 April that an unspecified number of NATO troops "took my dad away. Some of them spoke Serbian, some English, but mostly French." He said he counted seven or eight soldiers before they bound him and his brother Njegos and turned their faces toward the floor. Krajisnik's father, Sretko, told reporters that the troops used unnecessary force when they destroyed the door to the Krajisnik home with explosives prior to making the arrest. "If they had knocked on the door, I would have opened it," the elderly man said.

Belgrade's state-run Tanjug news agency said that peacekeepers let Krajisnik away "barefoot and in his pajamas." Mirko Banjac, a ranking official of Krajisnik's and Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), expressed concern at the arrest, adding: "We have the right to demand an explanation."

Krajisnik is a hard-line nationalist who reportedly accumulated great wealth during the 1992-1995 Bosnian conflict through his control over networks of police and municipal authorities. During his years on the joint presidency, the dour politician was known to international negotiators as an obstructionist. Within Bosnian Serb politics, he remained loyal to Karadzic and referred to the moderate former Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic as "that woman."

It thus appears that nabbing such a big fish as Krajisnik was possible without any loss of life by NATO forces. One of the excuses given over the years for not arresting major war criminals such as Karadzic or General Ratko Mladic has been that key Bosnian Serb leaders are guarded by dozens of formidably armed thugs, and that Western governments are unwilling to send in NATO's best troops against such Balkan toughs lest the Westerners take any casualties. So much for that argument, at least in this case.

There are several theories as to what is the reason for the Atlantic alliance's new determination in recent months to go after war criminals. One thing seems certain, however, namely that the days are over of war criminals driving daily past NATO checkpoints with those same war criminals' pictures on display on wanted posters. Krajisnik is already the sixth man arrested since Robertson became NATO secretary-general last year.

The principle underlying the work of the tribunal--like that at Nuremberg after World War II--is that there can be no lasting peace until those individuals directly responsible for war crimes are brought to justice. Until this happens, victims will tend to blame members of other nationalities collectively for their suffering.

With the arrest of Krajisnik, a man very much responsible for the sufferings of others will take his place in the dock. The question is whether he will remain true to his taciturn nature, or whether he will tell some or all of what he knows about the activities of those responsible for the Bosnian war.

Krajisnik was certainly in a position to know not only the inner workings of the Pale leadership, but also much about the role and policies of Slobodan Milosevic and others in the Belgrade regime. Krajisnik's will clearly be the most interesting trial before the Hague tribunal to date. The question now is not whether--but when--those of the even bigger fish will follow. (Patrick Moore)

Mesic: 'Violence Can Erupt At Any Time.' Croatian President Stipe Mesic told the German newsweekly "Der Spiegel" of 3 April that "Milosevic is like a bicyclist who can keep going only as long as he moves in the direction of war." The possibility of a new war in the Balkans is great, and the West knows that a number of danger signals are already present. "Violence can erupt at any time," Mesic stressed.

Montenegro and Macedonia are possible flashpoints, but Kosova and southwestern Serbia are more likely, the Croatian president continued. In any event, the West must let Milosevic know beyond any doubt that "if you attack Montenegro militarily, then your days are numbered." Montenegro needs international support to develop its democracy and a free economy. This, in turn, can serve as a model for Serbia. Mesic warned, however, that "it is a waste of time to wait for democracy to come to Serbia" at any time soon.

Turning to several key issues in the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia over the past decade, he recalled that he spoke an important truth in June 1991: "I simply said that Yugoslavia no longer exists. That's it." Mesic was to have been the last head of the rotating Yugoslav presidency, but Milosevic blocked him from exercising that office. Mesic's remark underscores the fact that Yugoslavia was beyond saving by June. Consequently, those who describe German diplomatic recognition of Croatia and Slovenia six months later as having been "early" have forgotten their facts. And between June and December much had happened, including the shelling of Dubrovnik and the destruction of Vukovar.

Referring to Bosnia, Mesic noted that the Serbian and Croatian leaderships were anxious to partition the republic. "Russia let it be known that it had nothing against a dissolution of Bosnia. Great Britain and France said that Bosnia must be divided if that's what is necessary. But America, Germany, and Austria were against this project. They recognized that this manipulation of borders would be seen as an example elsewhere in the Balkans. Then some day the Hungarians in Slovakia and Romania would come up with the idea of setting up a Greater Hungary. This [partition of Bosnia] would have set off a chain reaction," Mesic concluded.

Coming back to the present, Mesic stressed that Croatia's "economy is bankrupt" and that it is struggling to catch up with Hungary or Slovenia. Corruption remains a major problem. He noted, however, that "the Americans have promised us a quick admission to NATO. And within five years we hope also to be established inside EU structures." (Patrick Moore)

Kosova: Living With The Legacy Of Massacres. This article is the last in a series by RFE/RL's veteran correspondent Jolyon Naegle on Kosova one year after the NATO intervention began (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 March 2000). It deals with the problems facing ethnic Albanian individuals and families who lost loved ones in the systematic killings conducted by Serbian forces as part of Operation Horseshoe in an effort to empty Kosova of Albanians.

Krushe e Madhe, 23 March 2000 -- Many of the victims of the massacres in the villages northwest of Prizren, Kosova, in the first days after NATO launched its air strikes are still unaccounted for.

The Serbs carted off or burned many of the bodies and disposed of some of the remains in the nearby Drini i Bardhe River. Nevertheless, many women continue to hope that their men are alive in prisons in Serbia.

But the few witnesses to the Serbian atrocities, such as truck driver Selman Gashi from the village of Krushe e Madhe, say they have given up trying to explain to survivors that their loved ones are gone for good. He said:

"You can't just tell [survivors], 'look, I saw your father and son being killed.' This is a problem--we can't tell anyone. We told them not to bother searching. I told them the names [of the dead], but they still hope to find more than 30 people who are still missing. But they can't find them. They are no longer alive."

To add to their burden, survivors of the massacre in the neighboring village of Krushe e Vogel continue to face a whispering campaign by their Albanian neighbors that they must have been Serbian spies because they lived through the massacres.

One survivor declined to grant RFE/RL an interview on the grounds that everyone thinks he is a spy. Two other survivors of the same massacre agreed to talk. Lutfi Ramadani says his son comes home from school every day crying because his classmates taunt him for being what he calls a "son of a spy."

Ramadani lost two sons, a brother and a nephew in the massacre. He says the police and military surrounded the village the morning after the NATO strikes began. The Serbs shelled the village and then started setting Albanian-owned homes on fire. The Serbs ordered the women, girls, and boys aged 13 and under to leave before putting the men in a house, where they demanded money and personal documents.

Ramadani says the actual massacre was committed by a single Serbian special policeman who used a machine gun to kill the men before setting the house on fire. Ramadani says although most of the men were killed, eight managed to escape from the house and six are still alive.

Ramadani adds some 30 Serbian residents of the village were present with 15 policemen during the massacre of their Albanian neighbors: "I did not recognize the policeman with the machine gun, but the Serb villagers were in uniform and armed. They were together with them [the police and soldiers] there. We were 109 [persons], all in one three-room house."

Ramadani says 103 people were killed and only six survived. He says the Serbs killed an additional 10 Albanian villagers, including a 13-year-old boy, at other sites in the village, bringing the death toll at Krushe e Vogel to 113. He says Serbian officials refused to explain why they joined in the massacre. The Serbs completely demolished the house where the massacre occurred in a bid to remove any remaining evidence of the crime.

Ramadani also says he knows of no Serbs from the village who were killed or harmed by Albanians before or during the war. He says there were no problems between Albanian and Serbian residents there until 1998, when fighting erupted.

Among Krushe e Vogel's approximately 900 residents, Albanians outnumbered Serbs more than two to one. Now, all the Serbs have fled and their homes are destroyed. The Albanians' homes were also largely gutted by fire and mortar shells, but the newer ones have been repaired sufficiently to make them livable. The older mud-brick homes are beyond repair.

The massacres in these villages are specifically cited in the indictment issued last May by the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague against Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and four other senior officials.

Milain Bellanica managed to make a video recording of a massacre site at Krushe e Madhe before the Serbs removed the bodies. He smuggled the videocassette to Albania as the fighting and killings continued. Bellanica says he feels let down by the Hague tribunal, which he says promised him protection from reprisal but has done nothing.

Selman Gashi, the truck driver, talks about the days following the initial massacre. He says three busloads of what he thinks must have been Serbian paramilitaries from the Serbian towns of Krusevac and Pirot arrived in Krushe e Madhe accompanied by tanks. He says they started firing from the road toward a mosque on March 26. The villagers fled in three directions, mainly to the hills east of the village.

Gashi says Serbian forces rounded up the villagers in the nearby hills, took pictures, and asked them if they liked NATO. The Serbs told the women and children to walk to Albania and later told the men--Gashi says there were 46--to march to the village of Nogavac.

In Gashi's words, "We heard them say 'fire.'" He says he survived by jumping into a ditch, but that other men were shot from behind. Forty-three from that group were killed, and three survived.

Another survivor was Krushe e Madhe's librarian, 58-year-old Bajram Nalli. He lost at least one son--the other is still missing. He also lost a brother and two nephews.

He describes his brush with death as follows: "Then we were ordered to stand and were told that whoever is older than 60 or younger than 17 had to go out. I was not 60 and I remained. But my eldest son told me, 'Dad, go ahead. The children are alone.' I had to go out. The police stopped me, but then let me go. But they took my youngest son, Blerim."

Nalli insists all those who were rounded up, robbed, beaten, and executed were unarmed civilians. He rules out any chance of ever living together again with Serbs. "On the orders of the highest-ranking politicians, Yugoslavia committed crimes against Albanian civilians in Kosova, and after all that has happened, it is impossible to accept living within Yugoslavia or Serbia. Until today, no Serb politician has denied the crimes the Serbs committed in Kosova." Serbian politicians have tried--unsuccessfully--to pin responsibility for the deaths on NATO bombings.

In addition to the identities of the victims, what remains unclear a year after the massacres is the motive. Were the killings intended as the start of a genocide campaign--Operation Horseshoe? Were they retribution for the air strikes? Or was it a terrifying warning to other Kosovar Albanians to leave the province immediately or risk the same fate?

With Milosevic and the four other indicted leaders indicted for their roles in these war crimes still at large, it may be some time before we learn the answers. (Jolyon Naegle)

Mourning. It is nothing unusual to open almost any newspaper from the former Yugoslavia and see photos of scantily clad women, often embracing tough-looking, muscular young men. A glance in "Vesti" of 1 April revealed several such photos, but one with a big difference: the woman was Ceca, the pop-star widow of Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan," who was gunned down in Belgrade in January.

It may raise a Serbian eyebrow or two that even the bold Ceca would venture to appear in such a photo so soon after her husband's death. But it appears that the photo is part of a promotional calendar she prepared last year and released only now.

In any event, a few questions are bound to linger. But at least the young man--a member of Arkan's Obilic football team--was dressed in black. (Patrick Moore)

Quotations Of The Week. "We are very sorry that it has to come to this." -- Montenegro's commissioner for refugees, Djordje Scepanovic, to AP on 2 April 2000. The Serbian power company had ordered 200 Serbian refugees from Kosova to leave the seaside hotel where they have been living since 1999. The hotel belongs to Elektroprivreda Srbije.

UNMIK's Bernard Kouchner is a "boundless Serb-hater.... [He follows a] general policy as conceived by Washington to chop up Yugoslavia's territory." -- Milosevic's daily "Politika," on 2 April 2000.

"We will no longer tolerate the incapable opposition leaders who do not know how to oust Milosevic." -- Dragan Lukic, a young activist of the Movement for Democratic Serbia of former General Momcilo Perisic, quoted by Reuters on 31 March 2000.

In a state-run media landscape "with so many enemies far away, nearby, and within, war can scarcely be avoided." -- The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on Milosevic's Serbia, 24 March 2000.