Serb Says Files Link Milosevic to War Crimes in Bosnia
By Roger Cohen
The New York Times
13 April 1995.
As Western governments seek to turn President Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia into a peacemaker, a former senior member of the Serbian secret police has come forward with documents that could incriminate Mr. Milosevic as a war criminal.
The former agent, Cedomir Mihailovic, 45, escaped from Serbia last October with a temporary passport provided by the Dutch Embassy in Belgrade, where officials believed his life was in danger.
One document, dated May 24, 1992, appears to include directions from the Serbian state security services in Belgrade on running concentration camps in Bosnia. At that time, tens of thousands of Bosniak civilians were already being tortured and sometimes killed in the camps, and the Milosevic government was beginning to deny active involvement in the conflict in Bosnia.
“It is urgently necessary to reduce the number of camps and to concentrate on two to three camps,” says the order, which bears a signature of the head of state security at the Serbian Interior Ministry and is addressed to the Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic.
Another document includes orders from the state security services, which are in almost daily contact with Mr. Milosevic, to the Serbian paramilitary leader known as Arkan about the “ethnic cleansing” of the Bosnian town of Bijeljina and the killing of some Bosniaks there.
In a dozen interviews, in which his accounts were consistent, Mr. Mihailovic presented a view from inside of the Milosevic government diametrically opposed to the Serbian political leaders’ explanations of how 750,000 Bosniaks came to leave the 70 percent of Bosnia now controlled by Serbs.
The Serbian President has always denied any such responsibility and has progressively sought to distance himself from the Bosnian war. He and Dr. Karadzic have claimed that Serbian militias may have done terrible things to Bosniak civilians, but the forces were under no political direction and were responding to Bosniak provocation, they add.
No final word exists on the authenticity of the documents. “The documents look pretty good, but we are not ready to give a final judgment that they are authentic,” a senior United States official in Washington said after showing copies to the Central Intelligence Agency.
The documents were delivered last October to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague, and examined by the court and then by the Dutch internal security services, only to disappear.
Those mysterious dealings between the tribunal and the Dutch agency might suggest concern by Western governments about the documents’ possible effect at a time when President Milosevic stands center stage in international negotiations to end the war in Bosnia.
“If the originals have disappeared, there must be sufficient concern about their possible veracity for somebody in Western governments not to want them waved around in public,” said an American official familiar with the case.
The Documents Killings Ordered From the Top?
On Oct. 6, 1994, the Dutch Embassy in Belgrade issued a temporary passport to Mr. Mihailovic, a former senior member of the Serbian secret police who said he possessed documents incriminating President Milosevic in war crimes in Bosnia.
The decision to give him a Dutch passport was unusual, reflecting the embassy staff’s conviction that he might be killed by the Serbian secret services he had just deserted.
On Oct. 10, Hubertus van Schip, the administrative officer in the Dutch Embassy, traveled to the Macedonian capital, Skopje, where he met Mr. Mihailovic. They picked up the incriminating papers at Invest Bank, where, Mr. Mihailovic said, he had deposited them in a safe.
Mr. Mihailovic and Mr. van Schip then took the documents to a Skopje pizzeria, where they were given to a United Nations official for dispatch to the International Tribunal in The Hague.
“We did not feel it appropriate that such sensitive documents should travel by diplomatic pouch, so we contacted the United Nations,” a Dutch official said.
If authentic, the documents are explosive. The five most sensitive include the one dated May 24, 1992, that appears to issue directions from the Serbian state security services in Belgrade on running concentration camps in Bosnia. It says 10 agents were to be sent from Belgrade to “be distributed as prisoners in camps and prisons on your territory.” These agents apparently would have gathered intelligence for the Serbs.
That order, marked “State Secret” and carrying “top secret number 778-11-3588-V-78/5-92,” adds that six other agents were to work with the Bosnian Serb authorities to check prisoners’ identities and select those to be transferred from Bosnia to Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia.
Regarding the decision to reduce the number of camps, it says, “Based on the findings of our services, there are indications that Western intelligence services may have passed information on the existence of the camps to their media so they may be exposed.”
Another document, dated April 3, 1992, and bearing “top secret number 675-11-428-V-8/4-92,” purports to be an order from the same state security section of the Serbian Interior Ministry to the Serbian paramilitary commander known as Arkan. It concerns the eviction and killing of Bosniaks in the Bijeljina, which was “cleansed” of Bosniaks at the start of the war.
It says: “The leadership of the S.D.A., Muslim members of MUP and the organizers of Muslim paramilitary formations should be arrested and transferred to Erdut.”
“In order to frighten the Muslim population, a smaller number should be executed.”
The S.D.A. is the Bosniak nationalist Party of Democratic Action of President Alija Izetbegovic of Bosnia, and MUP is an acronym for the Bosnian Interior Ministry police. Erdut, a Croatian town captured by the Serbs in 1991, is the headquarters of Arkan, whose real name is Zeljko Raznatovic.
As Serbian militia leaders rampaged in Bosnia, they grew rich. How they did so is suggested in another of the documents. Dating from Nov. 19, 1991, this order from Sector V includes instructions to Arkan on what to do with booty seized from the fall of Vukovar.
“For the needs of the unit, keep 2,500,000 German marks and 15 kilograms of gold,” it says. “3,876,000 German marks, 375,780 dollars, 430,600 Swiss francs and 38 kilograms of gold will be taken by our agents in Erdut.
“All the fighters who have taken part in cleansing have to be searched and everything not belonging to them should be taken away.”
Mr. Mihailovic said he was one of the S.D.B. agents who went to Erdut at that time to collect money. Hooded prisoners were being killed with arrows fired from bows by Arkan’s forces, he said. He shook his head.
“After a while, it’s not just Croats,” he said. “It’s not just Bosniaks. You see your own friends being killed for dirty reasons, and you can’t stand it anymore.”
The Defector An Agent’s View From Belgrade
Nobody contests that Mr. Mihailovic held an influential position in the Serbian secret services, where he held identity number MUP 2675 and worked from 1991 until September 1994.
American officials, and the chief prosecutor and his deputy at the United Nations Tribunal — Justices Richard Goldstone and Graham Blewitt — all agreed that Mr. Mihailovic had indeed worked as a Serbian agent. He was engaged principally in the financing of the Serbian war effort through Cyprus and the circumvention of an international trade embargo by dealing arms through Ukraine and elsewhere.
Mr. Mihailovic said the initial Serbian onslaught on Bosniaks, and the earlier attack on Vukovar, in eastern Croatia, were directed through President Milosevic’s handpicked agents at the Center of the Department of State Security, in the Interior Ministry. This department was known in the former Yugoslavia as the Sluzba Drzave Bezbednosti, or S.D.B.
The S.D.B. agents, Mr. Mihailovic said, trained, paid and issued orders to Serbian militia leaders like Arkan. These militiamen in turn terrorized the Bosniaks and so set “ethnic cleansing” in motion in Bosnia.
“From the beginning, Milosevic wanted his people in the S.D.B. to be the channels for Greater Serbia,” said Mr. Mihailovic, who speaks good English. “Unlike the army, this was Milosevic’s handpicked apparatus, and he wanted the minimum of people to know. By using paramilitary groups, the appearance of disorder in Bosnia could be maintained.”
Under Mr. Milosevic, the Serbian police force has grown to about 130,000 people. Those who work for the S.D.B., and particularly Sector V, which deals with intelligence and counterintelligence, are the elite.
“The S.D.B. Sector V supplied the weapons and the training for the militias,” Mr. Mihailovic said. “Arkan himself was on the S.D.B. payroll from 1986, as a killer in the West able to obtain a passport in whatever name he wanted.” The militias included the Serbian Volunteer Guard, nicknamed the Tigers, run by Arkan, and the Kninjas of Dragan Vasiljkovic (Captain Dragan).
Mr. Mihailovic identified Jovica Stanisic, the overall head of the S.D.B. and a man who was heavily involved in Serbia’s onslaught on Vukovar in 1991, as the most important official in the Serbian operation. Mr. Stanisic is the nacelnik, or chief, whose signature is on some of the documents, all of which emanate from Sector V of the S.D.B.
Western diplomats in Belgrade said Mr. Stanisic speaks to Mr. Milosevic almost daily.
Because the possession of top-secret documents of the kind Mr. Mihailovic claims to have is punishable by imprisonment in Serbia, it was impossible to present the papers for comment to the Serbian government or to the people named by Mr. Mihailovic.
The Authenticity The Originals Have Disappeared
The documents were delivered to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, which was established in 1993 to try people accused of war crimes. They were examined by the court and then by the internal security services, but have not been seen since.
“The formats are accurate, but we are hesitant to say they are real because the documents could be reconstructions of things Mr. Mihailovic did see,” said a senior American official in Washington who has seen copies of the documents. The official, who plays a central role in the formulation of the Administration’s Balkan policy, added, “What seems clear is that the guy was in a position to know this information.”
One senior court official said one of the documents “does not appear to be what it purports to be.” The official would not say which of the documents or why, and no court official in The Hague was prepared to produce the results of forensic tests on the documents.
In what seems to be a case of negligence or malfeasance, the original documents were lost in murky transactions between the tribunal and the Dutch secret services, for whom Mr. Mihailovic was put to work for several months.
On Oct. 17, 1994, according to a statement from Justice Goldstone, the head of the tribunal, questioning of Mr. Mihailovic began in The Hague. This interrogation went on “over a period of weeks” while Mr. Mihailovic was housed at the court’s expense.
On Nov. 18, 1994, Simon Leach, the investigator on the Mihailovic case, acknowledged receipt of the documents in a letter and stated, “The originals will be returned to Mr. Mihailovic or his agent in the near future.”
Instead, Mr. Leach said in a telephone interview, the documents were passed on to the Dutch internal security services, which took charge of Mr. Mihailovic after Dec. 1, 1994. Mr. Leach said that after that date he did not know where Mr. Mihailovic was and so could not return the documents directly to him.
Justice Goldstone said that after Mr. Mihailovic came under the supervision of the “Dutch authorities,” the tribunal received a request from them saying Mr. Mihailovic required the original documents.
“These documents were in turn handed to the Dutch authorities in separate bundles on 12th January 1995 and 20th January 1995,” Justice Goldstone wrote.
And what did the Dutch secret services do with the original documents?
Justice Goldstone, after repeated questioning, forwarded a copy of the receipt that the Dutch secret services say they obtained when handing back the documents to Mr. Mihailovic. That receipt is undated and faintly signed on a blank piece of paper.
Shown the receipt, Mr. Mihailovic said: “I have never seen this piece of paper, never signed it and never received my documents back. They are afraid because they know the documents are 100 percent genuine. Why on earth would I conceal the original documents if I had them?”
In a telephone conversation on March 20 between Mr. Leach and Mr. Mihailovic, Mr. Leach promised “to do everything I can” to return the documents.
Yet, according to the tribunal, the documents had been handed back in January, two months earlier. It was only on April 4 that Judge Goldstone produced the “receipt” from the Dutch secret services.
Mr. de Vries, the Dutch Interior Ministry spokesman, said, “I can confirm that the Dutch authorities returned the documents.” Asked if it was not unusual that a service of a Dutch ministry would issue an undated receipt, Mr. de Vries said, “It could happen.”
The Fallout A Message No One Wanted to Hear
Mr. Mihailovic’s story — of intrigue and arms smuggling — clearly led the tribunal to view him with circumspection, possibly even as a double agent sent to provoke the court into action that could later be ridiculed.
But in the interviews, Mr. Mihailovic presented a generally convincing picture of a man with a message nobody wants to hear.
His flight from Serbia, he said, followed the killing in Zvornik, in northeastern Bosnia, of a close friend, Risto Djogo, the head of Bosnian Serb television in Pale, the headquarters of the Serbs in Bosnia.
The killers have never been found. But Mr. Mihailovic said the killing, which took place on Sept. 10, was the work of Arkan’s Tigers militia, which was in Zvornik on the night of Sept. 9 for a concert by the Serbian singer Ceca, who later married Arkan.
For more than a month before his death, Mr. Djogo had been mocking Mr. Milosevic on Pale television for his decision in August to blockade the Bosnian Serbs for refusing to sign an international peace accord.
Mr. Djogo and Mr. Mihailovic had also been jointly collecting videos and documents, some already deposited in the Skopje bank, that they thought might one day incriminate Mr. Milosevic.
Most of the documents came from a childhood acquaintance in the security services who is the chief of the archive and had financial difficulties, Mr. Mihailovic said. He identified the acquaintance as Zoran Vukelic, and said he paid him the equivalent of more than $7,000.
Mr. Mihailovic said he believes that before Mr. Djogo was killed, he was tortured and spoke of their collaboration.
Mr. Mihailovic’s apartment at Omladinskih Brigada 208 in Belgrade was raided by the Serbian security services on Sept. 11. A private and diplomatic passport and the equivalent of more than $1.3 million in cash were taken, according to a report of the raid Mr. Mihailovic said he obtained from Mr. Vukelic.
The raiders did not capture Mr. Mihailovic because he was already in hiding. He quickly approached the Dutch Embassy in Belgrade. “Deeply in my heart I believed in the United Nations tribunal,” he said. “This was my main reason to go to the Dutch rather than the Americans.”
Mr. Mihailovic explained his decision to go public as stemming from deep frustration at his treatment by the United Nations tribunal and later by the Dutch secret services.
From Dec. 1, 1994, until he fled the Netherlands in March, these Dutch services provided Mr. Mihailovic with an apartment in the hope of gaining intelligence on the Serbs, Mr. Mihailovic and several officials in the Netherlands said.
The only complaints Mr. Mihailovic heard about the documents from Mr. Leach, the investigator, were that they appeared to have been typed on the same typewriter and were not in the Cyrillic script now increasingly used in Serbia. But official documents from the 1991-93 period were mainly typed in the Latin script, several Serbian officials said.
Some questions were also raised about the timing of the Bijeljina document in that by April 3, 1992, some parts of the town were already under Arkan’s control.
Mr. Mihailovic offered on several occasion to take lie-detector tests, but the offer was declined.
Paul de Vries, a spokesman for the Dutch Interior Ministry, confirmed that “Dutch authorities” had dealt with Mr. Mihailovic. Bert Ten Wolde, the Dutch agent in charge of Mr. Mihailovic, did not return several calls.
On March 9, after concluding he had no future in the Netherlands, Mr. Mihailovic left and went into hiding with his wife, Tatjana, and their 1-year-old daughter. He lives in the tiny apartment of a distant cousin.
Mr. Mihailovic says he wants to get to the United States, where his son by a first marriage lives on Long Island. He says he is broke and feeding his little girl on Red Cross milk.