bosnia report
New Series No. 9/10 April - July 1999
 
Sarinic's last adventures

Thick as Thieves
This final extract from Hrvoje Sarinic's book All My Secret Negotiations with Slobodan Milosevic published in the Zagreb weekly Globus describes three meet ings that took place between 4 and 20 September 1995, after Operation Storm and the exodus of most Serbs from what had been Republika Srpska Krajina (of which only the eastern Slavonian segment was then left). The extract registers the to tal absence of any sorrow or remorse on the part of the Great Serb Leader, who speaks of potential and actual Serb refugees - now coming from Bosnia too - as if they were so many head of cattle. It was just business as usual, mostly con cerned with the partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The first of the three meetings took place at the time when Drvar in western Bosnia was being shelled, while Croatian and Bosnian forces were moving towards Banjaluka.

* * *

4 September
No sooner was Sarinic ushered in than Milosevic asked: `How long are you Croats going to help Alija by arming him? What is happening to Banjaluka is your doing. On their own they can hardly take a village. [!] I understand that you want to connect Livno polje with the Bihac enclave. I'm for that, but I must get some thing in return. We could agree to widen the Posavina corridor and that you stop shelling Drvar. The way the situation is developing, I'm ready to give priority to our relations with Croatia and solve problems in B-H in parallel. [...] As soon as we agree I'll call them [the Serb local leaders in eastern Slavonia] and persuade them that [remaining within Croatia] is the only solution and they must accept it. Then you'll sign this formally with them. As soon as you do so, we'll move to formal recognition between Yugoslavia and the Republic of Croatia.'

When Sarinic asked within which borders, Milosevic replied: `The best I can do is to recognize the Republic of Croatia that was recognized by the United Na tions, since otherwise 200,000 Serbs will run to Serbia and I could hardly sur vive that, given that I already have 600,000 refugees.' Milosevic, Sarinic notes, appeared to be in a great hurry and in fact accepted most of Sarinic's terms. The only thing that worried him was the return of the Croats to eastern Slavonia, since `he feared a new movement of refugees into Serbia and their anger.'

Returning to Bosnia, Milosevic asked: `Are you planning to take Banjaluka? Why are you arming Alija who is only interested in war?' Sarinic writes: `He said this in an offÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ -hand manner, but he was clearly worried about the situation on the ground. He knew that the Croatian Army held his life in its hands, because it is unlikely he could survive several hundred thousand refugees if the Croats entered Banjaluka.'

`He repeated to me the details of the division of northern Bosnia which he had put to me at my last visit. He rejected the international community's proposal to make the division simple by switching Tuzla for Banja Luka, believing it not to be realistic because the Muslims would never give up Tuzla. This is why he was interested in widening the corridor leading to the Banjaluka enclave.' In his desire to stabilize the military situation quickly, he proposed a meeting between generals Servenko (Croatian), Perisic (Serbian) and Mladic (Bosnian Serb).

Sarinic writes: `So far as B-H was concerned, our conversation showed that a tacit agreement existed regarding the organization of B-H, and that all parties were now focusing on territorial demarcation. [Not quite, however, since] Izetbegovic was against the right of RS to confederate with Yugoslavia. Croatia demanded symmetrical rights because only that would secure a lasting solution. [...] As for Milosevic's demands in relation to Posavina and Prevlaka, I an swered that it all depended on the shape of the final settlement, as it related to recognition.' Sarinic then took his leave and Milosevic went off to see Akashi, Stoltenberg and Eide were having lunch in another room. The interna tional community was `besieging' Milosevic.

After this `informative' meeting, the Croatians then held talks `with our federation partners on the organization of B-H, based on the established princi ple, as was stated at the time, of formal integrity of B-H. The Bosniak side was represented by Muhamed Sacirbey and Kasim Trnka. The actual concept was based on the idea of two entities: a Bosniak-Croat Federation and a super-autonomy for the Serbs - with the latter, however, playing no role in the conduct of the state. We spoke of the need for our two peoples not to enter into any integra tion with the said autonomy [of RS]. Regarding the territorial division, the 51-49% in favour of the Federation was still valid, in conformity with the last of the four maps presented by the Contact Group. However, given the recent ad vances by the HVO and the ABH and the changed situation on the ground, this map was out of date and unrealistic. It was, therefore, necessary to make a new division, in line with the situation on the front, or to agree to certain compensations.'

Stoltenberg told Sarinic `in confidence' that 'the Muslims were refusing to give the Serbs a single millimetre more autonomy than was enjoyed by the Kosovo Albanians'. `Our intention, however, was to reach an agreement. [. . .] Mi losevic's insistence on increasingly frequent meetings suggested that he was thinking along the same lines, and although he had great problems with Karadzic the negotiations made big strides.'

On 6 September Tudman briefly met with Holbrooke, who informed him that Mi losevic had agreed that the transitional administration in eastern Slavonia would not include Serbs. The Geneva conference of 8 September between Granic, Milutinovic and Sacirbey had brought nothing except the impression that the Americans had taken the leadership in the peace process. `It seemed that Geneva had moved in a direction that would permit the international community to save its face as the first steps were made towards Bosnia's partition.'

NATO in Eastern Slavonia - Banjaluka Saved
Sarinic was back in Belgrade on 12 September. While waiting for Milosevic in Villa Serbia, he surveyed its garden: `It was very badly kept, with only an occasional flower here and there.'

Milosevic told him: `Your suggestion that the problem of the Republic of Croatia and the problem of eastern Slavonia should be separated from the B-H package is possible only if we can reach an agreÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ement by direct negotiations. If by the end of the UNCRO mandate Croatia does not solve that problem we shall have to seek other means.' He then handed Sarinic a declaration which both sides were sup posed to sign and which Sarinic found `not bad at all'. Milosevic, however, in sisted that the local Serbs would have to be given the right to hold a referen dum. What was important to him was `that the Serbs should have the impression that they themselves were deciding their fate. I told him, of course, that I could not comment, since this would be decided by the President and the supreme state leadership.'

Holbrooke visited Tudman a few days later, and was informed that only the refer endum remained problematic in eastern Slavonia. Tudman offered to start negotiating with the local Serbs, writes Sarinic, but if these negotiations brought no results within a month he threatened another Operation Storm. Hol brooke returned on the following day with a new proposal: that NATO should re place UNCRO during the transitional period. `He defended Milosevic, because he greatly feared that he might fall. I repeated that there was no question of a referendum, and it seemed to me that he accepted that. He was cooperative in or der to prevent our military action in eastern Slavonia or against Banjaluka. [. . .] Holbrooke's new proposal was highly interesting, and Tudman decided to dis cuss it with prime minister Valentic, ministers Susak and Granic, and myself. We decided not to proceed with military activity in B-H and to end our support for the Muslims.'

On 19th September Tudman told Izetbegovic in Holbrooke's presence: `Through our military actions we have reached the 51-49 formula, and we must now accept an end to offensive actions and proceed to a political dialogue. There will be no peace process if we continue our offensive against Banjaluka.' Sacirbey com mented that the action against Banjaluka need not end the peace process, where upon Tudman replied: `We shall stop it, because every Croat life matters to us.'

Sarinic writes: `It is clear why the Muslims wished to continue. All the area taken during the last operations was taken by the Croats. The Muslims did not take a single place of any significance. They tagged along behind us and cel ebrated ``their'' great victories. My impression was that Tudman wished to put a stop to that too. Our decision was badly received by Izetbegovic. Left with no choice he arrogantly declared: ``We shall perhaps take Sanski Most ourselves. Banjaluka may be too risky. But how about Prijedor?'' '

Sarinic writes: `They obviously believed that we were going to take cities with a Muslim majority too, which they would then enter on the maps as their own. I was shocked by this attitude. Tudman coolly responded: ``Go on and take Sanski Most and Prijedor, if you can.'' The previously arrogant and self-confident B-H president, who sometimes tried to play the role of a statesman, suddenly stopped doing so. ``Help us at least to take Sanski Most.'' I could not believe my ears. After Izetbegovic's show we continued to discuss the organization of B-H and the relationship between the central government and the two entities. Our decision to end military activity encouraged the Muslims to approach more realistically problems for the solutions of which they had previously posed conditions.'

20 September 1995
Sarinic flew to Belgrade, once again in Stoltenberg's company. The meeting with Milosevic was `relaxed and full of optimism, given that relations between the two countries were improving fast. There was no theme or problem that proved un manageable. At all events Milosevic had to move fast.' He told Sarinic: `Hrvoje, we can solve our problem on our own. Each of us will annex our part of B-H. The USA is cradling this bastard baby, but they know nothing. We shall insist on the symmetry formula for the two entities, and you must support us in this. We must not permit a unified BÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ osnia. We must agree to a common line before the confer ence. Although there are two entities only, decisions must be made by consensus between the three peoples and the two entities must have the right to confeder ate with Croatia and Yugoslavia. [...] Let Bosnia be a state within its borders and then we shall see. Evolution will show what is what. But we must start on an equal footing. We need not talk about confederation in Geneva, because that will cause divisions. We need only to reach an agreement on having the conference at which a complete solution will be reached.'

Sarinic writes: `This was the time when a conference was being speedily prepared which was to be attended by Tudman, Milosevic and Izetbegovic. Stoltenberg was telling me that the Bosniaks were blackmailing the international community with the possibility of not attending unless the international community renewed air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs, who had failed to withdraw the heavy weapons as agreed.'

Milosevic was drinking heavily on this occasion. `I don't know how many glasses [of pear brandy] he had already had, but I knew that he drank a great deal. There was a lot of talk about this in diplomatic circles. It was quite unders tandable, given the situation in which he found himself. He was in a hurry and at the same time he had never been weaker. He knew that he was dependent on oth ers and that he must engage in barter: in particular, he was selling out the Serbs - both the Croatian and the Bosnian ones - whom he had led to war.'

Milosevic was then called to the phone, which happened only very rarely. Sarinic writes: `I assumed that it was something important and I was right. He was speaking with one of the Bosnian Serb leaders about the withdrawal of heavy weapons.'

At this meeting Milosevic tried once again to persuade the Croatians to accept a referendum for the Serbs in eastern Slavonia. `You must realise that you and the international community ought to give the Serbs who live there some guaran tees. This must be done. Then we can speak about unconditional recognition. The referendum would solve this in a dignified and simple manner. The referendum question can be limited to human rights, it need not speak of autonomy. [...] If you agree with me, we can make it so that the Serbs living in the Eastern Sector demand of me to recognize Croatia. The international community would like that.'

Sarinic replied: `If you do not wish to recognize us, then as a sign of normali zation you can at least state publicly that in your negotiations regarding the recognition of Croatia you are concerned with the interests of the Croatian Serbs and invite them to remain there.' Milosevic was impressed by this sugges tion. As they parted, the Serb Aggressor told his Croat Victim: `I promise that once these stupidities are over I will decorate you with Serbia's highest decoration.'

Milosevic , however, never kept his promise.

* * *

Contempt for one's own people
Sarinic portrays the sheer indifference with which the Croatian and Serbian politicians treated the victims of their policies, but also the great imagina tion with which they stage-managed external appearances. For example, we have Milosevic, about to sell out the remaining Croatian Serbs, ready to organize a referendum in which they would demand of him to recognize Croatia - against which he had urged them to rebel only a few years earlier. Such a referendum, Milosevic slyly remarks, would greatly please the international community. At the same time Sarinic, who knows full well that Tudman's ideal Croatia is one without Serbs, suggests that Milosevic publicly ask these Serbs to stay on, if that would help him to justify recognition of the Croatian borders. We also have Tudman, who has sacrificed at least 15,000 Bosnian Croat lives in pursuit of the partition of B-H, telling Izetbegovic that his concern for every Croat life pre vents him froÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ m proceeding with the offensive against Banjaluka.

If for this reason alone, All my Secret Negotiations with Slobodan Milosevic will be read with interest. The book has only just been released and there is a damning review of it by Ivo Banac in the Croatian weekly Feral Tribune. The work reminds one strongly of Borisav Jovic's The Last Days of SFRJ, not only in tone and quality, but also in that both are self-incriminating. Jovic published his book in order to point out Milosevic's decisive role in unleashing the war in former Yugoslavia. No one reading it could be left in any doubt about the lat ter's motive: the creation of a Greater Serbia as large as the JNA could de liver.

Sarinic may well have penned his own book to describe Tudman's role in partitioning Bosnia-Herzegovina, notwithstanding his slavish praise for the Croatian president's alleged statesmanship. It is possible, of course, that he really does believe that making two million people into refugees in order to achieve Bosnia's partition is what statesmanship is all about. Sarinic's ac count, obviously, incriminates also Western politicians, who are shown helping Zagreb and Belgrade to divide between them a UN member-state, while pretending to their public back home that the Bosnian war was essentially an internal con flict originating in people's inability to live together in peace.

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