bosnia report
New Series No: 36 October - December 2003
 
Lords of the Eastern Border
by Hasan Hadžic

‘The recent war has served to accelerate trans-border criminal activity in our area’. This is what Rado Dostanić, chief of the State Border Service (DGS) on the Drina, wrote in the letter he sent to all area DGS offices on 24 March 2003. Just two weeks later the DGS was shaken by a dramatic affair in which Dostanić himself played an important role.

It all began on 10 April when Svevlad Hofman, head of the DGS Unit for International Cooperation, formally charged DGS director Mile Jurić with giving permission for an armed agent of the Serbian secret police (BIA) to enter B-H and make a prolonged stay in Bosanski Š amac and Banja Luka, without going through the proper channels, i.e. the foreign ministry and the bureau of Interpol. ‘Jurić forwarded the request from BIA to director of personnel Enes Gračanin, who passed it on to Rado Dostanić. Dostanić sent the request to the DGS Operations and Communications Centre, with an order that the Serbian agent be allowed to cross into Bosnia at Rač near Bijeljina.’ Hofman, who happened that day to be replacing the Centre’s absent head, refused to forward this request to the Rač border crossing. At Dostanić’s insistence, however, Jurić overruled Hofman and the agent was allowed to enter. Soon after Hofman had submitted a complaint to the Bosnian public prosecutor, he was placed under disciplinary investigation and sacked. The charge against him was that he had released information about DGS’s work into the public domain without official permission. Hofman’s case, however, reached the state ministry of security, whose appeal commission returned Hofman to his post. Many other less fortunate custom officers, however, have been dismissed for refusing to participate in their superiors’ illegal trans-border activities.

The Drina smugglers

There was the case of three officers from the DGS unit for Zvornik - Selmo Hasanović, Marinko Galešić and Mevludin Burić - who, at the end of October 2002, were charged by the Zvornik public prosecutor for having allegedly seven months earlier failed to search a truck smuggling sugar into Serbia. They were sacked from their posts although the court in Zvornik dismissed the charge against them. Petko Pavlović, commander of the DGS unit in Zvornik, is Dostanić’s close friend. He emerged from anonymity after the fall of Srebrenica, when he became the local police chief. It is unlikely that Pavlović would have got this job had he not been a trusted member of Radovan Karadžić’s party, the SDS. His area of responsibility covers six bridges on the river Drina. Although a Serb policeman stated at the trial that Pavlović had asked him to testify falsely in order to incriminate these custom officials, this caused no reaction from either the DSG or the European Police Mission (EUPM).

In preparing this report Dani journalists spent several days travelling along the border with Serbia, from Crnjelovo on the Sava to Skelana and Bajina Bašta on the Drina, crossing the border three times. We learnt from a reliable source that the Š epački Bridge border crossing, where the dismissed custom officials had worked, has since become a main smuggling route; and that their removal was arranged as a demonstration to the international community on the part of Pavlović and his superiors of their supposed determination to prevent smuggling. Several of our interlocutors in Bijeljina, Bratunac and Loznica confirmed that Petko Pavlović, who was in fairly straitened circumstances until the end of the war, has suddenly acquired a substantial flat in Zvornik and a villa in Belgrade. Scrutiny of the DGS personnel list shows a disproportionate number of Serbs from Bratunac and Srebrenica, all loyal to the SDS.

The fact that Srebrenica’s economy is at a standstill does not mean that the local leaders are not doing well. Their enrichment is based on the smuggling of cattle and other goods from Serbia. Our team was able to witness a great number of barges crossing the river between Bratunac and Skelane without a single DGS officer in sight. Bootleg trade is not the only problem. According to our source in the Danish contingent of SFOR, which has just completed its tour of duty in Bosnia-Herzegovina, during the past months there was growing tension between SFOR and EUMP in the Drina area. Despite SFOR pressure on DGS to work closely with it in this area, which Karadžić frequently visits, DGS has shown little desire for that. SFOR finds no support or understanding on this issue from EUMP, which fears the loss of its authority over DGS and its own eventual marginalization.

US patrols

In contrast to the Danes, however, the Americans are far more aggressive and we were able to meet their patrols all over the place. People who have returned to the Bratunac villages along the Drina tell us that their activity has increased since Carla del Ponte’s last visit to Banja Luka. Their presence is worrying the DGS - i.e. SDS - functionaries, who see themselves as lords of the Drina. A source close to SFOR told us that the recent destruction of the car used by the Trebinje DGS functionary Kundačina was staged as a proof of the service’s alleged great struggle against crime. The same source stated that the nearby Metaljka border crossing on the frontier with Montenegro remains a key spot for smuggling stolen cars and all manner of luxury goods. Trebinje, where the DGS/SDS has its ‘sector south’ office, has recently become the home of a certain Spaso Š karo, whose task is to prevent Karadžić from being caught by SFOR. During the war Š karo commanded a sniper unit active in Sarajevo under siege.

One could add further names and other evidence belying the image put about by the international community of DGS as a highly professional, multi-ethnic and non-political formation. It is enough to spend a few days along the eastern border on the Drina to establish that the Bosnian state is not in charge there.

***

UNDP and the smugglers

While staying with a family that has returned to Biljača near Bratunac, we were able to witness a convoy of trucks carrying sheep and cows travelling towards Sasi. We wondered who in that village, which has become practically deserted since the collapse of the local mine, would buy such a lot of cattle. Our hosts told us that Sasi was merely a transit point, and that the trucks would end up in Srebrenica. The goods had been smuggled into Bosnia from Serbia by ferry across the Drina. When we said that DGS should be informed of this, since it involved breaking strict rules on the import of meat and livestock, they laughed and said: ‘Don’t worry, DGS knows all about it.’

We had another shock on the following day when we visited several villages in the vicinity of Srebrenica. The locals complained about the UN Development Programme office in Srebrenica, which as part of the international aid effort supplies them with starving and sick sheep. They also stated that UNDP was involved in the contraband activities of the Srebrenica agricultural cooperative and the smugglers from Serbia. The cooperative, we were told, was run by local Bosniak officials Abdurahman Malkić and Sadik Ahmetović. We were also told that, while the sheep they get are bought for 120-150 DM, the price entered into the books is 300-350 DM. Just as we were going to press we learnt that UNDP has started also to distribute cows from Serbia, likewise in poor condition. The main supplier of these illegally imported animals is one Radivoje Orašanin, the king of contraband cattle, whose house at Zeleni Jadro we were able to photograph during our expedition. It is said to be quite modest in comparison to the one he has built for himself in Bajina Bašta on the other side of the border.

Translated from a longer text in Dani (Sarajevo), 1 August 2003.

 

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