bosnia report
New Series No. 9/10 April - July 1999
 
Further adventures of Hrvoje Sarinic in the land of the Serb aggressor

On 12 December 1994 international humanitarians obliged once again and Sarinic was whisked off to Batajnica, Belgrade's military airport. As he travelled to the city centre he saw rows and rows of people, including women and children, standing in the rain and mud selling petrol in litre bottles. In the city itself the people were cutting up logs, to make up for the lack of gas and heating oil.

`It would be good if every Croat could see this scene, if only for a second, in order to rid himself of any doubt he might have as to the significance of what we have achieved over the past four years', he notes smugly at this point, as if anything actually had been achieved. On the contrary. One quarter of Croatia was still under occupation, most of its war destruction remained unrepaired, its refugees continued to live in miserable conditions, and the gulf between the country and most of its Serb citizens had become unbridgeable. In Bosnia, mean while, the majority of Croats had become refugees; in HVO-controlled areas the ethnic cleansing and incarceration in concentration camps of the Bosniak popula tion - carried out at the behest of the `supreme leadership' - had wiped out what international sympathy Croatia had gained in 1991; and as for economic des titution, only a handful of B-H Croats would have felt out of place in Belgrade in December 1994. But Sarinic's observation reflects the fact that many people in Croatia suffered from deprivation too, and he and his master could comfort them only by pointing out that the Serbian plight was even greater.

The Master Plan
This time, Sarinic writes, `the Croatian supreme leadership [i.e. Tudman] had absolutely clear views on all relevant questions. In regard to B-H, the USA were pressing us to accelerate the creation of the Federation, thus tying the Muslims to the West. According to them, this was the only way to finalize the line of separation within B-H. In that case NATO would guarantee implementation of the agreement, while Croatia should support the proposal that the Muslim en claves in the east of B-H be given to the Serbs, who would compensate the Mus lims in the west. Our view was that the Serbs should, in return, recognize the Republic of Croatia in its internationally recognized borders, while other is sues should enter the succession process. The President of the Republic was at this time under strong public pressure not to negotiate with the Serbs; so it was impossible to make progress without aÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ chieving such recognition. For this reason the Croatian government [i.e. Tudman] saw a Serb-Croat agreement as a precondition for normalization and separation in B-H, considering it better that we decide our own relations rather than let this be done by others. I was sup posed to convey all this to Milosevic, including our readiness to deliver petrol to the Croatian Serbs following the opening of the Zagreb-Belgrade motorway and the Zagreb-Knin-Split railway, and the readiness of foreign minister Mate Granic to come to Belgrade with the same conditions: that the agenda include recogni tion of the Republic of Croatia, but also the threat of a military liberation of Knin.'

When they eventually sat down, Milosevic had this to say on the question of `separation': `The B-H Serbs possess no more than 60% of B-H. This has met my aim and now I must turn to peace. The Pale lot, however, have gone completely mad, so I have decided to replace them. For this I must go through the [RS] as sembly, where 43 deputies constitute a majority. That is why I am constantly re ceiving groups from there. This evening, for example, seventeen will come from the Banjaluka region; they are sensible people and will help me realize my aim. After the replacement we shall accept the Contact Group proposal at Pale. I agree that the enclaves in the east should go to the Serbs, and that there should be compensation [for the Bosniaks] in the west. Afterwards they [the RS Serbs] will form a confederation or some other bond with Serbia. That should be no problem since everyone agrees on this, the Russians and even the Americans, although they do not wish to say so openly. Jupp‚ and Hurd have openly said to me that there is no state in the world which maintains confederal relations with two of its neighbours.'

As for the Croatian end of the problem - `normalization' - Milosevic agreed that the respective offices should be raised to embassy level at the end of January 1995. Granic would come to Belgrade once the motorway was opened. The following conversation now ensued:

Sarinic: `How can we open embassies without prior mutual recognition? Nothing like that exists in the world.'

Milosevic, half jokingly: `If it does not exist we shall have to invent it.'

Sarinic: `Everyone knows, Mr President, that Serb-Croat relations are the cen tral problem. Are you ready to recognize us?'

Milosevic: `I have an idea in my head, which I will tell to Tudman. That idea includes Republic of Croatia sovereignty.'

Sarinic: `In its internationally recognized borders?'

Milosevic: `As I say, I shall speak directly to Tudman about it.' Finally, how ever, `If you insist, yes, in the internationally recognized borders.' Sarinic writes that he was not convinced by this response, and that in his view Milosevic still counted on the annexation of Croatian territory in Baranja and southern Dalmatia. This apart, Milosevic was ready to recognize Croatia in re turn for concessions in B-H or an exit to the sea. In the meantime he told Tudman's envoy: `By supporting the sanctions, you yourself are feeding the war, whereas I am one hundred per cent for peace. As far as recognition is concerned, I am following the only possible step-by-step path.' At this point Sarinic, `in the name of all the Croat people' (no less!), maliciously reminded Milosevic of the effects of economic sanctions, as illustrated by people selling litre bot tles of petrol: why was he leading his people `back to the Middle Ages'? Mi losevic said: `This is why I say that you should fight together with us for lifting of the sanctions and permit us to extricate ourselves by peaceful means.' When Sarinic said that Croatia could not support the lifting of sanc tions while the rebel Serbs were refusing reintegration, Milosevic answered: `You must open the motorway this week and at the same time conduct negotiations. Why not open it this Thursday or Friday at the latest?'

Milosevic then summoned Borisav Mikelic, the `PrimÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ e Minister of Republika Srpska Krajina', and spent some forty minutes trying to gain an agreement on the spot, on such matters as who should patrol the newly opened motorway, and how. But nothing came of it and Mikelic was dismissed. Sarinic then asked why Milosevic continued to support militarily these Serbs, in view of their disobedience; whereupon Milosevic denied that Serbian officers, paid by Belgrade, were on ac tive duty in the Krajina.

Owen's anger, Akashi's panic
According to Sarinic, his visit to Belgrade proved that Milosevic was not in control of the local Serbs, so that Croatia would have to resort to the military option: the only logical step now was to `end the UNPROFOR farce'. British ambassador Hewitt's reaction to this announcement was concern about its effect on Bosnia-Herzegovina, while US ambassador Galbraith and UN envoy Stoltenberg actively tried to dissuade Tudman. `They tried to convince us that there was a strong pressure on Milosevic which was about to bring fruit, and that what we intended to do would not contribute to the process. When they realized that they were wasting their time, they resorted to threats and pressure.' When that did not work, however, and Tudman still insisted on ending the UNPROFOR mandate, they resigned themselves to the fact.

David Owen told Sarinic that Mikelic was very angry at this decision. He appar ently threatened to end negotiations, cancel his forthcoming visit to Zagreb, close the motorway, etc. `Talking to Owen I could not but feel that the posi tions he imputed to Mikelic were largely his own. He put them across with much insistence and fervour, barely suppressing his essential agreement with Mike lic.' Akashi for his part was showing signs of panic and kept repeating that `UNPROFOR's departure would make war inevitable'. Sarinic writes: `I find it difficult to say who of the international community was bluffing, but I am con vinced that many high officials tried to postpone the departure for personal reasons. They were making good money out of Croatian suffering. They were receiving tens of thousands of dollars per month, which was real wealth even for the Europeans, let alone for those coming from underdeveloped countries. I re call Akashi listening to my explanations of the reasons for ending the mandate. He was about to burst into tears. He found life in the area of former Yugoslavia sweet and, to judge by what my colleagues were telling me, he lived it to the full.'

In the meantime, as agreed with Milosevic, the motorway was to be kept open: in return for petrol and derivatives for the Republika Srpska Krajina, Mikelic would allow a convoy to go to Bihac. Milosevic now agreed to a second meeting, which was to be held on 13 January 1995. The day before Sarinic's departure for Belgrade, Owen told Tudman: `Your relationship with Belgrade depends on petrol; you can prove now that ending the UNPROFOR mandate is not intended to heighten the conflict. Mikelic is vital and I think you should invest in him.' Tudman's reply was: `We continue to believe in a peaceful solution and are ready to help Mikelic, if that will help normalization. But I wonder if we should put all our money on him and how long he will last in this Serb confusion.' Owen's response was: `Mikelic will perhaps not remain in government for much longer. The next few days will be decisive in their internal quarrels. We shall, therefore, do as much as we can for you to talk to him discreetly, without us. The key to a solu tion in B-H is the Livno-Bihac line, which isolates Knin. So I suggest that you should let them get some breathing-space, since in that way you will isolate them from outside and not from within. I wish to take this opportunity to ask what we are to do about Z-4 [a plan for Serb territorial autonomy within Croatia promoted at this time]? Shall we make it public? We need your guidance and sug gestions on this.'

Sarinic writes: `I must admit he was a skilled diplomaÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ t, especially when flying kites like this one. His statement about solving the B-H problem along the Bihac-Livno line resonated strongly in our ears. We also noticed his question about Z-4. There were those who saw the two statements as forming a single pack age, but this was not my impression. On the contrary, it seemed to me that Owen wished to place Z-4 ad acta. His question in this regard was rather suggestive. However much I disliked him, I thought that he already saw that nothing would come of that esoteric notion of Galbraith's.'

A jolly talk with Milosevic and Mikelicc
At their second meeting, conducted in the shadow of UNPROFOR's departure from Croatia, Milosevic tried to persuade Sarinic that Zagreb should strive to win the good will of the Krajina Serbs rather than go for a military solution. `You should positively surprise them by letting goods from Yugoslavia into Krajina. The Knin TVIK [factory] should open, so that people can work. The military op tion would mean a permanent guerrilla war. You would have a Northern Ireland. Apart from anything else, the irrational policy of Republika Srpska could misuse any hardline attitude on your part towards the Krajina. As you well know, Martic and Babic did terrible things at the start of the conflict and they have nothing to lose now. We must secure life and work, so that some of the madness can de part from the Krajina. Everybody is trying to get me to recognize Croatia in or der to get rid of the sanctions. Franjo Tudman's decision to end the UNPROFOR mandate is either ingenious or catastrophic. I would like it to be ingenious, but unfortunately cannot believe it. You should, therefore, make it possible for me to get rid of the sanctions, so that we can normalize our relations over the next few months.' As Sarinic notes, he wished to end the economic blockade of Serb territory from the Croatian end, and was generally ready to sacrifice a great deal to undo the embargo, whose continuation threatened his own power.

The following conversation now took place:

Milosevic: `I'm ready to upgrade the [Croatian] legation to the status of an em bassy on 15 February, but before that a visit by Granic to Belgrade would help cool the situation.'

Sarinic: `That's hard to believe, given [FRY foreign minister] Jovanovic's highly negative stand.'

Milosevic: `As for that, I'll tell you something, but you mustn't let it get about. I'm going to dismiss Jovanovic.'

The talk, naturally, soon turned to Bosnia. Milosevic now changed his earlier position on the future of the eastern enclaves. Instead of wishing to keep them and recompense the Bosniaks in the west, he now focused on consolidation of the Banjaluka area. `The solution in B-H depends on Sarajevo. The majority of depu ties from the Banjaluka area support a solution according to which Sarajevo would go to the Federation in return for strengthening Serb territories in the west, while the Muslim enclaves would remain. Abdic should be left in control of the Autonomous Region of Western Bosnia. I have already helped him in this.'

Mikelic was then summoned to discuss ways for Croatia to ease the economic blockade of the Krajina. According to Sarinic, the provocations along the motor way were the work of extremists who `advocated unification with Republika Srps ka. They did not know that the same Republika Srpska, which was preventing the opening of the motorway, was at the same time offering to open its own communications with Croatia. Milosevic and Mikelic considered these extremists to be a lost cause, and laughed at their overestimation of Karadzic's strength. It was they who insisted that Karadzic had lost the war, but was as yet unaware of the fact. When I remarked that General Mladic, who was highly regarded by the Serb people, had recently drawn closer to Karadzic, they responded with much confidence that he was ``200%'' loyal to Milosevic. ``It was only the day before yesterday that I broÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ ught him to see the President [Milosevic],'' Mikelic in sisted.'

Sarinic took the opportunity of the jolly atmosphere to ask Milosevic: `Is it true that your wife has written a book which was recently published in Russia and that Lord Owen wrote an introduction for it?' `Owen is our good friend, Mi ra's and mine,' replied Milosevic, `but he did not write the introduction, al though he did make some suggestions. The Russian edition alone brought Mira 340,000 DM.' Sarinic: `You have married well.' Milosevic: `I cannot complain.'

Sarinic writes: `At a moment when Milosevic had once again absented himself from the conversation by wondering aimlessly around his office, I warned [!] Mikelic about the intolerable position of Croats in the Banjaluka area. He promised to call General Momir Talic that very day - who, he said, was Mladic's, i.e. Mi losevic's, man. "Talic is the ablest man in the army of Republika Srpska, while Milan Seleketic is an idiot. He cannot be compared with Talic.'

Sarinic: `What are relations like with Babic and Martic?'

Mikelic: `They're just like Seleketic. When he met them the day before yester day, Milosevic told Babic: ``Babic, you're nothing but a cunt and you behave like one.'' I have them all in my hand, since I control the intelligence service and thus keep two steps ahead of them. My control of Babic has improved. Martic is playing the Karadzic card and counts on the unification of RS and RSK, which is sheer madness. The RS army is now active in the Western Sector trying to close the road. We have already arrested three of them.'

Sarinic writes: `Envious and angry because of our parallel contacts with Karadzic by way of Mihajlovic, Mikelic insisted: ``That Mihajlovic is nothing but a black marketeer and is not to be trusted. He publicly boasts about how the Croatian police waits for him at the border and accompanies him to the meet ing place'.' Milosevic now joined the conversation: `I have information that you are still supplying oil to Republika Srpska. We have posted strict guards on the routes leading from Albania through Montenegro, and have cratered them so that oil can now come in only by way of Herzegovina. Karadzic is politically dead and you should end your contacts with him. He will not get more than 12% of the votes in the coming elections in Republika Srpska. The people will bring him down, while the outside factors do not like him either.'

Milosevic carried on: `The Serbs do not own more than 50% [!] of Bosnia, and Sarajevo cannot be a Serb city. The majority in the Pale parliament comes from the Banjaluka region and through them I will overthrow Karadzic; but I will have to strengthen that part territorially. The enclaves in the east may remain, since they will eventually expire of their own accord.'

Serbia's economic near-collapse
Sarinic writes: `In contrast to the Bosnian Serb leaders, Milosevic was a Re alpolitiker who knew that he would have to make concessions for peace in Bosnia, i.e. in order to get rid of the sanctions, which was his primary interest. If only he could, he would gladly have erased all that had happened in the past years. He tried to persuade me, himself as well, that he was not responsible for what has happened, and in doing so he at times entered the realm of fantasy.

``People - and you Hrvoje, in particular - have said that the Krajina was my Trojan Horse. The truth is that you invented the Krajina, together with the mad men who live there. I was taking a holiday in Dubrovnik during those events and immediately realized what was afoot. I can hardly wait for all this to be over, so that I can go to Dubrovnik again. I will do all I can for this to happen al ready this year. There were idiots who used to say that Dubrovnik too was a Serb city. Serbia has no territorial pretensions - if you insist, even in regard to Baranja''.' At the end of the conversation, Milosevic repeated that while he disapproved of TudmÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ an's decision to end the UNPROFOR mandate, it could turn out to be a master stroke provided the Croats behaved wisely and won rebel Serb con fidence with Mikelic's help.

On his way back to the airport, Sarinic learned from the official driver that Belgrade enjoyed no more than two hours of heating per day and that people sat in their homes in their coats and hats. This was true also for the Serbian presidency building. On his arrival at Zagreb airport, Sarinic got an urgent message to ring Milosevic, who told him: `Hrvoje, a few trucks are waiting on the border and I beg you that they be let into Krajina.'

Questions needing answers
This survey of the second instalment of Sarinic's story as reproduced by Globus confirms once again that the wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina never inter rupted good relations between Tudman and Milosevic, based on their common desire to partition Bosnia-Herzegovina. It also supports the view that some Western governments also hoped for such an outcome, and that their main concern at this stage was to prevent Serbia's economic collapse. The first extract, set at the end of 1993, registered the fact that Milosevic had come to terms with losing the war in Croatia, though he still hoped to retain key parts of it, together with at least 60% of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This second extract, set one year later, shows him dispensing with the hope of realizing any territorial gains against Croatia and endorsing de facto Croatia's military obliteration of RSK. He is also aware that he has lost the war in Bosnia, where he now reduces his claim to 50% of that country's territory - in accordance with the Contact Group Plan - and for that reason needs to be rid of Radovan Karadzic.

Croatian readers of Hrvoje Sarinic's recollections will find additional evidence of what they have known for quite a while: that Tudman helped Milosevic as much as he could in the hope of getting his own slice of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bosnian Croats (`It would be good if every Croat . . .') will note, of course, that Sarinic chose to raise the question of their treatment at the hands of RS bodies not with Milosevic but with Mikelic, whose authority with the RS military was, of course, close to zero.

What remains an open question is the extent to which Western countries contrib uted, collectively or singly, to the war itself and its ultimate shameful out come in Bosnia. Milosevic's own dismissal of the military potential of the army of RS contrasts strongly with the view so often defended in London, Paris and Washington at the time, that air strikes against RS military targets - in order to protect the `safe areas' or simply to end the war - would either not work at all or be too costly in terms of Western lives, so should not be contemplated. There is an equally sharp contrast between the universal Western pretence that the Croatian and Bosnian wars were internal affairs, civil wars between ethnic groups, and the kind of discussions which took place - with Western connivance - between the presidents of Croatia and Serbia (sometimes represented by their minions, in this case Sarinic and Mikelic). Milosevic's desire to end the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, since he could not win it even with Tudman's help, led him to scale down the initial 66% claim to the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina to 50%. Given Milosevic's consecutive military defeats and the great economic dis tress of Serbia in the winter of 1994-5, why did the West so stubbornly pursue the partition - barely covered by the Dayton figleaf - of this internationally recognized state?

There is also the question of David Owen, a good friend of Mira and Slobodan Mi losevic, who appears here as a go-between Zagreb and Belgrade: how far did his initiatives reflect actual British government policy? Or the case of Akashi: how much have material incentives, in terms of outright cash or subsequent medals or promotion, encouraged officials appointed by the so-caÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÌÔ lled international commu nity to soldier on regardless of their meagre productivity?

As the war in the former Yugoslavia enters its last phase, there is ever-increasing evidence of Western complicity in the rise and permanence of the phenomenon called Slobodan Milosevic. Ten years have passed since he announced at Gazimestan in Kosovo Polje his readiness to go to war, and he is still at it - slaughtering defenceless civilians and destroying the foundations of their lives - while what the British Foreign Office in its wisdom calls the `East Adriatic' slides ever deeper into political chaos and economic misery.

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