The Price of Wartime Brotherhood
by Šeki Radoncic
No one in Montenegro has answered for the surrender of Bosnian refugees to Karadžić’s mercy. The crime awaits punishment. Alenko Titorić’s mother says: ‘I cannot accept that they have slit his throat. I can only think of how he spent the last few minutes of his life, of his last-moment fear and pain.’
Montenegro’s interior ministry will soon find itself in the dock for the crime committed against refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina whom it illegally arrested and surrendered to Karadžić’s warriors in the spring of 1992. A charge against it has been filed by the family of Alenko Titorić from Sarajevo, together with a demand for compensation of 938,400 euros. The family of Muhamed Pilavdžić has decided to do the same. Their lawyer will file a charge next week at Podgorica’s basic court. They too will demand compensation involving hundreds of thousands of euros. This can only be the beginning of wider action against the state of Montenegro on the part of the families of around sixty illegally arrested and deported refugees. The compensation for the war crime will involve millions.
According to the charge, Alenko Titorić, born on 16 March 1963 in Doboj, was proclaimed dead by the second municipal court in Sarajevo, the death having taken place on 26 May 1992. The charge, filed by the well-known Podgorica lawyer Dragan Prevelić, argues that this was a classic war crime: ‘Members of the Montenegro police and their superiors had illegally arrested Alenko Titorić and, by deporting him as a hostage to one of the belligerent parties in war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina, committed a war crime against the civilian population, since his illegal arrest caused his death.’
The drama of the Sarajevo family Titorić coincided with Yugoslavia’s bloody collapse. When the shooting started in Bosnia, Alenko had already been married for a year to Danijela, a Serb law student. The young couple consequently decided temporarily to leave Bosnia. In April 1962 they arrived in Belgrade. At first they moved in with Danijela’s parents. Two weeks later Alenko’s younger sister Jasenka also joined them. In Belgrade Alenko continued to work for the central branch of the computer firm Micro-3. He felt safe in Belgrade, despite the fact that the former Yugoslav capital was already infected with the destructive virus of nationalism. Together with his colleague Sunčan Pavlović and two female colleagues, he was sent by his firm to an IT fair in Budva. After a successful business deal they decided to go to Herzeg Novi, and to spend a night there at Danijela’s family home. The sun shone on the following day, 26 May. Wearing a thin T-shirt, shorts and trainers, Alenko and his friends walked out for a morning coffee. At around 10 o’clock he was stopped by police in the middle of the street in front of the Hotel Plaža. He was asked to show his papers. At that moment Alenko made a fatal mistake, in that he showed the police his identity card bearing his father’s name Š eval, rather than his passport which did not carry this recognizably Muslim name. The name decided his fate. Alenko was taken to the police station, where he met Sunčan who had been arrested by the police after they had stopped his car.
No Muslims here!
‘Sunčan and Alenko made a statement to the police station commander Milorad Š ljivančanin, who refused to accept that they were in Montenegro on business. He did, however, allow them a telephone call, which they used to contact the two colleagues who remained in the house. The two were scared that they too would be arrested: one of them was a Croat and the other a Muslim. They, however, were sensible enough to contact their firm in Belgrade. Danijela says: ‘I rang everyone I could think of. I finally called the police station in Herzeg Novi. They were very rude. They asked what these Muslims were doing in Herzeg Novi and declared that "they should go to their own country".’
Alenko, Sunčan and another 34 refugees from Bosnia-Herzegovina were chained together and made to board an Autoboka bus. According to Danijela’s information, the bus driver came from Herzeg Novi. The bus set off to Bratunac by way of Srbija. The prisoners had their papers checked again at Zlatibor. Sunčan was released, because he was able to prove he was a Serb. A certain Mario Franić was also released. The prisoners were then divested of all their jewellery and money. Sunčan was practically thrown out of the bus in the middle of the night at Zlatibor. After hiking for five days he arrived, highly distraught, in Belgrade. He told Danijela and Jasenka what had happened, but he did not know what had happened to Alenko. Danijela tried to learn Alenko’s whereabouts from the police authorities in Herzeg Novi. She talked several times to Š ljivančanin, who showed her the order from Podgorica on the basis of which he had turned over Alenko and 34 Bosnian refugees to the Republika Srpska police. Danijela continued her struggle: she contacted several addresses asking for information about her missing husband. She even wrote to then FRY president Dobrica Ćosić and Montenegro’s prime minister Milo Đukanović. Ćosić did not reply. She got a reply from the Montenegrin government on 18 August 1992. The letter was signed by interior minister Nikola Pejaković: ‘Prime minister Milo Đukanović has forwarded your letter to the ministry of the interior with the request to inform you about where your husband is and why he was arrested. Your husband Alenko Titorić from Novo Sarajevo was arrested on 26 May 1992 in Herzeg Novi together with 34 other people at the request of the Serb Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and was surrendered to police officers Petar Mitrović and Predrag Perendić in Srebrenica. On the same day he was handed over to the military police attached to the territorial army staff at Bratunac, where he was to be added to a group of Muslims who were to be exchanged for captured Serb territorials. We have no further knowledge of your husband’s fate, nor that of the others surrendered to the military authorities in Bratunac. For further information you should apply to the ministry of the interior of the Serb Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.’
Lawyer Dragan Prelević treats this letter as a vital document. ‘The reply by the Montenegro interior ministry tells us that Alenko Titorić was deported from Montenegro to Bosnia-Herzegovina in order to be exchanged for captured Serb territorials.’ This basis for arrest, however, is not only invalid in Montenegrin law, it is also prohibited by domestic and international norms. Quite apart from this, the Montenegrin police neither drew up nor delivered any arrest warrant, no court nor any other body with similar rights ever decided Alenko Titorić should be arrested, nor was he ever given legal aid. It is beyond doubt that Alenko Titorić’s death was caused by illegal arrest on the part of the Montenegrin police, which amounts to a war crime against the civilian population. Pelević quotes also numerous rules and international conventions broken by the Montenegrin ministry of the interior.
The crime awaits punishment, but nothing will replace the family loss. Alenko’s mother Fikreta says: ‘I will continue to search for my son. I cannot accept that they have slit his throat. I can only think of how he spent the last few minutes of his life, of his last-moment fear and pain.’
A Tragic Error
Deputies Ratko Velimirović, Žarko Rakčević, Dragiša Burzan and Ramo Bralić of the Social-Democratic Party raised a question in the Montenegrin parliament about the illegal deportation of Bosnian refugees, asking the minister of the interior to supply their number and names. In his reply minister Nikola Pejaković provided the names of 87 deported refugees.
The criminal nature of the deed was confirmed by the then Montenegrin president Momir Bulatović. At a press conference held in mid July 1994 he replied to a question about the arrest and deportation of Bosnian refugees by saying: ‘This turned out, unfortunately, to be a tragic error, a tragic negligence. It will probably be necessary to conduct a thorough investigation of this case.’ Such an investigation never took place. Since 1992 there have been four ministers of the police. Nikola Pejaković was replaced successively by Filip Vujanović, Vukašin Maraš, Andrija Jočević, and the current minister Dragan Đurović. The prime minister then as now was Milo Đukanović. During the past twelve years the only other person who held this post was his party colleague Filip Vujanović, now president of Montenegro. There have been also several chief state prosecutors: Vladimir Š ušović back in 1992 was followed by Božidar Vukčević, and this post is now held by Vesna Medenica. The officials remain silent about this event. No one from the ministry of the interior wished to speak to us. According to their spokesman Branko Bulatović one should not expect a statement any time soon. Vesna Medenica proved unobtainable: we were therefore unable to find out whether she has done anything to fulfil her recent promise to launch an investigation into this case.
Her Brother’s Bloody T-shirt
Twelve years have passed yet, Alenko’s sister Jasenka remembers every detail. ‘Danijela contacted me as soon as she learnt about Alenko’s arrest. I rushed off to talk to [Danijela’s father] Ilija. I begged him to seek contacts and to save him. I told him he could do that. He said that was a lie, that he could do nothing. He showed no sign of being sorry for what had happened to Alenko. I had a feeling he was pleased to get rid of a Muslim son-in-law. He told Danijela in my presence not to tell anyone she might talk to that he was an army man. When I heard that Sunčan had returned, I went to Micro-3. He said nothing. He had a black eye. The manager, Lejla Uzunović, told me that one of the buses taking the prisoners to Bratunac had been stopped at Konjević Polje and that all the passengers had had their throats slit. She asked her business partners in Bratunac to find out whether Alenko was among them. They went there, searched among the dead bodies, but did not find him. Alenko’s colleagues had in the meantime arrived from Herzeg Novi, bringing his clothes and identity card. His bloodied T-shirt was among the clothes, which can only mean that he was beaten up in the Herzeg Novi police station.’
Žarko Rakčević: cynicism and arrogance
‘It is painful to recall those terrible times. There was an atmosphere of pogrom directed against "infidels". This applied to domestic and foreign enemies. But it was above all a human and moral issue: could we remain silent while all around us people fleeing the war and seeking refuge in Montenegro were being seized? The tragic explanation which the SDP got from the then minister of police Nikola Pejaković was that "the deported Muslims, being citizens of the single state of SFRJ, cannot enjoy refugee status in accordance with the 1952 convention on refugees". According to Pejaković, his ministry’s basic task was to suppress all tendencies directed against the constitutional order, to secure social peace, and to prevent inter-ethnic conflicts. Particularly cynical was his statement that these people were caught and deported in order to "protect the personal and material security of citizens". No one in authority bothered to respond to our demand that the case be investigated - if they could they would gladly have deported us too. Some of the most vocal agitators at the time have since turned into peacemakers.’
The Policeman’s Testimony
At the end of May 1992, at the height of the campaign for the arrest of refugees, Damjan Turković, who was then deputy police chief in Herzeg Novi, praised the police action in an interview to the local radio: ‘We have arrested 41 Muslims thus far, and we have the power, on the basis of the order of the Serb Republic, to arrest all individuals between the ages of 18 and 60 living in the area of our jurisdiction, and to deliver them to a concentration camp in Bosnia-Herzegovina’. The name of Muhamed Pilavdžić, whose family has decided to take to court the Montenegrin ministry of the interior, was mentioned in this interview. Turković, wishing to assure the people of Herzeg Novi that all was under control, said among other things: ‘It is true that one Muslim extremist taken to the police station jumped through the window on the first floor, but we jumped after him, seized him, and delivered him to the concentration camp in Bosnia-Herzegovina.’ Asked whether the man was armed, Turković replied: ‘No, we did not find any weapons on him, since he had been arrested a few days earlier. He is called Muhamed Pilavdžić, born in 1960 in Tuzla, a machine engineer employed in the Sarajevo firm Orao. He arrived in Herzeg Novi on 30 April and we surrendered him at the request of Republika Srpska.’
This report appeared in Monitor (Podgorica), 10 December 2004