The trail of the Scorpions
by Dejan Anastasijevic
The history of the Scorpions began in the autumn of 1991, in the mud and chaos of the siege and fall of Vukovar. In addition to the regular JNA troops, a river of bashi-bazooks seeking pillage and fun flowed into eastern Slavonia. These included the brothers Slobodan ‘Boca’ and Aleksandar ‘Gulja’ Medić with their companions from the area of Š id. It is not easy to tell when they named themselves Scorpions and chose Boca as their commander - there were hundreds of such groups. A Scorpion is a Czech-made handgun with a folding butt, which comes with a silencer. This short-range weapon is not of great use in warfare, but is very handy for pillage, murder and other ‘special operations’. The JNA distributed it in great numbers to the volunteers.
Oil and oak
The chaos spread by the volunteers and reservists with the logistical backing of the JNA was not uncontrolled, in fact: the bands were supervised by Radovan Stojčić, a high-ranking officer in the Serbian police, who was sent to Slavonia as commander of the Territorial Defence. He made sure that the volunteers would not escape control and arbitrated in the division of spoils. He was aided in this by Arkan’s Serb Volunteer Guard, which enjoyed a special status. After the signing of the Vance plan in 1991, Stojčić and Arkan remained in Slavonia in order to help Goran Hadžić, the newly installed president of the ‘Republika Srpska Krajina’ (RSK), to build his state. At the start of 1992 the Scorpions were legalised and became part of the RSK army. They acquired new uniforms and an emblem: a yellow scorpion on a black background. As things calmed down Stojčić was sent to more important duties and his place was taken by Milan Milanović called ‘Mrgud’, who had been his driver and guide. In the meantime everything that could be removed from Vukovar and its area (down to kitchen and bathroom equipment) was gone, leaving behind only those things that could not be easily removed: oil and oak. The oil field was at Đelatovci in the municipality of Nijemci close to the border, and the valuable Slavonian oak timber in nearby Ilinci. The Scorpions were given the task of looking after these valuable resources. They could not have been more lucky. Sanctions raised the price of petrol to 5DM per litre. The oil from Đelatovci came to supply 20% of Serbia’s needs. The world market price for oak timber was DM100 per cubic metre, but Arkan sold it to a firm in Čačak for one-tenth of this price. Some of this timber was used to build Milošević’s summer house at Crni Vrh near Bor.
The trade in oil and oak timber, and later also in cigarettes and stolen cars, was controlled by the state security service (henceforth Service) headed by Jovica Stanišić and Frenki Simatović, which took the lion’s share for ‘the state’. After them came first Arkan, then Hadžić; what remained was taken by local ‘businessmen’ such as Milenko Čančarević, an interesting character who cropped up in Operation Sablja. The rest of the spoils was more than enough for Boca and selected Scorpions, who became wealthy and started buying houses and business premises in Vojvodina. The ‘legal’ side of their operation was secured by Mrgud, the Service’s plenipotentiary, who in time became deputy defence minister of the RSK. The Scorpions thus got papers from the RSK police for use in RSK and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and from the Serbian police for use in Serbia.
Fighting for Abdić
Guarding the oil and oak timber from the Croatians - and even more from other Serb bands - was an easy and profitable job for Boca and his friends. The war in Bosnia, however, was still going on and demanded their engagement. The Scorpions were not of great value as fighters, but they did well in a special operation called Pauk [Spider] linked to the Cazin area of northwestern Bosnia. In the autumn of 1993 Fikret Abdić took power in Velika Kladuša with the intention of creating an ‘Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia’ (APZB), copying the model of the SAO (Serb Autonomous Regions) from 1991. He did this in agreement with Franjo Tuđman and Slobodan Milošević, who at this time favoured the outbreak of an inter-Muslim conflict. Abdić received considerable aid in arms, ammunition, oil and other strategic raw materials as well as in manpower from all the ‘Serb lands’ to fight against Atif Dudaković, the local commander of the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Just how important for Serbia the establishment of Abdić’s statelet was is testified to by the fact that a special staff was formed to aid Abdić at the village of Š amarice on the very border between the APZB and the RSK. The head of this staff was Jovica Stanišić, his deputy was Frenki Simatović. General Mile Novaković of the RSK was attached to the staff. Stanišić and Simatović brought in everyone they could lay their hands on to fight for Abdić: Arkan’s Tigers, Ljubiša Savić Mauzer’s Panthers, Boca’s Scorpions, etc. The battles around Kladuša and Bihać which lasted intermittently until the summer of 1995 were in fact a cover for a mighty smuggling operation, involving endless lines of strictly controlled articulated lorries. The special units provided the convoys with security and kept away the curious. The APZB soon became a duty-free state and as such an aim in itself. The peasants from the RSK died like flies at the approaches to Bihać, Legija of the Specials imposed French Foreign Legion standards, Boca made profits here and there - it was a great scene. It is impossible to attach a figure to the value of the exchange, but serious estimates speak of billions of Deutschmarks.
The Scorpions were also asked to help in Srebrenica. According to reliable Vreme sources, they were sent there as part of a wider group composed of three elements: a unit of Red Berets from Bilje, commanded by Vasilije Mijović (now working for the Montenegrin police); a unit of Arkan’s ‘Super-Tigers’, in which Arkan’s son Mihajlo was involved; and a unit of Boca’s Scorpions. Mijović was the overall commander.
Up until the Erdut Agreement, Boca’s Scorpions were officially a unit within the RSK army, but they received an additional salary as guardians of the Đelatovci oil field. After Slavonia was returned to Croatia, however, they had to return home. In the meantime many of them had acquired property in Š id, Novi Sad and other places in Vojvodina, while the majority, who got nothing, became social cases. According to Boca, speaking on behalf of a member of his unit charged by a Belgrade court with committing war crimes in Kosovo, the Scorpions now became a reserve unit of the Special Anti-Terrorist unit of the Serbian police. At the start of the NATO campaign the Scorpions were sent to Podujevo. As soon as they arrived, they went into the first Albanian house that looked promising. The outcome: fourteen dead civilians including women and children, a gold cigarette lighter, a handgun and a few DM. Several Scorpions took part in the massacre, including Boca’s brother, but only one was brought to justice. The trial would not have happened had it not been for Nataša Kandić, the president of the Humanitarian Law Centre, which supplied the key evidence and persuaded some key witnesses (a member of the Scorpions and a group of surviving Albanians) to appear before the court.
Translated and edited from a longer report in Vreme (Belgrade), 9 June.2005