Mladic’s monster finally talks
by Suzana Šašic
A former member of the VRS’s 10th commando detachment - a criminal formation accused even by Chetnik warlord Vojislav Š ešelj, in testimony at The Hague, of having ‘independently’ and ‘uncontrolledly’ carried out genocide against the Bosniaks of Srebrenica - in an appalling confession to Slobodna Bosna reveals hitherto unknown secrets concerning the bestial crimes of the professional Serb death squads.
‘For every dead Bosniak in Srebrenica we got five marks... we were paid better for massacres in Zaire, Kosovo and Macedonia’
He was a member of the notorious 10th commando detachment of the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS), a saboteur, an expert in laying explosive charges, and one of those in whom the war criminal Ratko Mladić placed limitless trust. He saw combat as a volunteer in Kosovo and Macedonia, killed as a mercenary in Zaire, and was sought after for the world’s most dangerous hotspots. In a pause between two wars, he lives a tranquil family life in Bijeljina. He was unwilling to talk to journalists, still less to be photographed, but eventually agreed to tell his life story without revealing his identity - for it is the story of all who accompanied him down that terrible, blood-stained road. He detailed his criminal acts in a confession to Slobodna Bosna with every appearance of calm, cold-bloodedly, only the occasional nervous gesture disclosing that the man seated before us was a beast, pursued not by his conscience but by others of his ilk.
When did you join the 10th commando detachment?
When it was established, on 1 October 1994.
Who established the unit and for what purpose?
The VRS security service established it, and we were under the direct command of the general staff, i.e. of General Ratko Mladić. It was a commando unit whose task was to penetrate deep into enemy territory (100 or 200 kilometres) and lay explosive charges under tanks or other military materiel.
What commando operations did you carry out during the war?
At the outset our work consisted of actions in what is now the Federation and in Croatia. In Croatia, for instance, we went into the area round Korenica, Jasenovac and Novska, where we blew up railway lines, and once a train carrying soldier and arms. In the Federation it was mainly artillery targets and bridges, the destruction of anything that an army could use. We blew up bridges on the Krivaja and an aqueduct at Stupari near Tuzla, and we destroyed multiple-rocket launchers and mortars in the Tuzla region...
Did you take part in actual fighting, and were you paid more than the members of other units?
We never took part in actual fighting, only in commando raids. Every raid had its price, depending on the difficulty of the task. I always chose the most difficult, because I wanted to earn as much money as possible. For example, for blowing up a multiple-rocket launcher we would get 4,800 marks. The raids usually involved from two to four individuals, and nobody apart from them and their superior knew what their task was. We were well paid. If we were in action it worked out at 4,000 marks a month, otherwise half as much.
Who paid you?
The unit’s sponsors, private individuals who paid up like this in order to avoid having to go to war themselves. We used to get the money for the raids along with our pay at our base in the Stjepa Stjepanović barracks at Bijeljina.
Is it true that there was a large number of non-Serbs in the unit?
First, on 12 November 1993, the anti-terrorist unit for special assignments was formed, in which there were only Croats and Bosniaks - there wasn’t a single Serb. Then on 1 October 1994 this became the 10th commando detachment. At that time just the commander was a Serb, it was only in 1995 that other Serbs began to join the unit, which eventually numbered 33 men. Of that number, only 8 were commandos first class, who had the highest pay, while the rest were auxiliaries - ordinary soldiers and drivers.
Who was the commander of the unit?
The first commander, I don’t want to give his name, was a high-ranking JNA officer, a naval commando, who trained us, but after three months he left because we thought he wasn’t supporting us. We had carried out a raid to destroy a bridge on the Buk, you see, that was 40 km from Vozuća towards Zenica, and we were supposed to get 20,000 dollars for the raid. The money arrived in Doboj, in the hands of the military security officer Mirko Slavuljica. But of that money we got only 100 dollars apiece, the rest was probably shared out by Slavuljica and the other top brass. We made a big fuss and the commander had to go. Then Milorad Pelemiš arrived as commander, and later on he brought Serbs into the unit. A competition was organized in all VRS units, and the best came to us on trial. Out of a hundred, perhaps one got through and that only because he knew how to work with explosives and timers.
‘Erdemović betrayed us’
Dražen Erdemović, also a member of the 10th commando detachment who was convicted by the Hague court, testified that Pelemiš was a harsh commander who forced you to commit crimes. What was Pelemiš like?
Erdemović is a liar! Pelemiš behaved properly. We didn’t know much about him. His family comes from Š ekovići, he’d been commander of an assault detachment, but he hadn’t been a commando and he knew nothing about laying explosive charges. He’d been a VJ officer in Belgrade, a member of the elite Cobra special unit, from whom he’d got an apartment in Belgrade in which he still lives.
I arrested Erdemović in Užica, where he’d taken refuge with his wife and child eight days after the fall of Srebrenica. But Miša Pelemiš ordered us to release him. Four days later Erdemović met with journalists and told them all about Srebrenica, after which the Serbian security police arrested him and handed him over to The Hague. I should have killed him at the time. Nobody could have ordered Erdemović to kill, he killed just like everyone else. But it turned out that he wasn’t psychologically up to it.
Erdemović says that Pelemiš wanted to throw him out of his apartment. But that was only to be expected, we lived in Muslim houses in Bijeljina and anyone who didn’t want to go into action could be thrown out so that someone else could take his place. And in a raid Erdemović had arrested some neighbour of his and let him go, which he shouldn’t have done, so they soon twigged what kind of person he was.
On whose authority did you go into action, who gave you the orders?
The orders came from the VRS general staff, we received our orders directly from Mladić via his adjutant Major Dragan Pećanac. [Major Pećanac is currently hiding in Russia, and his friends claim that he is engaged on ‘military business’ there too. SB] Moreover, when he wanted to give us some task, Mladić used to summon us to see him at Crna Rijeka, but he couldn’t stand us for long because we used to behave in a rowdy manner, while he always used to insist on iron discipline, as if you were in the JNA. Sometimes we’d be given jobs via the head of counter-intelligence Colonel Petar Salapura or the number one in the 410th intelligence centre Čeda Knežević. This centre was initially housed with us at Bijeljina, but later on they moved them to the Vrbas barracks at Banja Luka. They provided us with information, and we agreed on actions with them and on how much money we’d get.
Were you really not scared of Mladić? He waged war mercilessly against Bosniaks and Croats, how could he trust you Croats and Bosniaks in the unit?
We knew that he respected what we did. He valued us more than the Serbs in the unit.
You say that you never engaged in fighting operations. Yet you were involved on the occasion of the capture of Srebrenica.
That was the only time they involved us, and it was on 16 July when the shootings at Pilica were over. I wasn’t at Srebrenica that day, because our detachment had been deployed in two directions. I went with one group to Modriča, it was our job to mine the dam on the lake, and Erdemović with seven other commandos went to Srebrenica. We didn’t carry out our task, because it was impossible to get to the dam, we’d have had to lower ourselves 70 metres below the dam to carry it out, so we gave it up. And if we’d succeeded, the water would have destroyed Gradačac and the surrounding places. When we came back to Bijeljina and met the other group, they told me what they’d done at Srebrenica. They came with money and gold that they’d collected from the people they’d shot, it was worth about 4,000 marks, mainly rings and chains. We went for a drink together.
Erdemović testified that the leader of his group Brano Gojković ordered the execution of the prisoners. Who gave the order to Gojković?
The commander of the detachment Pelemiš wasn’t at Srebrenica at the time and he named Gojković, a crude fellow from Vlasenica, to lead the unit. Pelemiš’s dispatch rider and favourite Mladen Filipović, a Croat, had been wounded at Srebrenica and Mišo hurried off with him to the hospital at Milići. He drove fast and they had a road accident and both ended up in the hospital. The remainder of the unit went off to work, to take the people away and shoot them. The order for something like that must have come from the high command. So far as I know and from what I’ve been told, Major Pećanac told them that for every prisoner killed they’d get 4 marks, and for a ‘dunk shot’ [to the nape of the neck] 5 marks, and half a kilo of gold when the job was finished. They took people away, shot them, and Stanko Savanović ‘checked’ each one. But they were cheated, Pećanac never paid them the money or the gold. Not one of those people who were at Srebrenica has a house today, they all live in rented accommodation and are dirt poor.
Clash with Naser Orić
When they arrived back, did they talk about how many people they’d killed and how they’d felt about it?
I don’t know the exact number. Erdemović says 1,200 people, but do you know how much work that means? That would take at least two days. If they managed to kill that many in four hours, congratulations! Not just our lads were there, but ones from other Drina Corps units. Apart from Erdemović, another person who felt bad about Srebrenica was Franc Kos, he can’t get over it even today, but the others weren’t affected.
Did your unit have other ‘jobs’ at Srebrenica?
Not then, they returned to Bijeljina after four hours, as soon as the job was done. I’d been at Srebrenica five months before it fell. We got in through the Sase mine and came out in Srebrenica near the Dutch base. We had only 5 minutes in which to fire our rocket-propelled grenades and make our way back through the mine. Our task was to cause a rift between Naser Orić and his deputy, to make it seem as if they’d been fighting one another, because they were already in conflict. We fired at office buildings, houses and the UNPROFOR. In the end people concluded that special forces from Serbia had done it.
Did the Serbian special forces do anything together with you?
We never worked with any other unit, we always acted alone, in little groups. We had expensive, powerful equipment, such as crossbows with night lasers costing about 30 thousand dollars. We got the explosives from the VRS general staff, and the timers from a factory in Banja Luka.
But you did attack civilian targets, you hit office buildings and houses throughout Srebrenica?
They were military targets, that was where Naser had installed his HQ.
His HQ can’t have been in every apartment that you hit!
If the odd bullet goes astray, what can you do? You can’t guide a bullet.
Even Milošević’s minister Goran Matić spoke about the crimes committed by your unit when the terrorist espionage group Pauk [Spider] was arrested in Serbia.
Of the five arrested, only Pelemiš was a member of the 10th commando detachment. He’d never been a spy, but Jugoslav Petrušić known as Colonel Dominik had worked and still works for the French secret service. He came from the Foreign Legion and I got to know him in Bijeljina in 1998. He was friendly with Pelemiš and we went off with the two of them to various war zones, first Zaire, then Kosovo and Macedonia. The Pauk group was arrested the day after our return from Kosovo, and that was because all our weapons for silent liquidation - which we had brought in illegally across the Drina - had been left at Miša Pelemiš’s place. When these arms were found, they were said to have been intended for an assassination attempt against Milošević, which was absurd.
So through Petrušić you went off in 1998 to fight in Zaire? How many of you went, and how did you go?
Everything was organized by Jugo [Petrušić] and a Russian called Sergej, an officer from a commando regiment. I spent three months in Zaire and earned about 16,000 dollars. Jugo was the commander, and Mišo Pelemiš was his deputy. There were 80 of us, half were members of the 63rd parachute or 72nd special brigade from Serbia, while we from Republika Srpska made up the other half, including several of us from the 10th commando detachment, mainly from Bijeljina and Vlasenica.
For whom did you fight in Zaire, and in what kind of operations?
We fought for President Mobutu. We were fools. If we’d fought for the rebels, we’d have stayed longer and earned more. Our job was to prevent rebel actions. We carried out some big operations, such as mining an airport that the rebels were about to take. We placed 5,000 kilograms of explosives on that airport. After the explosion four buildings could have fitted into the crater.
How many rebels died?
I don’t know. They were everywhere, it was impossible to collect them. Within a 10-kilometre circle they were all dead. It was an explosion to level mountains. Jugo Petrušić was the leader in all our operations. He speaks several languages, even some African one, because he has a son with a black woman from some country near Somalia.
Petrušić, Pauk’s manager
Where is Petrušić now?
In France, he’s a colonel there and works as an intelligence officer. Actually, they stripped him of his rank because he killed some officer. He took Petrović with him too, who was arrested with him in the Pauk business and he’s now in the Foreign Legion. He invited me too, but I didn’t feel like going, I’ve got small kids.
What did you do in Kosovo in 1999?
Miša Pelemiš collected us together in a Belgrade hotel and we were immediately attached to the Niš army region. We went to Dečani, as part of the military police. General Nebojša Pavlović at first didn’t want to allow us into Kosovo, but when ‘Papa’ Mladić called him he fell into line straight away. We crossed over into Albanian territory and carried out commando actions, mining roads and so on. We were supposed to get pay from the Niš army region, each of us was promised 48,000 dinars, but we got only 1,200 dinars and 500 marks from France.
From whom in France did you get money to fight in Kosovo?
Some friend of Petrušić’s came to see us from France, perhaps from the Foreign Legion, and brought 24,000 marks for the twenty-four of us, but we got only 500 marks each. Whether Mišo took the rest or somebody else I don’t know.
What did you do in Macedonia?
Once again we went through Jugo and Mišo, and were attached to the Macedonian army which paid us. I earned about 4,000 marks. We were in Tetovo, we went behind the Albanian lines, laid explosive charges and carried out other commando actions.
Have you been guarding ‘Papa’ Mladić in the past few years?
We were with him right up to 1998, and some of our lot were guarding him even later at Topčider [Belgrade], but they couldn’t stand the discipline that’s maintained round him, and the pay was only 300 marks.
What are your plans now? It seems to me you don’t feel exactly secure in Republika Srpska?
We’re getting ready for some new jobs that once again Jugo Petrušić is finding for us. Last year we were supposed to go to Africa, but pulled out off after the terrorist attacks in Russia. We were supposed to go to Johannesburg to guard diamond and gold mines in which prisoners work. Up to now Englishmen have been doing it for 11,000 dollars a month, but now the government is paying only 7,000 dollars and the English have pulled out. We have agreed to that price and are getting ready to go off there. We’re going to sign a three-year contract with their government, though some African country where there’s a war against rebels, where there’s actual fighting, would have suited us better, because the mines will be boring for us. We had an offer for Iraq, the allies offered us 15,000 dollars a month, but that’s not work for us, they’re fighting in the town centres and they’re taking casualties. We refused.
It’s true that I don’t feel really serene here. I’m not scared of being arrested, but that I’ll be got rid of by these locals, who find me a nuisance.
Mladić’s death squads -
both Milošević and Š ešelj have condemned the criminals from Pauk
Last week’s appearance of the Serbian Radical Party leader, Hague prisoner Vojislav Š ešelj, as a defence witness for former Serbian president Slobodan Milošević on trial at the Hague tribunal, introduced some new more ‘lively’ elements into this marathon legal process. However, with his statements Š ešelj did not merely make the large audience following the trial laugh, he also seriously worried certain political, police and military circles in Serbia and Republika Srpska. For on the third day of his testimony, with the intention of defending Milošević, Š ešelj alleged that the Srebrenica massacre was committed by ‘foreign mercenaries close to the French secret service’. He explained how a group of these mercenaries was arrested in 1999, charged with planning to assassinate Milošević and with having taken part in the shootings at Srebrenica; the group, codenamed Pauk [Spider], was released according to Š ešelj after the ‘pro-Western parties’ headed by Zoran Đinđić came to power in Serbia. Š ešelj, of course, as a special kind of manipulator, was using the Pauk affair with the aim of showing how the Serbian authorities were attempting to bring the criminals from Srebrenica to justice, repeating claims that Milošević had already made to the court on the occasion of his cross-examination of prosecution witness Dražen Erdemović.
Erdemović, who had been sentenced by the Tribunal in 1998 to a five-year prison term since he had admitted taking part as a member of the VRS 10th commando detachment in executions of Srebrenica Bosniaks, testified about his blood-stained role at the Milošević trial too. According to Erdemović’s account, five days after the capture of Srebrenica he took part along with another seven members of the 10th commando detachment in the execution of about one thousand Bosniak prisoners on a farm at Pilica near Zvornik. Milošević then maintained - as Š ešelj has now repeated - that the 10th commando detachment was not controlled by the VRS general staff, but by the French secret service. This was denied by Erdemović, who asserted that on the contrary the unit was subordinated to General Mladić’s general staff and had been equipped at the VJ [Yugoslav Army] barracks in Pančevo, and also provided with arms by FRY. He explained that the unit, which contained both Croats and Bosniaks, had been commanded by the officer Milorad Pelemiš, and that they had taken part in the assault on Srebrenica and the executions of civilian prisoners.
Although right back in 1996 when he was arrested Erdemović had offered the Prosecutor’s Office information about the executioners from the 10th commando detachment, they lived in Republika Srpska, mainly in the Bijeljina and Vlasenica areas, without fear of indictment or arrest. Thus Š ešelj’s statement last week caused real uproar, both among the members of the former 10th commando detachment - the killers from Srebrenica - who were living ‘peaceful family lives’, and also among their protectors in the police and military command of Republika Srpska and of Serbia, who are scared Milošević will use them as scapegoats.
In any case, the commander of the unit Milorad Pelemiš already had this experience in 1999, when he was arrested as a member of the Pauk group - though not as Milošević and Š ešelj maintain for crimes at Srebrenica, but for espionage, attempting to assassinate Milošević, and the murder of two Albanians in Kosovo. Also arrested with Pelemiš were Jugoslav Petrušić, Branko Vlačo, Rade Petrović and Slobodan Orašanin.
France’s man Jugoslav Petrušić
This affair was given its charge of espionage and terrorism by the arrested Jugoslav Petrušić, known as Dominik, who was officially confirmed to have worked for the French secret service DST. His biography resembled an exciting spy thriller. He was born in a village near Leskovac [Serbia], graduated from military school, fought in the Foreign Legion, possesses dual nationality (French and Serbian), four passports, three wives, numerous lovers, real estate in Paris, millions in foreign bank accounts... According to his own claims, he was a personal bodyguard to the French president François Mitterand, and fought in Lebanon, Iraq, Algeria, Zaire... He has claimed that in DST he was involved in combat against Muslim extremists. He arrived in Bosnia in 1992 as a member of the French contingent in UNPROFOR, but at that time he did not make contact with members of the 10th commando detachment. It was only in 1996, after the end of the war in Bosnia, that he recruited mercenaries from its ranks for Zaire, where they fought on the side of President Mobutu Sese Seko, whom the French were supporting.
Petrušić’s closest associate in these actions would be the wartime commander of the 10th commando detachment Milorad Pelemiš, and the members of this unit - the killers from Srebrenica - followed them as devoted mercenaries through the bloodiest war zones.
The statements by Milošević and Š ešelj about how the 10th commando detachment was controlled not by the VRS but by the French secret service are tendentious fabrications. Proof of this has been provided to our publication by a former member of the unit, who has explained that the members of the unit carried out all orders and assignments by command of Ratko Mladić and the VRS general staff. Milorad Pelemiš tells his friends in Belgrade the same thing, explaining that he has a strong connection in Brussels who is protecting him against Milošević’s charges. So far as the direct perpetrators from Srebrenica are concerned, whose names are being published here for the first time, they have until now felt secure, thanks among others to the Republika Srpska police chief Dragan Andan, who has never dreamed of arresting them even though he knew all about them. For Andan himself was one of the closest associates of Ratko Mladić at the time of the Srebrenica operation, in his role as deputy commander of Mladić’s guard regiment.
The killers of the VRS 10th commando detachment
Slobodna Bosna reveals who the members are of the 10th commando detachment who took part in the executions of Bosniaks in Srebrenica, where they live and what they are doing today
Apart from Dražen Erdemović, they were:
Brano Gojković, Serb from Vlasenica. Unemployed, married, the father of two children. He gets paid by the day for casual labouring jobs. As a member of Jugoslav Petrušić’s group, he spent time as a mercenary in Zaire, and then also in Kosovo.
Vlastimir Golijan, likewise a Serb from Vlasenica, unemployed, working occasionally as a labourer.
Stanko Savanović, Serb from Bijeljina, now in the Central prison in Belgrade, awaiting trial for placing explosive charges on Serbian territory. Already sentenced to 20 years for the murder and torture of several prostitutes at Batajnica.
Marko Boškić, Croat from Bijeljina, moved last year to the USA, but was arrested there in April this year and handed over to The Hague. Arrested by chance, because of a false driving licence, after which he provoked a number of traffic accidents.
Franc Kos, Slovenian, he lives in Bijeljina and works as a plumber.
Zoran Goronja, from Bosanski Novi. Recently left for Germany.
Aleksandar Cvetković, lives in Milići and drives a truck for a freight company.
This article and its annexes have been translated from Slobodna Bosna (Sarajevo), 1 September 2005