bosnia report
New Series No: 53-54 August - December 2006
A rebellion under JNA patronage
by Emir Suljagic

The examination in 2006 by the International Court of Justice in The Hague of the charge filed by Bosnia-Herzegovina against Serbia provides an opportunity to draw conclusions about the war. Ten years after its end, it is clear that without Serbia’s generous support Karadžić’s Serbs were not in any position to start let alone wage a war, the main result of which has been the disappearance of the Bosniak and the Croat populations from half of the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina.


Radovan Karadžić: ‘When the war began, the JNA offered maximum help’


In the period preceding March and April 1992 the JNA, which was dominated by Serbs, took measures to protect the Serb population and secure for it those territories which the Bosnian Serb leaders considered to be Serb. This became evident due to the growing support which the JNA extended for the organisation and arming of part of the Serb population, as well as to the aid which the JNA extended to the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) in taking over Bosnian cities. The JNA simultaneously also took steps that would allow its high command to leave behind the considerable proportion of its men born in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as the weapons needed for establishing a Bosnian Serb army (VRS).

Guided by this aim, the JNA chief-of-staff Blagije Adžić on 3 April 1992 issued an order to the Second Military District in Sarajevo. The order included, among other things, instructions for ‘the forming of volunteer units the size of brigades and platoons, which will be commanded by JNA officers; acceleration of the process of withdrawing modern military materiel and property from Zenica, Čapljina and Travnik; and the organizing of a call-up on territories in which Serbs are in a majority.’

In a report sent on 20 March by General Milutin Kukanjac, commander of the Second Military District, he laid stress on the growing similarity between the aims of, on the one hand, the SDS and, on the other, the JNA in Bosnia-Herzegovina. ‘Talking in general, the SDS leaders and the Serb people have rallied to the JNA [...]. They have protected it where they could, and responded to our call for the formation of volunteer units and their adherence to our own combat units. [...] The commander of the Second Military District will soon hold discussions with the leaders of the Serb people (Karadžić, Koljević, Plavšić, Krajišnik and Dukić).’

At the 14th session of the Assembly of the Serb people in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Karadžić issued instructions for the establishment of ‘crisis staffs’, adding: ‘Find the relevant number of reserve officers who should list all those in possession of weapons. [...] They are to form territorial defence units [...] especially in the newly established municipalities [...] and, where the JNA is present, to be under its command.’

By 15 April 1992 the National Security Council of the so-called Serb Republic in B-H had proclaimed an ‘immediate war danger’ and ordered full mobilization of the territorial army units. Their command was assumed by Colonel Bogdan Subotić, a middle-ranking JNA officer who, before taking up this political post, had been stationed at the JNA artillery school in Banja Luka.

The support offered by the JNA to the Bosnian Serbs grew in importance in the second half of April 1992, when its units came to assist actively and openly units of the Serb territorial defence (TO) in their attacks on the non-Serb population. The aim of these operations was to establish Serb control over parts of Bosnian territory, and to remove the non Serb population from it. The JNA coordinated its activities with the Serb political leaders controlled by the SDS, the Serb TO, Serb paramilitary groups, the crisis staffs, and paramilitary units from Serbia. The links established between sections of the JNA, the local Serb TO and the Serbian ministry of the interior during the conflict in Croatia would continue to function also during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This, for example, occurred in the zone of responsibility of the JNA’s 5th corps, whose units helped the SDS to gain control of Bosanska Krupa. Similarly, at a meeting held on 29 April1992 the president of the Trnovo crisis staff said that ‘the army is ready to sort out the situation in Trnovo’.

Some of the JNA reports about taking control of individual Bosnian cities reflect operational cooperation with the Serb TO or other Serb armed forces. For example, the 17th corps reported on 18 April 1992 that it had taken control of Bosanski Š amac through joint operations with the Serb TO, parts of the 17th tactical group and the police. The same report states that in Zvornik the local TO units, working in cooperation with the JNA armed battalion, had seen action in the struggle at Kula-grad immediately above the city. According to a report on 24 April 1992, the JNA 9th corps had established local TO and police staffs in parts of the zone of its responsibility.

The plans for aiding local TO units were made at the latest by December 1991, when Blagoje Adžić issued a strictly confidential order to equip Serb TO units with JNA weapons, accompanied by instruction on the type of weapons to be supplied. Colonel Gradimir Petrović, chief of the JNA technical service, referred to this order in his request to the [ formerYugoslav] federal ministry of defence (SSNO) in connection with supplying the TO and police stations in Bosanski Petrovac with weapons. The same document refers to the demand of the Bihać district TO for two thousand rifles.

The JNA and the volunteers

Even before the formation of the army of Republika Srpska, the JNA did not hesitate to work with Serbian paramilitary units. A document dated 8 March 1992 gives evidence of a natural link between the JNA and, in this case, the Serb Guard, a paramilitary unit associated with Vuk Drašković. The document, penned by Major-general Vladimir Vuković, commander of the 5th Corps, and sent to the commander of the Second Military District General Kukanjac, testifies to the fact that the JNA organised the transport to Sarajevo of 12 members of the Serb Guard from St Roko near Gračanica. Eight members of this group were supposed to train soldiers of the Second Military District, a plan which Kukanjac approved. The documents further states that ‘an agreement has finally been reached with the commanders of the Serb Guard regarding their inclusion into the ranks of the JNA’, and that training centres would be established in Vojvodina, Banja Luka and Sarajevo. The report also describes an earlier participation of the Serb Guard in combat operations at the request of the ‘first, second and third political [i.e. intelligence] sections of the SSNO’, stressing that ‘they reached the front line on several occasions, and were added to the units of the corps together with which they performed combat tasks under single insignia and command. I take it that this sort of help is normal given the frequency of such cases.’

Similarly, the JNA’s 1st Motorised Brigade, based in Užice, reports in a document of 10 April 1992 on the activities of the Živojin Mišić unit, also of the Serb Guard, in the period between December 1991 and mid April 1992. It says that the unit was supposed ‘to organise the defence of the Rizvanuša/Veliki and Mali Kraj/Čitluk axis at Divoselo, to guard the area in between and the left flank of the brigade units, and to conduct scouting and impromptu activities in its area of responsibility’. The document’s author, the brigade’s commander Colonel Rade Rajić, praises in his report the performance of the Serb Guard.

In a report sent to his superiors on 20 March 1992, General Kukanjac notes: ‘The volunteer units were given 51,900 rifles. The SDS distributed 17, 298 rifles. Three hundred automatic rifles were distributed to trusted officers in Sarajevo for the protection of their families and active military personnel.’ Other documents of a similar nature, signed by Kukanjac, show that without the JNA the establishment of the Serb TO units and police would have been impossible, as well as that the JNA General Staff from the start treated and described these newly formed units as ‘our forces’.

This continued after Subotić, this time in his capacity as minister of defence, identified the Serb TO as the official armed forces of the Serb Republic of B-H. In an order issued on 18 April 1992 it is stated that these units would be under the command of the municipal, regional and republican crisis staffs. But in a second order issued somewhat later, the crisis staffs are instructed ‘to establish cooperation with the JNA for the purpose of training and utilisation of the TO, and wherever possible also a unified command’. It is evident from Radovan Karadžić’s speech at the 50th session of the RS national assembly on 15 and 16 April 1992 that the JNA’s contribution was vital for establishment of the TO, as well as for the taking of power in a substantial part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. ‘When the war began the JNA helped as much as it could [...]. Thanks to the JNA the Serb people acquired weapons [...].’

The question of volunteers arriving from outside Bosnia-Herzegovina was problematic for a while after the formation of the Republika Srpska army (VRS). This can best be seen from a report by Stanislav Galić, at the time commander of the Sarajevo-Romanija corps of the VRS, written in November 1992. ‘The highest organs of the administration in these municipalities (Iliaš, Vogošća, Ilidža and Rajlovac) import arms and ammunition as they please and obstruct where they can. In the municipalities of Ilidža and Vogošća, a group of around eighty Serbian volunteers (commanded by Bokan), who came at the invitation of the president of Ilijaš municipality, remain outside the control of the Ilidža light infantry brigade (LIB). In some cases they go as far as blocking the garrison, or initiate unrest evidently for a political purpose. I have ordered the commander of the Ilidža LIB to subject these people to the command of the Sarajevo LIB for the forthcoming operation on Igman....’

The Main Staff

There exist several indications of planned timing of the key decisions for transforming the JNA in Bosnia-Herzegovina into the VRS. There is first the decision of the [former] Yugoslav [rump] presidency on 25 April 1992 to appoint Ratko Mladić commander of the Second Military District. There followed Blagoje Adžić’s visit to Banja Luka on 2 May. The third decision is concerned with the establishment of the Main Staff of VRS in the period between 3 and 19 May 1992. Karadžić said at the 50th session of the RS national assembly that he had ‘asked for Mladić, who was in Knin at the time’, and that he had ‘followed Mladić’s doings’.

On 5 May 1992 the JNA 5th Corps issued an order - transmitting instructions coming from the SSNO - that all JNA personnel born in Bosnia-Herzegovina had to remain there, while those momentarily deployed in other republics would be returned to Bosnia-Herzegovina. This order accelerated the process of transmutation. At the 16th session of the RS national assembly, held in Banja Luka on 12 May, the VRS was finally formally established. This decision, and the one that the remaining JNA would withdraw from Bosnia-Herzegovina by 19 May, were the last steps in the transformation of this segment of the JNA into the VRS. The same session endorsed six ‘strategic aims’ of the Serb people in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Articulated in the form of political imperatives, these aims fit the JNA’s preceding activities. The aims, ranked in the order of priority, were: 1. separating the Serb people from the other two national groups; 2. establishment of a corridor between Semberija and Krajina; 3. establishment of a corridor in the valley of the Drina and elimination of the state border between the two Serb states; 4. establishment of a new border on the rivers Una and Neretva; 5. division of the city of Sarajevo; 6. gaining access to the sea. At this meeting General Ratko Mladić told the assembly that it would not be possible to separate the Serb from the non-Serb communities solely by removing non-Serbs from the desired territory. At the end of his speech he warned the deputies that such a plan implied genocide.

The combat report of the VRS for 1992 reveals that it was formally founded on 12 May and became operational eight days later. Its establishment was the consequence of a restructuring of the former Second Military District, whose headquarters was in Sarajevo, into an organisation assuming command over forces that had hitherto been under the control of the SDS. At the start the VRS reflected the earlier JNA structure: 1st Krajina Corps (JNA 5th Corps), 2nd Krajina Corps (JNA 10th Corps), East Bosnian Corps (JNA 17th Corps), Sarajevo-Romanija Corps (JNA 4th Corps), Herzegovina Corps (most of the area of responsibility of the JNA 9th Corps). As an integral part of this process the VRS Main Staff was formed, between 3 and 19 May, from a group of Serb JNA officers: Manojlo Milovanović became chief of staff, Milan Gvero was appointed deputy commander for morale, Zdravko Tolimir became deputy commander for intelligence and security, Đorđe Đukić deputy commander for logistics. They had all been on the staff of the Second Military District. The 1992 annual report states that by the end of 1992 ‘infantry units of the TO and the paramilitary formations, which were initially utilized by the crisis staffs and other similar administrative organs, were incorporated into the VRS’. It is further said that, in accordance with the organisation of the VRS, the Serb TO had been abolished; also that the possibility of growth or existence of paramilitary units was ruled out, which greatly strengthened the unity of the Serb people’s armed struggle.

Despite the withdrawal of the rest of the JNA from Bosnia-Herzegovina by 19 May 1992, the great bulk of the units and equipment of the former Second Military District was simply taken over by the VRS. Its units would largely retain their original structure. As a result of this, the former JNA corps assumed the main responsibility for the new army’s military action.

The six strategic aims

According to the 1992 annual report written by the Main Staff and signed by Radovan Karadžić, ‘control and command functions within the framework of establishment of the army of Republika Srpska have developed in two phases, the first from 1 April to 15 June and the second from that day until now.’ In the exposition of the second phase of formation, it is stated that ‘the withdrawal of their war equipment along with the cadres of FRY nationality was prevented’.

Realisation of the six strategic aims depended on the ability of the VRS to plan and execute military operations. To be able to do this, the VRS had to have not only the JNA’s help with the necessary military expertise (in the form of operational planning, communications support and sharing of intelligence), but also the necessary resources (such as personnel, weapons, ammunition and associated equipment). The VRS had acquired military capability thanks mainly to the fact of its units having been part of the JNA, while it acquired the necessary resources from the latter’s former Second Military District. The Army of Yugoslavia (VJ), formed together with the FRY, did not fully halt military activities; but after May 1992 its main role was in extending a wide and systematic support and aid to the VRS. These had a broad scope: from direct aid in combat to logistic aid in maintenance and transport, personnel and finances, communications and intelligence, not to speak of air support and medical care.

However, as the war in eastern Bosnia intensified in late 1992 and early 1993, the loss of ‘Serb lands’ became a grave problem for the Serbian government. This led it increasingly to deploy the VJ not only in extending support to the VS, but also in direct combat. In early 1993 the offensives of the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina (ABH) were so successful that in some areas its forces held the west bank of the rover Drina. These Serb losses led to a strategic counter-offensive codenamed Cerska ‘93, in February 1993, with the aim of assuming control over the whole of the Drina valley, in line with strategic aim no. 3.

General Nikola Mandarinić, chief of staff of the VJ’s 1st Army, stated on 26 January 1993 that: ‘in accordance with the order of the president of the republic [Dobrica Ćosić was then president of FRY, Slobodan Milošević of Serbia] and supreme defence council, the VJ is sending part of its forces to the right bank of the river Drina in order to act in support’ of the VRS. He added that: ‘for the time being it is envisaged that it would provide support for the VRS and prevent diversionary and terrorist groups from entering the territory of Serbia and Yugoslavia.’ And also: ‘If we are ordered, we will cross the river and help the Serb people!’

Western Serbia - eastern Bosnia

The breadth of the support extended to the VRS by FRY during Operation Cerska ‘93 can be gleaned from the daily combat report of the Bratunac Brigade of 24 January 1993. In this report, sent to its superior, it is stated that among ‘elements of support for the Zvornik and Bratunac brigades’ a string of VJ units were deployed along the Loznica-Ljubovija front, identified as: an armoured mechanised battalion, a battery of 122 mm guns, a tank and mechanised detachment, an M-38 122 mm mortar battery, a VBR ‘Fire’ missile battery, a detachment of military police, a reconnaissance detachment, a VRB120 battery and another VBR128 one, an engineering detachment, the command post of the VJ 27th infantry brigade, the Drina operational group (OG), and the Salient Command Post of the VJ 1st Army.

The Bratunica Brigade’s report shows clearly that some of these units, including the VJ 1st Army’s command post, the VJ 2nd Motorised Brigade, elements of the Drina OG as well as a ‘protective motorised regiment’ (ZTMP) took part in offensive operations in eastern Bosnia. The Brigade’s report of 25 January states: ‘The special brigade, the 2nd Infantry Battalion, and the 95th ZTMP are engaged in battle along the Voljavica/Zalužje/Kunjerac/Sase mine axis. [...] The 2nd Motorised Brigade together with the 1st Infantry Battalion are engaged in battle along the Bratunac-Potočari line.’

Elements of the VRS 2nd Corps also took part in the operation within the zone of responsibility of the Bratunac Brigade, which itself was subject to the VRS Drina Corps. The action orders to one such unit, the 5th Battalion of the 6th Infantry brigade of the 1st Krajina Corps, contains instructions to move across Serbian territory to the battle positions in Bratunac. The composition and growing number of VRS and VJ units acting in the Bratunac area led to problems of command and control. In a special daily report, the deputy commander for operational tasks of the Bratunac Brigade wrote: ‘Given the number of VRS and VJ units, I suggest that a salient command post be formed in Bratunac, which would consolidate operations in the valley of the Drina (Zvornik, Bratunac, Skelani), since it is impossible to continue in this fashion.’

Aided in this manner by the VJ, the VRS was able to initiate a series of successful attacks against the forces of the ABH around Srebrenica in mid March 1993. This was the time when the Srebrenica safe zone was formed. The UNPROFOR daily report of 20 March 1993 states: ‘Serb attacks on Srebrenica are continuing [...]. The VRS’s offensive proceeded with strong support from the other side of the border. The Serbians have extended artillery, air and logistical support to the VRS, and made it possible for them to conduct attacks from the Serbian side along the southern and eastern periphery of the enclave [...].’ By 16 March 1993 the UN also registered a first infringement of the no-fly zone introduced in October 1992. The report relied on the testimony of UN observers that three aircraft from FRY had crossed the border and bombarded the villages of Gladovići and Ostica, after which they had returned to FRY air space. Furthermore, a report from the Special Task Detachment in Bajina Bašta notes that war booty seized in ‘the battle area’ should be transferred from Skelane to Serbia. The permit to carry the goods across the border was issued ‘on the basis of the order of the commander of Tactical Group 1, General Mile Mrkšić, on 12 March 1993.’

The number of crossings, mainly by helicopter, from FRY across the border to Bosnia-Herzegovina, in contravention of UN resolution 281 of August 1994, was registered by UN personnel deployed along the border. There were 105 such crossings between October 1994 and May 1995; between 2 and 7 April alone, there were 25.

Armour for Sarajevo

One of the six strategic aims adopted by the RK national assembly in May 1992 was the division of Sarajevo. Karadžić said on that occasion: ‘Our fifth strategic aim is to divide the city of Sarajevo into a Serb and a Muslim part. [...] Sarajevo is in fifth place, but the battle for and in Sarajevo, from a strategic and from a tactical point of view, is of decisive importance, because [without it] our state would be an illusion.’ Despite the fact that the operations for realising the 5th strategic aim were conducted mainly by the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, the VJ was nevertheless involved in some segments of these operations too. The beginning of May was marked by Serb efforts to free key JNA garrisons besieged by the defenders, negotiations about allowing the JNA units to leave, and attempts on the part of the VRS to gain control of key areas of the city. During the summer months of 1992, the aims of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps (SRK) remained the same: i.e. division of the city and confining the Bosnian forces to the capital. In early August 1992 the VRS main staff issued operational directive no. 3. It was one of many such directives, relevant because they reflect the military-political aims and coming from Ratko Mladić. The tasks assigned to the SRK in accordance with this directive were as follows: to retain the positions seized in Sarajevo; and to coordinate with the Herzegovina Corps operations designed to open the Sarajevo-Trnovo-Kalinovnik and Višegrad-Ustiprača-Goražde roads.

The Main Staff’s fourth directive, issued in November 1992, noted progress in regard to command and control and stressed once again the importance of maintaining the siege: ‘The Sarajevo-Romanija Corps has fully succeeded in establishing the command and the control system of the corps and its subordinate units, and has prevented the enemy from lifting the siege of Sarajevo.’ Between June and August 1993, the VRS conducted an operation codenamed Lukavac ‘93 in the wider area of Jahorina, Bjelašnica, Treskavica and Igman, after which came Operation Armour ‘93. This latter operation, which lasted from October 1993 to February 1994, had a double aim: to make the AB-H forces withdraw from the wider area of Vogošća, and to seize the Nišice plateau. At the start of the operation, the SRK command ordered the attacking units - including 120 soldiers and a helicopter detachment of the VJ - to conduct an action with the aim of ‘securing favourable conditions for cutting Sarajevo in half [and] creating favourable conditions for the Famos, Orao and Pretis ammunition plants to continue working.’

The period between 19 February 1994 and the establishment of a UN-mandated heavy-weapons exclusion zone around Sarajevo saw a decline in military activity close to the city’s urban centre. Both sides, nevertheless, continued military operations in order to improve their respective positions. The aim of the VRS continued to be to tie down significant parts of the AB-H 1st Army in Sarajevo, with the use of minimal troops and while freeing others to conduct operations of strategic importance in other parts of the country. Following Operation Brgula ‘94, conducted between June and September 1994, which was the AB-H’s last attempt to break the siege, there were no further serious military operations in the Sarajevo area until June 1995. VRS battle reports from this time note that three police detachments from Serbia - Plavi, Kalman and Š korpija - took place in the battles on Treskavica.

Spider’s web

The VJ took part in operations in western Bosnia on numerous occasions. These operations mainly involved offering support when the need arose, but also resuscitation of the so-called Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia (APZB) proclaimed by Fikret Abdić in September 1993. This area was of strategic importance for the Serbs, because it separated the so-called Republic of Serb Krajina in Croatia from western parts of Republika Srpska. So in July 1994 Operation Una ‘94 was launched. It was conducted by parts of two corps of the VRS, parts of the Serb Krajina Army (SVK), and the APZB’s own armed forces, against the AB-H’s 5th Corps. The orders issued to the VRS units which took part in this operation also contained the instruction that the SVK and VJ would provide ‘everything needed’ in the logistical sense.

In November 1994 a special VRS command was established under the codename of Spider [Pauk], with the aim of conducting operations against the AB-H’s 5th Corps. Its commander, Mile ‘Pauk’ Novaković, a former JNA officer now serving in the SVK, coordinated the combined operations involving units of the VRS and SVK, special units sent by the Serbian interior ministry, and the APZB military. In a video picture of the military parade held in Slunj [Croatia] on St Vitus’s Day 1995, several Spider members can be seen: General Mile Mrkšić, former commander of VJ Special Units and since May 1995 commander of the SVK; Radojica Knežević Kobav, an employee of the Serbian interior ministry and commander of the Pauk 2 Tactical Group; and Mihajlo Ulemek ‘Legija’, commander of the Pauk 3 Tactical Group, an officer in the Serbian Volunteer Guard and in the Serbian interior ministry’s Unit for Special Operations. Operation Spider involved air attacks against the AB-H’s 5th Corps. Aircraft flew twice from RSK territory using equipment left by the JNA to the SVK before it withdrew from Croatia.

Operation Drina

In November 1993, RS president Radovan Karadžić issued directive no. 6, which detailed the tasks of the VRS for realisation of the six strategic aims. One month later a new directive was issued, which widened the aims specified in the earlier directive. Basing itself on these two directives, the VRS Main Staff issued its own battle directive codenamed Drina. The Drina plan consisted of two separate phases. In the first phase, to be completed by the spring of 1994, the VRS was supposed to conduct several battle operations with the aim of defending RS territory, improving the tactical and operational position of the army, shortening the front line, and freeing units to fight elsewhere. The second phase included a detailed plan for common action by VRS, SVK and VJ in the event of a Croatian attack on RSK territory or an external attack, including NATO air attacks on ‘Serb lands’. Already in the first phase parts of the VRS’s 1st Krajina Corps were subordinated to the Main Staff of the SVK ‘for the defence of the Dalmatian plateau’. The plan mentioned also the creation of conditions for the establishment of a unified Serb state.

In its first phase Operation Drina was concentrated primarily on military operations by the VRS, the imperative being ‘to create the conditions for conducting large-scale operations against the AB-H in the spring of 1994'. Despite the fact that this phase relied mainly on VRS units, it envisaged close cooperation and aid on the part of the VJ in individual sectors, such as logistics, air defence and intelligence. Regarding the logistics of the operation, the VRS units relied on aid from the VJ which would come at the request of the VRS Main Staff. The VRS air defence units were organised in a single system of command with the air defence of the SVK and the VJ. Regarding communications, Belgrade was linked to Operation Drina’s communications network. The stationary communications centres on the territory of FRY were supposed to function without interruption, the post, telegraph and telephone lines were meant to work in accordance with the defence plan and in coordination with the VRS, the SVK and the VJ.

‘The intelligence plan for execution of the defensive and offensive operations of the VRS’ reveals that the exchange of intelligence data was carried out through the intelligence services of friendly countries, the organs of their ministries of foreign affairs and their state security services. Although the role of the VJ was in the first phase limited to extending support, its participation in the second phase was expected to be more significant (in the event of an attack by Croatian forces on RSK). The final aim of the second phase envisaged cooperation between the VRS and the VJ in ‘destroying the Muslim armed forces in the enclaves, Sarajevo and along the Kalesija-Tuzla-Lukavac axis; and after that continuation of the operation as soon as possible in the Neretva valley, along the Mostar-Metković-Neum line, and along the coast along the Neum-Zaton and Cavtat-Prevlaka lines’. The plans for the Drina operation, made by General Mladić, were passed on to the lower units, as can be seen from a similar order to the 1st Krajina Corps issued and signed by General Momir Talić. The plan demanded extensive cooperation between the VRS, the SVK and the VJ. One can take as evidence the document composed in December 1993 by Čedo Radanović, head of the SVK commander’s office, containing the timetable for a meeting at which coordination between the SVK, the VRS and the VJ was agreed.

Twenty-six thousand VJ soldiers served in the war against Bosnia-Herzegovina

Although an agreement was reached before the establishment of the VRS, according to which JNA personnel born in B-H would be transferred to our country and in some cases were even appointed to the highest posts in the VRS, this army had from the start suffered from a shortage of men. Despite the mobilization conducted in 1992, not all Bosnian Serbs took up posts within the VRS, and shortages in specific branches became a chronic problem. The VJ helped the VRS in this area, by assuming the very important role of VRS soldiers and officers, but also by offering certain benefits to officers of the VJ who volunteered for service in the VRS. They continued to receive a salary from the VJ - with a ‘difficult job’ supplement - and were promoted through the ranks of the VJ.

At the same time, according to an order issued by the JNA’s 5th Corps in May 1992, personnel serving in Bosnia-Herzegovina or sent to serve there retained all rights and privileges enjoyed by JNA officers. The August 1994 report of the VRS 2nd Krajina Corps stated: ‘We have received from the command of the 30th personnel centre of the VJ general staff, and from the command of the VRS general staff, further clarification regarding the regulation of length-of-service benefits for professional soldiers (professional officers and NCOs; contracted officers, NCOs and soldiers), and in connection with this the number of years to be counted as length of service. Each unit of the 2nd Krajina Corps and the VRS is empowered to issue certificates for the period from 20 May 1992 on. Those who took part in the war before 20 May must submit a separate request with a clear description of where they were, in which unit, by whose orders, where the unit was, and must attach to this such evidence as they have. As soon as you have collected all requests, certificates and evidence, forward them to this command, after which the command of the 30th personnel centre will issue certificates and recognition of the qualifying length of service.’

Contracted officers

In his report of September 1992, Mladić stated that 21 percent of the former JNA officers had joined the VRS and - together with the Serb TO, civil protection force and police - were ‘successfully defending RS territory’. In the period between May and December 1992, the VRS suffered from a chronic shortage of transport personnel. As a solution to this problem, experienced VJ personnel were sent to establish and subsequently to maintain the VRS transport service. On 28 November 1992 the VRS Main Staff sought information from the 1st Krajina Corps and the Doboj Operational Group aimed at ‘improving the status of active military personnel serving in the VRS and finding a solution for this’. The information being sought made a distinction between two groups of officers: those who had remained in the VRS at the time of the JNA’s withdrawal, and those officers who had been sent by the VJ ‘for a specified period and after 19 May 1992'. The request also asked that the general staff also be sent ‘a list of contracted soldiers, together with a copy of the contract’.

The body in charge of personnel issues in the VRS - for both contracted soldiers and others - was the 30th personnel centre of the personnel department of the VJ general staff, an administrative unit formed by an order issued in November 1993 by General Momčilo Perišić. This arrangement was made after a series of meetings between the VRS and the VJ, bearing in mind that beginning with July 1992 26,000 VJ officers and NCOs found themselves in the VRS, forming in fact its backbone.

The importance of outside financial assistance was recognised by Radovan Karadžić too in 1993: ‘During this year, and following the cessation of financing and payment transfers from FRY in July 1992, a confusion arose regarding the salaries and benefits of former active military personnel and civilians employed in the army who remained in the VRS, with regard to the sources of financing and the manner and method of payment. The RS government requested that the gross salaries should be paid into the government accounts, after which the government would pay salaries within RS with their levels being determined by the Main Staff. After a number of meetings and debates, this demand was rejected and it was agreed that the salaries would be paid as before, with the FRY ministry of defence deciding the mode and place of disbursement. This method of payment prevented the drifting away of military personnel from the VRS, which in any other case would have suffered, so that this manner of payment has been preserved until today. The basic problem with it is a high demand for the Yugoslav dinar, which in the majority of cases is unjustified. But it will be preserved until the establishment of a single payments system, when RS banks and post offices begin to function.’

Galić’s benefits

In November 1993 the VJ chief of staff, Momčilo Perišić, issued an order in the name of the FRY president, Zoran Lilić, in which he described how the VJ - in other words FRY - would continue to finance VJ officers serving in the SVK. The documents states: ‘VJ officers serving in the SVK will be compensated for the diminution of money reserves for current expenses to the level of 265,000 dinars.’

Some VJ officers continued to serve - officially - in that army, and in some cases ended their military careers performing very important duties within its ranks. On the basis of personal documents, deployment orders, salary lists and pension-related documents it can easily be shown that the usual practice of the VJ was to have its officers serve in the VRS. These included General Dorđe Đukić and Colonel Dragan Obrenović. When General Radislav Krstić was arrested, despite the fact that he was officially commander of the VRS 5th Corps, he had with him an identity card issued by the VJ. This card, which had expired in 1996, was issued by the 30th personnel centre in January 1993, i.e. at a time when he was commander of the VRS Drina Corps.

As indicated above, the 30th personnel centre was the administrative office which looked after all VJ officers serving in the VRS. Similarly, when General Stanislav Galić was retired in 1994, the VRS chief of staff, General Manojlo Milovanović, requested the VJ personnel office that he be promoted to the rank of colonel-general for distinguished service in the VRS. General Milovanović stated in his letter that Galić was not being promoted within the VJ ‘for well-known reasons, namely events that took place at the international level in relation to the territory of the Socialist Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina’. The same document states that on 31 October 1994, the day of his retirement, ‘his professional military service in the Army of Yugoslavia ceased’ simultaneously.

Judging by the evidence, General Galić is demanding that the question of his pension-related benefits acquired in the service of the VRS should be mediated by the JNA personnel office ‘following the cessation of my professional service, by decree of the FRY president no. 1/2-01-001/94-39 of 30 September 1994, because I was no longer needed’. In the VRS order dated 13 July 1995 which invested Major-General Krstić with command of the Drina Corps, it is stated that the former commander, General-Major Milenjo Živanović, had been allocated to a new duty ‘in the VRS/VJ’. Since there is no further explanation of this acronym and it is not clear what it means, the natural explanation would be that it was simply unimportant in which of the two armies the high officers were serving.

Mika Pilot in Bratunac

On 24 June 1995, the police station in Bratunac sent a letter directly to the police station in Zvornik in which it is stated: ‘on 23 June of this year a group of ten people led by Mika Pilot crossed the border and arrived on the territory of Republika Srpska’. It is stated further on: ‘They all wore the uniform of the special units of the interior ministry of the Republic of Serbia (Frenki). Before this, they had been in Bratunac in 1992/93. We are talking about pilots and mechanics who were part of the military air force and air defence force on the RS base in Bratunac. I questioned Mika Pilot, who told me that the minister’s deputy knew of their crossing and that they had come to raise the fighting capability of the Bratunac base. Please reply whether they have the minister’s permission for such activities in the Bratunac area.’

Another example of the close nature of the personal and professional ties between officers of the VRS and the VJ is the letter sent by General Momir Talić, commander of the VRS 1st Krajina Corps, to Momčilo Perišić congratulating him on his promotion to the post of chief of staff of the VJ. In his letter of 26 August 1993, General Talić expressed his wish that Perišić would ‘remove the failings [...] of the former JNA by creating a unified Serb state and army, a state in which all Serbs would live together, proudly and with dignity’.

The RS assembly accepted that RS was not able to finance the operations of the VRS. During its 34th session, held between 10 and 17 September 1993, it was presented with a report on military operations to date which contained this sentence: ‘We had neither a budget nor material reserves on which we could rely. We have not bought a single aircraft, helicopter, tank or artillery weapon.’ RS and VRS could overcome their lack of funds only by developing close ties with Serbia/FRY, which involved support in terms of money as well as in terms of specialised military personnel. Documents show that professional officers, NCOs and soldiers contracted to serve in the VRS continued to receive financial support from Serbia even after 19 May 1992 and the JNA’s formal departure.


In addition to paying the salaries of the officers and other members of the VRS, the VJ also supplied them with food and clothes. The importance of this financial support was recognised by General Talić, when he wrote that with FRY paying the bills, the supply of ‘all things would be easier, more direct and cheaper than would be the case if intermediaries were used’. As one can see from General Talić’s letter, the financial support to the VRS and the SVK was not limited solely to the period after the JNA was ‘divided’. The financing of VJ officers serving in the VRS was continued by way of the 30th personnel centre at least until February 2002.

Trained to kill

The 1992 VRS report on its military capability shows that this army gained significant support also for the training of its personnel. Thus, for example, it states: ‘We are trying to organise courses for the intelligence and security organs in the brigades, and for the commanders of reconnaissance units. However, given our very limited resources for this, we are unable to train them in all duties; the solution of this should be sought in cooperation with the Army of Yugoslavia’. Further examples include Colonel Vinko Pandurević, commander of the VRS Zvornik brigade, who was sent to the general staff school - the highest school in the VJ - for training, which began in September 1993. Pandurević subsequently wrote: ‘I am at present not assigned to any duty within the VJ, because I have been sent to the general staff school for regular training but without the permission of my superior officers in the VRS.’

In November 1995 the Zvornik chief of police sent a request to Belgrade addressed to a certain Colonel Panić: ‘We ask you to permit the dispatch of ten active policemen from Zvornik to your garrison for training under the command of Captain Stojan Kljajić. These able and battle-hardened soldiers need additional training so that they can be effective, because only then would they be able to carry out the most difficult tasks that lie ahead of us. Since our cooperation with your units has been successful up to now, we hope that your response to our request will be positive, so that we can promptly send the people because of the urgency. The Zvornik police station is ready to help your units with the equipment and technical resources at our disposal.’

The VJ also extended medical aid to the VRS in the medical institutions under its control. For example, in December 1993 in documents linked to the proposed Operation Drina General Mladić elaborates in detail the role to be played by the Military Medical Academy. In his report to General Krstić, Radomir Radović, director of the St Nicholas war hospital in Milići, spelt out various methods of medical support - some of which involved participation by FRY - on the eve of the Srebrenica massacre. In his report Dr Davidović states that he had visited the hospital in Užice in order to arrange the treatment of people from RS. Following his visit, an ambulance was sent from Serbia to Skelane and another two to Bileća. He subsequently states that at least five VRS soldiers wounded in battle were sent to Belgrade for treatment, while two were evacuated by helicopter.

Translated from Dani (Sarajevo), 20 and 27 January 2006


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