Belgrade journalists disclose Vukovar sources
by Mirko Klarin
In the argument over whether reporters can be forced to testify in war crimes trials, one thing neither side disputes is the right of reporters to protect their sources. Both supporters and opponents of the subpoena issued against former Washington Post reporter Jonathan Randal [later dropped by the prosecution in December 2002] agree that journalists - whether they appeared in court voluntarily or under threat of punishment - may not be compelled to disclose their sources.
Two Belgrade reporters who testified last week [October 2002] in the trial against Slobodan Milošević revealed their sources of information without any hesitation or coercion, however. Moreover, although the court offered to protect their identity through pseudonyms and distorted images, they renounced their right to such measures and volunteered to reveal the identity of their sources in a public session. Some of their sources obviously did not like this, making threats to at least one of the witnesses. The judges took the threats seriously enough to close the remaining part of his testimony to the public on the second and third day.
The value of the testimonies of Dejan Anastasijević and Jovan Dulović - who both work for the weekly magazine Vreme - was not the information they offered, which has already been reported in Serbia, but the sources they revealed. Back in 1994 or 1995, Anastasijević published articles in Vreme claiming that after the capture of Vukovar on 20 November 1991, JNA (Yugoslav People’s Army) soldiers took more than 200 wounded men and civilians from the local hospital, transported them in army trucks to the Ovčara agricultural complex and handed them over to members of the territorial defence - local army reserve units - who then executed them.
Citing unidentified ‘top JNA officers’, Anastasijević wrote in those articles that the officer in charge of this operation was Veselin Š ljivančanin, commander of the First Guards Motor Brigade. Anastasijević revealed to the court that General Aleksandar Vasiljević, then head of the JNA counter-intelligence department KOS, had told him and other journalists off the record that Š ljivančanin was responsible for the massacre.
After testifying, Anastasijević said he disclosed his source because Vasiljević had publicly said he would testify in the Milošević trial and because he is convinced the general would confirm he was the source of this information in his testimony. The indictment against Milošević names Vasiljević as one of the participants in the ‘joint criminal enterprise’.
The remaining part of Anastasijević's testimony disclosed no other sources. But it did what Jonathan Randal has refused to do - namely confirm before the court his interview in the early nineties with Hague indictee Radoslav Brđanin, then president of the Serb crisis staff in north-west Bosnia.
During the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, Anastasijević published several interviews with the Serbian nationalist leader Vojislav Š ešelj, the notorious paramilitary chief and gangster Željko ‘Arkan’ Ražnjatović, and the former Croatian Serb representative Goran Hadžić. All three are named in Milošević's indictment as participants in a ‘joint criminal enterprise’. Last week, he confirmed before the court that all three had told him of their connections with the then Serbian secret police chief Jovica Stanišić and of the help Stanišić provided in arming, equipping and training their ‘volunteers’ and paramilitary formations. He confirmed that the commander of the territorial defence of eastern Slavonia, which ‘received’ the civilians taken from Vukovar hospital by Š ljivančanin, was one of Stanišić's secret police collaborators, Radovan ‘Badža’ Stojičić.
If Anastasijević's testimony provided a ‘framework’ for the prosecutor's version of the massacre in Ovčara, his colleague Jovan Dulović supplied abundant detail to this mosaic in his testimony before it was closed to the public. Dulović was also present in the Vukovar area shortly after the massacre, but thanks to the ‘patriotic’ reputation of his newspaper Politika Ekspres he was better placed than Anastasijević, then a reporter for the ‘unpatriotic’ radio station B-92. Dulović's testimony suggested JNA officers, local territorial defence members and volunteers from Serbia treated him as ‘one of them’ and served as his sources. They confided, boasted and even complained to him, and gave him free access to the JNA command centre at Ulica Nova 81 in the Vukovar suburb of Borovo Selo.
Several days before Vukovar fell, Dulović overheard Š ešelj, president of the Serbian Radical Party and leader of paramilitary group known as ‘Š ešeljovci’ or ‘Chetniks’, make a speech to a large group of JNA officers. Through a partly opened door Dulović allegedly recorded every word Š ešelj uttered. He quoted him before the court: ‘We're all one army. This war is a great test for Serbs. Those who pass the test will become winners. Deserters cannot go unpunished. Not a single Ustasha must leave Vukovar alive. We have accepted the concept of a federal army, so that there is no legal basis for the interference of foreign powers in our conflict. The army is fighting rebel Croats. The army has shown it was able to cleanse its ranks. We have a unified command consisting of military experts who know what they're doing.’
The prosecutor must prove that the JNA, the territorial defence and the volunteers from Serbia acted exactly as Š ešelj said, as ‘one army’ with a ‘unified command’, and that the Ovčara massacre formed part of the plan to ensure ‘not a single Ustasha must leave Vukovar alive’. Everything Dulović saw and heard and told the court, naming the source of every piece of information, leads to such a conclusion.
Dulovic was present around midday on 20 November 1991 when Major Š ljivančanin denied the ICRC access to Vukovar hospital. At that time, a large number of civilians were waiting in the courtyard of the hospital to be evacuated. Dulović saw Š ljivančanin at the entrance at the moment when his soldiers were taking the patients, wounded men and other civilians onto army trucks and buses, which then left one after another.
The following morning Dulović found out what had happened to those people, over coffee and brandy with the hosts of the house where he was staying, a red-bearded ‘chetnik’ from Smederevo and a woman named Dragica from Novi Sad, both members of Š ešelj's unit. The male paramilitary boasted that he had been ‘killing Croats at Ovčara’ from 5 pm until 1am, and that the victims were ‘wailing and begging not to be killed’, all in vain. The woman confirmed this to Dulović when they were alone, admitting she had also killed several men. Dulović said Dragica told him Š ljivančanin had not been present at Ovčara, but had left a note saying they ‘should not kill them all’ but leave
‘several men for him to test his weapon’ - a machine gun he always carried across his chest.
Dulović then went to the JNA command centre on the other side of the street. There, in a yard, he saw a pile of camouflaged uniforms with trouser legs soaked in blood. He found the territorial defence commander, Stanko Vujanović, who complained that after the JNA handed over the men from the hospital ‘he did not have enough men of his own and therefore had to deploy drunken Š ešelj men, who were talking’ about what happened at Ovčara the previous night.
The triangle that connected the JNA, the territorial defence and the volunteers from Serbia appears to have been finally confirmed when he spoke to Captain Miroslav Radić. When Dulović told him about ‘rumours’ of the events in Ovčara, he angrily waved his hand, swore and murmured: ‘What was done...was done’.
In the late nineties, Dulović published several articles about ‘what was done’ in Ovčara on 20 November 1991, where he revealed almost all of the information he presented in his testimony. But the articles did not name the sources, which he has now disclosed. Dulović had given their names to the investigative judge of the Belgrade military court, which invited him to make a statement
in February 2000.
Although he revealed the names of several participants in the Vukovar massacre, the investigation was conducted against ‘unknown offenders’, and this fact, Dulović said, showed that the JNA and the authorities supported the offenders and were not interested in discovering or punishing them. As far as he knew, the military court never invited or interrogated any of the persons he named.
Due to ‘changed circumstances’ the second part of Dulović's testmony was in closed session, so we do not know whether or how Milošević disputed his statements in cross-examination or tried to devalue his sources. In the cross-examination of Anastasijević, however, Milošević said that the fact that the men taken from Vukovar hospital on 20 November 1991 ended up in the hands of the territorial defence indicated they were killed in ‘a local conflict’ that the JNA and Serbia ‘had nothing to do with’.
Anastasijevic pointed out two weak points in this interpretation. First, JNA troops under Š ljivančanin took the men from hospital and handed them over to the territorial defence. Secondly, the latter was then commanded by Radovan ‘Badža’ Stojičić from the Serbian state security service.
Dulović added another potentially important link to the chain that may establish a connection between Milošević's Serbia and the JNA and other forces engaged in Croatia in the second half of 1991. He enclosed a classified document dispatched in autumn 1991 from the Serbian defence ministry to the commander of the First Military Zone, covering western Serbia and eastern Croatia, which he allegedly received from a commander then working there, one Lieutenant-Colonel Milan Eremija. In this ‘urgent’ telegram, the defence minister, Tomislav Š imović, complained to the JNA commander about the presence in eastern Croatia of paramilitary formations from Serbia, whose ‘main objective was not to fight the enemy but to loot and molest innocent civilians of Croat nationality’. He described an incident in the village of Lovas where volunteers from Serbia had forced Croat villagers to walk across a minefield. Seventeen civilians were killed.
The minister suggested the JNA and Serbian authorities should jointly disarm the paramilitary formations. But according to Dulović, this was an ‘almost impossible task’ because of the large number of the latter and armed volunteer groups, and also because so few conscripts and reserve soldiers from Serbia were willing to respond to calls to join the army. Dulović said he ‘never saw any attempt at disarmament of paramilitary formations’, which he said suggested Š imović's initiative ‘was rejected at top level’ by both the military and Milošević's government.
Dulović realized why this initiative had to be rejected in April 1992, when war broke out in Bosnia. Dulović and fellow journalists toured the Drina river, the natural border between Serbia and Bosnia, and recognized many Š ešeljovci and members of other paramilitary formations he had met in eastern Slavonija six months earlier. Here too they operated as an advance guard for the JNA, which provided artillery and other supporting fire from a distance while they killed people, burned houses, destroyed mosques and drove people from their villages in columns towards Bosniak-controlled territory. Unfortunately the larger part of Dulović's testimony about what he saw in eastern Slavonia in 1992 was given in closed session.
One of the arguments used by Jonathan Randal and the media organizations which support his appeal against a tribunal subpoena is that his appearance in court as a witness in a war crime trial may jeopardize reporters in future conflicts. Dulović's case showed the risks attending taking the
witness stand are about equal to those in war reporting.
Just before Dulović entered the Hague courtroom, Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice submitted a request to the trial chamber for protective measures for some of the witnesses who will appear later in the Milošević trial, indicating they were ‘individuals exposed to a high level of risk’. The request may have been instigated by the fact that one of the prosecution's planned witnesses, known by his code name C-028, has been threatened. This information was revealed when it was agreed to hold a closed session hearing for this witness. ‘Former Yugoslavia is a dangerous place and we, who do the field work, are aware of that,’ Nice said in his request. The emphasis was on ‘we’ (the prosecutors), as opposed to ‘you’ (the judges).
Dermot Groome, one of Nice's prosecution team, afterwards announced the arrival of protected witness C-004. He explained that the prosecution was advised that ‘Yugoslav authorities had been informed that this witness received threats’ but still wanted to testify with his identity disclosed
in open session. The trial chamber accepted this request and after the removal of protective measures, C-004 became Jovan Dulović. Several days before this, the same thing was done for witness K-1, Dejan Anastasijević.
By agreeing to testify at this trial in public in spite of the risks, Anastasijević and Dulović repaid part of the debt owed by their profession towards the victims in former Yugoslavia. Without the latter's blind, unreserved and enthusiastic support for Milošević he could not have done what he did.
Mirko Klarin is IWPR senior editor at the war crimes tribunal and editor-in-chief of SENSE News Agency. This report appeared in IWPR'S Tribunal Update No. 285, 14-19 October 2002. See www.iwpr.net