Protected witness links Milosevic to Arkan
by Marlisle Simons, The Hague
She was introduced as witness B129 and her voice was scrambled, her face hidden from public view. But the message she delivered to the war crimes tribunal here was plain: The most feared paramilitary leader of the Balkan wars took his orders, and his money, directly from the secret police run by Slobodan Milošević.
B129 was a secretary to Željko Ražnatović, better known as Arkan, whose ties to Milošević were always suspected, but unproved, even after he was shot and killed in a Belgrade hotel three years ago. At the Belgrade headquarters of Ražnatović, B129 said, she took phone calls from his commanders, paid the men of his militia, came across his extensive smuggling operations and learned how he regularly seized Red Cross supplies. Above all, she testified that she learned a good deal about the inner workings of the Serbian machine that waged war in the 1990s, first on Croatia, then on Bosnia.
Milošević, on trial for war crimes and genocide in a conflict that took more than 200,000 lives, steadfastly contends in court that he cannot be held accountable for actions by Serbs outside Serbia, and that his government had no links with soldiers and paramilitary fighters who expelled and killed millions of non-Serbs in a land grab. The best organized of the paramilitaries was Ražnatović's group, known as the Serbian National Guard, or the Tigers.
In testimony on 16 and 17 April, the former secretary described how Ražnatović and his men operated under the direct command of Milošević's chiefs of state security, or secret police, Jovica Stanišić and Franko Simatović. Both men have now been detained as part of a huge round-up in Serbia that followed the assassination last month of the prime minister, Zoran Đinđić, a long-time opponent of Milošević [and both have now been extradited to The Hague].
Arkan often went to see them, B129 said, and radio and telephone contacts were also frequent. ‘We had two numbers to call Frenki,’ she said, using Simatović's nickname. The Tigers could not act without official instructions. ‘Arkan always said that without orders from the state security, the Tigers never went anywhere,’ she told the court.
The witness, unnamed to protect her identity, said she got her job with Ražnatović in 1994 and learned of earlier events in the 1991-95 war from men wounded in action who were working at the headquarters. The Yugoslav Army, she said, supplied the Tigers with weapons and gasoline. Other funds, mostly cash, were often sent from the office of the state security chief, Stanišić, she said, adding that sometimes an officer from the Tigers or Arkan himself would go there and collect the money.
There was extra pay for special operations, B129 said. In 1995, for example, she said, some 200 Tigers were called as reinforcements to Banja Luka, a Serb-held city in northern Bosnia. Many Bosnian Serb soldiers had deserted in the city, which had been brutally cleared of almost all Muslims and Croats during the war. Money from the state security office to pay the Tigers for the operation was delivered about 10 times, adding up to about 4 million German marks (about $2.5 million at the time), the witness said. She and a few others at headquarters had to count it. Some of the money was used to pay the fighters and some was locked in Arkan's private safe, she said; it was up to her to put the money in envelopes to make sure the fighters got paid.
Some funds, she said, came from Ražnatović's smuggling of alcohol, tobacco and other goods while Serbia was under economic penalties for its part in the Balkan wars. If his trucks ran into trouble at the border, the witness said, Ražnatović would call [Serbian interior minister Mikhail] Kertes, who would solve the problem.
Cross-examining her, Milošević asked how she had remembered so many details. The witness recalled that she had attended the funerals of 12 Tigers. ‘If you had worked over there, you would have remembered things your entire life,’ she told Milošević. ‘To bury 12 young men who were fighting for the Serbian people was very difficult. That is why I wanted to speak out, because it appears that the war boiled down to smuggling and that those young men died for no reason whatsoever.’
This article appeared in The International Herald Tribune, 25 April 2003