SUN, 22 JAN 1995 23:20:55 GMT
The Strpci Case, Once Again
Summary: The abduction of passengers from train 671 the year before last on the Belgrade-Bar line, is one in a series of terrorist acts committed with a view to initiating the ethnic cleansing of Moslems from the area of Sanjak. Even after almost two years there is no official information on the destiny of the 20 passengers, mainly of Moslem nationality. Political will is primarily required to clarify it - says Dr. Dragisa Burzan, President of the Parliamentary Commission for Gathering Information on the Abduction in Strpci. When the Commission requested concrete information and facts related to the crime, the authorities were struck dumb. They could not learn whether competent FRY organs had done anything and what, they could not even get the statements of the relatives of the abducted passengers and witnesses from the train - the Ministry of Justice of Serbia would not allow insight into those "confidential documents". When it was clear that the authorities were only manipulating the Commission so as to create the impression that something was being done to shed light on the crime in Strpci, the opposition in Montenegro's Parliament asked that the powers of the Commission be extended and it be transformed into a parliamentary board of enquiry, the ruling party refused since that would be "in violation of the Constitution" and "infringement on the judicial and executive functions of the system". Although after the break with the Bosnian Serbs, the Serbian-Montenegrin authorities tried to shift the blame for Strpci to the Pale clique, the President of the Commission, Burzan, says that the Commission did not get "a single piece of evidence that would point that the action was coordinated from a centre in Bosnia".
Even after almost two years nothing is known about the fate of 20 people of Moslem nationality, abducted at the station in Strpci (on the railway line linking the capital of the Serbian-Montenegrin federation - Belgrade - and one of the southernmost points of the same country, the harbour of Bar) on February 27, 1993. Not a single competent organ offered a single piece of evidence on the committed crime to the Commission for Gathering Information on the Abduction which was, after much hesitation, at the insistence of the opposition, formed by the Assembly of Montenegro, which prevented it from uncovering at least a piece of the truth surrounding the almost three years long mystery of train 671.
After all the manipulations, which the authorities resorted to since the first day of the abduction, when the Commission demanded "raw facts" - data on the movement of the train, statements of railway officials and the armed escort of the train, which had to be available even if nothing unusual had happened on the train - the authorities were struck dumb. It could not find out what state bodies did after the abduction, and it was no use to follow the traces of information cropping up in the press. Over this entire period the state did not manage to establish even the time the abduction took place - the time indicated by the Minister of Montenegrin police, Nikola Pejakovic, differs from the time indicated by the railway officials - by 50 minutes!
Seeking information which would help get answers to simple questions - what happened, who are the abductors, what happened to the abducted - the Commission wrote to the Presidents of Montenegro, Serbia and FRY, to the Prime Ministers of all three governments, to state prosecutors, different ministries. They either received no reply, or nothing could be concluded from the replies. Most often, everything boiled down to political stances, primarily to the condemnation of the abduction, probably to avoid the submission of the requested information and the case was kept under an embargo. To make the irony even greater, the Presidents did not furnish any evidence on their activities in this specific case, although the Commission asked that they show which of the actions envisaged by the Constitution and laws they themselves had taken.
Assessing that obstruction on the part of all state bodies was in question, representatives of the Liberal Union, at the last meeting of the Assembly of Montenegro demanded that the Commission be transformed into a Parliamentary board of enquiry before which holders of state functions would have to answer questions. The government, the Legal Committee and the Committee for the Political System explained to their deputies that there were no constitutional grounds for expanding the competences of the Commission and that such a Commission would "deeply infringe" on the competences of the executive and judiciary. To the observation that the Assembly has a constitutionally guaranteed control function, they replied simply by voting. It is not known whether when they can decide on constitutional grounds by voting the deputies of the ruling party will not soon be able to proclaim Thursday to be Friday, but is certain that the Commission, such as it is, suits them perfectly. It can do nothing and exists as a convenient shield from responsibility and a likeable piece of democratic scenery.
Since the first day the authorities did their best to inform the public how it suited them about the biggest crime which occurred since the break up of Yugoslavia on this side of the Drina river. First, for days the number of abducted people was not known, so they made up some foreign terrorists and very cleverly concluded that it must have been a terrorist act. Montenegrin authorities said that they were doing everything to save the innocent people, Slobodan Milosevic said that no stone would remain unturned to find them and the FRY Minister for Human Rights, Margit Savovic, said that there were no data, but that "that in no case means the end of our efforts on this case".
It was recorded that Ratko Mladic promptly declared that "the Army of the Republic of Srpska had nothing to do with the incident" and discerned "that this was a skillful game of destructive Moslem forces from the FRY area". Specially for this occasion, the officials recognized Bosnia- the crime happened on the territory of a sovereign, internationally recognized state - so that this was no business of theirs. The state prosecutor of Montenegro, Vlado Susovic, in accordance with this added that " only the competent bodies of the Republic of Srpska from Pale could give the answers". Finally, when the time came that Radovan Karadzic became undesirable and a bad guy, FRY President Zoran Lilic, remembered that the named Karadzic was to blame for the abduction in Strpci. When he stated that in an interview to the Politika, the Commission addressed a request to inform it how he knew that. It has received no reply to date.
"The action was certainly controlled from one center, but there is no evidence that that center is in Bosnia", says Dr.Dragisa Burzan, President of the Commission. "I think that the abduction from train 671 is one in a series of terrorist acts made to initiate the ethnic cleansing of Moslems from the territory of Sanjak. Let me remind of the abductions in Bukovica, the attempt to kill a worker of Moslem nationality in a van when he was returning from work, near Pljevlja, the occupation of that town by para-armies, numerous cases of planted explosives, shooting at buildings owned by Moslems, etc. I still believe that the abduction in Strpci is not of the cosmic secrets. Predominantly political will is necessary to clear it up".
The political will prevailing in Montenegro is seen not only in the Assembly's decision not to expand the competences of the Commission and the statement of one of the "honest" Moslems from the ruling party who repeats to this very day that he has no idea who was abducted in Strpci, but also the behaviour of the President of Montenegro himself. Several months ago, Bulatovic refused "with dignity", to talk to the relatives of the abducted persons and remained firm even when they went on hunger strikes.
Dr.Burzan points out that, in contrast to the top leadership, the local law enforcement authorities and public prosecutor's offices, had a correct and professional attitude towards the Commission. Despite that, the Commission has no evidence that anyone pressed criminal charges for the abduction. It only has the information of the District Public Prosecutor from Uzice that on March 10, 1993 (12 days after the abduction) the police from Priboj sent him a report on criminal charges having been pressed by the train dispatcher from Strpci station. At the demand of the Prosecutor's Office "informative talks were carried out with a large number of persons, train and station officials, passengers on the train and relatives of the abducted". Despite the fact that they obtained 42 statements, the Prosecutor's Office did not have "data indicating the perpetartors and the destiny of the abducted". The prosecutor from Uzice informed the Commission that it should address the Republican Public Prosecutor of Serbia, without whose permit he could not enable their inspection of official documents. Despite the insistence of the Commission with the Republican Prosecutor of Serbia, the Minister of Justice and the FRY President, no approval has been forthcoming for months now.
It did not help that the Minister of Justice of FRY, Uros Klikovac, was one of the members of the Commission. The same man, this time in the role of the President of the Legal Committee in the Assembly of Montenegro signed a report stating that "the existing Commission can fulfill the task it was set up for". With the help of a crystal ball or coffee dregs, he did not say.
Faced with silence, the Commission requested an interpretation of its right to complete information from the Ministry of Justice of Montenegro. They said: a state organ is not obliged to give the requested information only if its contents represent a state secret. Although except for the Chief of Cabinet of the President of Montenegro, none of the people from whom information was requested referred to reasons of confidentiality, it is ever more clear that the abduction in Strpci is a state secret. And a state crime.