SAT, 18 NOV 1995 22:05:40 GMT
Accused Officers of the Yugoslav Army
Since August 4, when Croatia took control over Krajina, every trace of Mile Mrksic has been lost. He is still on the payroll of the Army of Yugoslavia, but not even very high military officials know where is he and what has happened to him. Veselin Sljivancanin was the first to be removed from the media limelight. He was transferred from Beli Dvor to Podgorica, where he is still in service.
AIM, Beograd, November 11, 1995
Veselin Sljivancanin was a symbol of the first stage of the Yugoslav war. He is now returning from the media twilight zone with good prospects to become a symbol of its end-game.
Millions of viewers of the Serbian state televison have impressed in their memories a figure of a tall moustached major, blocking the entrance to the Vukovar hospital with his chest thrown out to the representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
"Mister, don't you know that this is a war," major Sljivancanin said with his arms crossed behind his back. "Who are you to tell me about a hospital in my country and control me?"
After that he ordered the representatives of the ICRC to get out of the way and threatened to throw them in the city river Vuka if they disobeyed. While the tall major was performing this patriotic bravado before the cameras at the main hospital entrance, the wounded were being taken out the back door and, according to the allegations of the Hague Tribunal to the road of no return. About 400 people, some wounded and some Croatian soldiers and civilians who had found shelter there were taken out the hospital that evening, on November 19, 1991 and at daybreak the following day. The Hague indictment states that 260 of them were taken to the farm Ovcara where after several hours of beating they were shot and buried in a mass grave with a bulldozer.
The Chain of Command
The International Tribunal named three officers of the then YPA (Yugoslav People's Army) as the direct chain of command: captain Miroslav Radic, major Veselin Sljivancanin, colonel Mile Mrksic, all three commanders of the elite motorized guards unit. Every trace of captain Radic was lost after Vukovar, but Sljivancanin and Mrksic had very extensive media presentation. The former was promoted into the rank of lieutenant-colonel, the latter into general. Both returned to their base barracks in Topcider in Belgrade where Sljivancanin gave dozens of interviews to high-strung media who described him as the "Knight of Vukovar".
He was primarily a symbol of the hard-core and uncooperative attitude towards the international community propagated by the official Belgrade policy. Not only had the major refused access to the Vukovar hospital to Red Cross delegates, but also to Cyrus Vance. He explained his adamant refusal to allow the visit to the hospital in the following way: "I had conflicts and problems because I wanted to take out of the Vukovar hospital all those who were hiding behind plasters, casts and bandages or had put on doctor's and nurses' coats and who actually were not patients, but criminals". Then later, he added: "Those who fired at me and my soldiers were enemies and hostile treatment is what enemies get." Still, Sljivancanin claims that he did not kill the people he proclaimed criminals, but took them to the military prison in Sremska Mitrovica, thus shifting responsibility for them to others.
Yet, Sljivancanin's picture on the front pages does not end here. Nine months later, in August 1992, he had a noticeable role in the confessions of general Aleksandar Vasiljevic, the then chief of the Counter-Intelligence Service (KOS), published by the NIN magazine. At the time of Sljivancanin's glory, Vasiljevic accused him that in addition to his other combat activities in Vukovar he had raided the vaults of the local bank and post office. It is not fully clear what happened to the money: according to Sljivancanin, without counting it, he packed it in bags, sealed them and sent them to the Social Accounting Service of Serbia, first completely refusing and then finally, with much reluctance, agreeing to send a share to higher military instances, on which Vasiljevic insisted.
This does not end the accusations against Sljivancanin. In his testimony, general Vasiljevic also stated that Sljivancanin, who was the highest officer in charge of security in the guard, did not inform his superiors that the guards unit was preparing a coup by which in the "pitch dark" of September 28, 1991, it intended to overthrow general Kadijevic from the post of commander-in-chief of the YPA and bring general Blagoje Adzic to his post. The plan fell through because of Adzic's refusal to take over the command under such circumstances. In this connexion, Sljivancanin told that even before that, in February of that same year, he had taken part in preparations for the coup d' etat which was finally abandoned.
Although promoted after Vukovar, the lieutenant-colonel was withdrawn from the securing of the highest military officials and did not return to that post even after general Vasiljevic was relieved of office and arrested. Instead, he was sent to the security unit in Beli Dvor (White Palace), the uninhabited residence of the late Marshal Tito. He was holding that post when he became an actor in a new media scandal in March 1993. The diaries of a certain Milovan Ivanovic, an official in Beli Dvor, whom Panic accused of wasting money, disregard of protocol, megalomania and similar were used in the campaign of discrediting the former Prime Minister Milan Panic. This offical devoted much space in his notes to, as he claimed, the unusually close contacts between Panic and the commander of his guard. Sljivancanin tried to justify himself in that connexion in several issues of "Politika ekspres".
Where is General Mile Mrksic now?
All this indicates that Veselin Sljivancanin had a much more important role than a major or even a lieutenant-colonel enjoys according to rank. His connexions went up to the highest centres of power. It was not only Milan Panic in question. On March 18,1993, he stated for "Politika ekspres": " I met with President Milosevic several times. Naturally, never officially, rather informally. We once met and tested our guns, to see who was a better shot. I have to say that Mr. Milosevic is an exceptional shooter".
Even higher ranking than Sljivancanin on this political list was his superior in the Vukovar operation, the then colonel, now general, Mile Mrksic. After Vukovar, this forty-eight year old officer was appointed commander of the special units corps of the Army of Yugoslavia. In mid-1993, when major purges were carried out in the military top echelons, Mrksic was mentioned as a serious candidate for the chief of the General Staff. Yet, this position went to general Momcilo Perisic, who after that appointed Mrksic his aide in the General Headquarters in charge of the land forces. In May 1995, only three months before the fall of Knin, Mrksic was transferred to the position of the commander of the Krajina army. According to some, to strenghten its eroded defense, and according to others, to finally disband it and thus enable its fastest possible defeat.
All trace of Mrksic is lost as of August 4, when Croatia took control over Krajina. He is still on the payroll of the Yugoslav army but not even high officials know where he is and what has happened to him. Before him, Sljivancanin was removed from the media limelight. He was transferred from Beli Dvor to Podgorica where he is now in service.
It is not clear whether the removal of these officers from the public eye is closely linked with the preparation of indictments against them or the overlapping of these two processes is a mere coincidence. What is certain is that both official Belgrade and the Army of Yugoslavia are silent for the moment. Comments on the three indicted officers are hard to get even unofficially. There is an impression that no one is certain what will really happen to them. The reason for such sensitivity is clear. This is the first indictment for war crimes issued against men who are a part of the official structure of FRY itself. Therefore, the further destiny of the accused will show what can and what cannot be hidden behind the broad back of lieutenant-colonel Sljivancanin.
(AIM) Dragan Cicic