THU, 18 OCT 2001 21:21:43 GMT
ICTY Unseals Dubrovnik Indictments
The unsealing of indictments against four officers of the former
Yugoslav People's Army for war crimes during the attack on Dubrovnik is
interpreted as a serious warning to the Montenegrin authorities to stop
disregarding their obligations to the Hague tribunal, but also as an
announcement that prominent Montenegrin politicians of the former period
could soon find themselves before the international war crimes
AIM Podgorica, October 5, 2001
Exactly ten years after members of Montenegro's territorial defense
forces began an assault on Dubrovnik, four indictments were unsealed by
the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in
The Hague. This confirms what the media have been saying for some time
now: four senior former Yugoslav People's Army officers -- Gen. Pavle
Strugar, Admirals Miodrag Jokic and Milan Zec, and Capt. Vladimir
"Rambo" Kovacevic -- have been charged with breaches of the
rules and customs of war and with grave violations of the Geneva
Conventions during the Dubrovnik operation.
The first three officers were in charge of land and marine units
stationed in Montenegro during the war, and Kovacevic's unit, stationed
in Trebinje, operated in cooperation with them. It is understandable
that Montenegrins have shown a great deal of curiosity in the news of
the latest ICTY indictments. Local media outlets did not shy away from
the issue, stressing that it was only the first act of a drama
Montenegrin society will face for a long time to come. This is also the
essence of the initial reactions by representatives of the government
and opposition parties.
Montenegrin Foreign Minister Branko Lukovac expressed his conviction
that government bodies in charge of such matters will arrest and hand
over to the ICTY all four suspects if they are found to be in
Montenegro, recalling that the government fully supports the Hague court
and has pledged to cooperate with it.
"This cooperation includes the arrest, as well as handing over to the
ICTY of all war crimes suspects, when found on Montenegrin territory.
"Our stance is the measure of the maturity of our society, and we are
striving to be a part of Europe and the international community, to act
in accordance with the norms of the international legal system. To act
otherwise is unthinkable and contrary to the long-term interests of
Montenegro, its people, and its European future," Lukovac explained,
warning that Montenegro will have nothing to look forward to in Europe
and the world or expect support for its democratic reforms if it did not
fully meet its international obligations.
The Montenegrin foreign minister expressed the belief that "the opening
of sealed indictments pertaining to the attack on Dubrovnik gives the
suspects the opportunity to surrender to the Hague tribunal, which,
although belated, will enable them, their country, and people to retain
some self-respect, courage, and dignity. There, the Hague court will
determine their guilt." He added that wrongdoers will have to atone for
their crimes sooner or later.
It is interesting to note that the Hague tribunal delivered the
indictments to the Montenegrin authorities as early as March 27, but
they did not react in the spirit of their commitments to cooperate with
Recalling this fact, Montenegro's independent Monitor magazine, which
reported several months ago that the Hague court was showing an interest
in certain generals and admirals who were party to the attack on
Dubrovnik, concluded: "The Montenegrin authorities did themselves a
disservice -- seven months after receiving the sealed indictments they
mimicked full cooperation with the ICTY, but failed to arrest and hand
over Gen. Pavle Strugar, who enjoyed unimpaired freedom of movement in
Montenegro, after Jokic, Zec, and Kovacevic fled to Belgrade."
Liberal Alliance of Montenegro spokesman Slavko Perovic also pointed to
that fact and urged the former Yugoslav People's Army officers to give
themselves up to the international tribunal and help improve the
Montenegrin people's tarnished reputation. "That the indictments were
declassified in the first place puts Montenegro and the incumbent
government in a special position because it had pledged its cooperation
to the Hague court. The fact that the indictments were unsealed by Chief
Prosecutor Carla del Ponte and not the Montenegrin government, is a
reminder to Montenegro of its obligations to the court. The indicted
officers should voluntarily give themselves up to the court and help
remove the collective guilt from the Montenegrin people. It would not be
right for Montenegro, which has paid for the Dubrovnik campaign, to be
again mentioned in negative terms because the suspects refuse to
acknowledge the court's warrants," Perovic says.
Perovic believes that the list of indictees in the Dubrovnik case is not
final, recalling that the Liberal Alliance "was a great opponent of the
Dubrovnik campaign, which hurt Montenegro and destroyed forever the myth
of Montenegro as a country that observers a special code of chivalry in
A day after Lukovac and Perovic advised the indictees to surrender to
the Hague-based court, Pavle Strugar, the only indicted officer living
in Montenegro, said he would fly to The Hague voluntarily to prove his
innocence there. In addition to "liberating" Dubrovnik, Strugar, a
native of Pec, Kosovo, as the wartime commander of the Second Operative
Group was also in charge of drawing new borders. He proposed that the
border with Croatia "extend from the Debeli Brijeg region in a straight
line to the Adriatic Sea." He was later known for his involvement in
several scandals, one of which implicated him of having misappropriated
a luxurious yacht from a Dubrovnik marina.
Oddly, neither Jokic nor Zec were born in Montenegro. The former comes
from Mionica, Valjevo municipality, and was appointed commander of the
Ninth Military Naval Sector headquartered in Kumbor. Zec is from
Cajnice, Bosnia, and as a warship captain was chief of staff of the same
sector. When he retired he was commander of the Yugoslav Navy.
Neither the Hague indictment nor the media gave any details on where
Kovacevic was born. He became a public figure in Montenegrin as a member
of a terrorist group which ahead of the 1997 presidential runoff entered
Montenegro with the purpose of destabilizing it. Because of that Rambo
is due to appear as a defendant at the Higher Court in Podgorica in
about ten days.
If anyone were willing to listen to what Radan Nikolic, president of the
Montenegrin Association Veterans of the 1991 War, has to say, Rambo and
the other ICTY indictees charged with war crimes during the siege of
Dubrovnik, would have been prosecuted by local courts as well.
"The Hague court is not a court, but an instrument of political
pressure. Therefore, perpetrators of crimes should be tried in their
respective countries. I would prefer to see everything that is
considered a war crime in the Dubrovnik-Herzegovina campaign debated by
courts in Yugoslavia and Croatia. I am certain that these countries'
judicial bodies would determine the truth," said Nikolic, stressing that
he is not justifying any crimes.
The reactions to the unsealing of the first Dubrovnik indictments, which
will ultimately remove that black mark from Montenegro's history,
intimated that some politicians could also end up in court. They also
say that ICTY prosecutors could begin probing all Montenegrin officials
who held high government office at the time of the siege -- from then
Montenegrin president Momir Bulatovic, premier Milo Djukanovic,
legislature speaker Svetozar Marovic, to Branko Kostic, formerly vice
president of the rump Yugoslavia's presidency.
It should also be noted that Strugar, Jokic, Zec and Kovacevic are not
only indictees but very embarrassing witnesses as well. Some forecasts
say that if the war around Dubrovnik is declared an international
conflict, Montenegro could be obliged to pay war reparations, estimated
by the Croatian authorities at over DM3 billion.