AIM: start

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 court.

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 this court.

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 fighting."

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.

Veseljko Koprivica