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Ethnic Cleansing on the Bosnian Frontier
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Confusion over who was in charge of ethnic cleansing in Prijedor mirrors the larger confusion over command-and-control within the entire Serb war effort in Bosnia. Was Belgrade directly responsible for the ethnic cleansing, as so many allege, or was it organized locally by Bosnian Serb extremists, as the Serbian state's defenders argue?

The previous chapter discussed vigorous Serbian efforts to publicly disengage from Bosnia, but given broad Serbian nationalist sentiment, Belgrade also felt compelled to remain supportive of Bosnian Serbs. Although

some of Slobodan Milošević's colleagues might have been willing to cut the Bosnian Serbs off, the Serbian far-right opposition, as well as a significant constituency within the ruling Socialist Party itself, felt differently. Serbian leaders groped their way toward a solution, fashioning a series of plausibly deniable, clandestine connections to Bosnia. When Western analysts saw through the ruse, Serbia's leaders were unpleasantly surprised, having failed to comprehend the full extent of Western intelligence-gathering abilities, which diplomats would not divulge for fear of compromising their sources.[58]

Much effort has been devoted to proving the role of Belgrade in general, and Slobodan Milošević in particular, in planning and executing the ethnic cleansing. From a legal point of view, the extreme difficulty of this effort is frustrating. Sociologically, however, the difficulty is telling: The very fact that the Serbian leadership's responsibility is difficult to prove suggests that secrecy and plausible deniability are what made the ethnic cleansing policy feasible, appropriate, and cost-effective for the Serbian regime in 1992–93. At the time, Serbia was intent on regaining its international legitimacy, and this required that it try to appear uninvolved in the Bosnian fighting.

Visions of Control

At one extreme, critics view Milošević as the sole architect of Bosnian ethnic cleansing, managing the bulk of the deadly process.[59] The image these critics promote is of a smoothly functioning death machine spreading out from Belgrade to individual far-flung Bosnian camps and killers. Military analyst Milan Vego, for example, argued that although Belgrade authorities did their best to muddle events, there was in fact an unbroken chain of command running from the Supreme Defense Council in Belgrade, through the Yugoslav army's General Staff, down to the Bosnian Serb army.[60] A similar interpretation was offered by a leading U.S. war reporter in Bosnia, Roy Gutman, who said the death camps, mass killings, and rapes were all planned in detail by the Yugoslav federal army and Slobodan Milošević.[61] Milošević, Gutman says, was in charge throughout, despite efforts to hide his involvement through the federal army's withdrawal.[62] At the other end of the spectrum are vehement denials offered by Serbian leaders, who argued from spring 1992 on that Serbia had nothing to do with Bosnian Serb actions, paramilitary activities, or ethnic cleansing. A third interpretation rejects both extremes, suggesting instead that although Milošević encouraged and supported

the Bosnian Serb war effort, he only set the general tone by providing guidance and weapons. Sonja Biserko, the head of Belgrade's Helsinki Commission for human rights, believes that "Bosnia got away from Milošević; I think he started something he didn't know how to stop."[63]

Bosnia was a confusing place in 1992, with a multitude of paramilitaries, army units, and local leaders wielding political and military power. The confusion may have been carefully crafted to mask centralized control, but may also have reflected the actual state of affairs, in which, as one UN team wrote, "regular armies in the process of constituting or reconstituting themselves could not [remain in] control until they had reached a sufficient level of organization."[64] According to Nataša Kandić, director of the Belgrade-based Humanitarian Law Center and a noted war crimes investigator, there "may in fact be no one chain of command" for the Bosnian atrocities.[65] Investigations are especially difficult because there are no written orders available for scrutiny. "Can you imagine anyone stupid enough to write down an ethnic cleansing order?" asked Boro, a veteran Belgrade war correspondent. "Everyone knew this was a crime. You will never find an official or officer who put his name to an order to kill or ethnically cleanse."[66]

Serbia's Military Line

We may never know with certainty which particular vision of Serbian control is correct. A group of journalists and experienced war observers, however, have developed a plausible scenario known as the Military Line (Vojna Linija) hypothesis. It argues for the existence of an unofficial network of ruling Socialist Party members, interior ministry officials, and army officers, all of whom held positions of power and supported the general goal of advancing Bosnian Serb interests and pushing Muslims and Croats out of Serb-held areas. This circle was an unofficial policy group and its activities were never documented, regularized, or legitimated by the wider Serbian body politic. In late 2001, international war crimes investigators indicted former Serbian president Slobodan Milošević for genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and their charge sheet is essentially a summary of the Military Line model, with some added details.[67]

The Military Line was first discussed in print by Tim Judah, a Belgrade-based British correspondent.[68] In Judah's words, it was an informal group of senior Serbian republican security officials and individuals within the Yugoslav federal army (the JNA) who sought to help ethnic

Serb organizations, first in Croatia, and then in Bosnia, carve out their own enclaves. Eventually, these areas were to be annexed to Serbia or a slimmed-down Yugoslavia. Julian Borger, another British reporter, wrote that the Military Line was a parallel chain of command allowing Milošević to privately control Serb-based paramilitaries and Bosnian Serb forces.[69] According to both journalists, the group's main coordinator was Jovica Stanišić, then head of the Serbian interior ministry's clandestine service, known as state security, or SDB (Služba Državne Bezbednosti). His chief aides were Radovan Stojičić (also known as Badža), an officer in the Serbian ministry of interior's uniformed public security, and Franko Simatović (known as Frenki), a senior officer in the plainclothes state security agency. The two men reportedly trained and armed the Serbia-based paramilitaries and even traveled with them to the battlefields in Croatia and Bosnia. Borger writes that Stojičić, Simatović, and other key leaders stood at the apex of a pyramid coordinating Belgrade's plans in Bosnia and Croatia, while Judah adds the names of two key Yugoslav federal officers, General Andrija Biorčević, commander of the Novi Sad Corps, and Colonel Ratko Mladić, commander of the Knin garrison.[70] British reporter Julian Borger also stressed the role of Mihalj Kertes, a leading member of Serbia's ruling Socialist Party, who distributed guidance and weapons to Serbian Democratic Party officials in Bosnia and Croatia. Misha Glenny, a third British journalist, added more details on Kertes' activities, writing that in 1990 and 1991, Kertes ran a major weapons distribution program, shipping "hundreds of thousands" of weapons and boxes of ammunition on lorries into Bosnia, with special emphasis on Bosanska Krajina and eastern Herzegovina.[71]

Borger's article was based on interviews with anonymous informants and Branislav Vakić, a Serbian Radical Party legislator and former paramilitary commander. Vakić, like other Radical Party members, publicly broke ranks with Milošević in 1993, accusing him of betraying the Serbian national cause. According to Vakić, Serbian officials such as Stojičić and Simatović helped supply, train, and coordinate Radical Party irregulars in Croatia and Bosnia. Vakić made similar claims in an interview with Serbian newspaper reporters, asserting that the Radicals had supplied thousands of volunteer fighters with fuel and uniforms given to them by Yugoslav military police and naming a string of helpful federal officers and Serbian interior ministry officials.[72]

Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Šešelj lent credence to the Military Line hypothesis, telling Serbian newspapers his men had relied heavily on the Serbian interior ministry during the war. His volunteers, Šešelj

said, belonged to "special units" of the Serbian police under the command of Kertes and Simatović.[73] Šešelj elsewhere supplied other crucial details, saying Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević "gave us money and munitions and volunteers from Serbia and Montenegro and told us to fight for greater Serbia,"[74] and that all Serbian forces in Bosnia were directly commanded by the Serbian president.[75] In 2001 further evidence from Milošević himself appeared to support Šešelj's claims. Soon after his arrest by the international war crimes tribunal, Milošević claimed he had diverted Serbian government funds during the Bosnian war to finance Serbian militias in Bosnia and Croatia.[76]

I found fragments of additional evidence supporting these claims. A former U.S. State Department official involved with Bosnia, for example, said he believed the 1992 ethnic cleansing campaign was directed from Belgrade by Serbian state security. In the first months of the Bosnian war, he said, "state security operatives fanned out across Bosnia initiating, leading, and controlling the fighting in different districts."[77] The United States had satellite imagery and radio intercepts in support of his claim, he said, but refused to specify details. Boro, the veteran Belgrade war correspondent, painted a similar picture. "State security sent men to each Bosnian municipality looking for trusted persons who would act as allies," he explained. "These ‘trusted persons’ would be told that the area needed to be secured for reasons of convoy security or military strategy, and that as a result, the Muslims needed to be cleared out." At times, local police chiefs ran the operations, while on other occasions, hospital directors or mayors were the major coordinating figures. "You'll never find one method or one chain of command for ethnic cleansing," Boro explained, "because in each area, the person or group responsible for carrying out the ethnic cleansing was different. Each commander used a different method based on the different tools he had."[78] Aleksandar, a war correspondent for Vreme, a liberal Serbian weekly, said state security typically recruited men with assets such as warehouses, trucking companies, or municipal jobs. "Those people were most useful because they could store weapons and provide vehicles when necessary," Aleksandar explained.[79]

Miroslav, a young man who fought with an elite Serb military unit in Croatia, recounted an experience supporting Aleksandar's account of Belgrade's clandestine mobilization and coordination efforts.[80] In early 1991, Miroslav said, a local merchant in his village was recruited by Yugoslav federal military intelligence agents as their local contact. "I don't know why he was chosen," he said. "Perhaps because they trusted him,

or because he was generally respected by everyone." The merchant organized a local group of men who trained together in 1991 in preparation for fighting with Croat republican forces. Every week, Miroslav recalled, the group would go to the woods where they would be met by a representative of Yugoslav military intelligence, who occasionally delivered a truckload of weapons. Although Miroslav's experiences took place in Croatia, similar mechanisms may well have been used in Bosnia.

The most compelling evidence for Serbia's cross-border role, however, came directly from Daniel Snidden, an Australian Serb with a military background who trained Serbian militias in Croatia.[81] Snidden said Serbian state security agents approached him in Belgrade during 1991 and requested that he assess the potential of local Serb militias in Croatia. Later, state security asked Snidden to organize a training course; his trainees, schooled at the "Alpha center" in the Serb-held Krajina region of Croatia, became elite members of the local ethnic Serb army, and some even volunteered to fight in Bosnia. In a separate conversation, Colonel Stevo, one of Snidden's aides, claimed Snidden's fighters were directly controlled by Serbian state security. The men were given official state security identification cards and dog tags, Colonel Stevo said, and Snidden himself received his orders directly from Belgrade.[82] "Other units may have been under the local Serb authorities," Colonel Stevo claimed, "but we were the direct responsibility of Serbia."

Most of the men recruited by Serbian state security were not as glamorous as Daniel Snidden, who later ran a famed veterans' assistance group in Belgrade. Dragutin, a former truck driver, was at the very bottom of the Military Line's network.[83] When I met him in early 1997, Dragutin worked for another and much smaller veterans' association in Belgrade, lobbying the Serbian government on behalf of former paramilitary fighters. Prior to that, he said, he had fought in Croatia and Bosnia. In a series of meetings, Dragutin gradually revealed details about his recruitment by Serbian state security, explaining they originally approached him "because my father had been a police chief in his town." He said state security was searching for men whom they could trust to fight for the Serbian people, and were recruiting heavily among Dragutin's acquaintances in 1990–91. "Everybody was either an agent, working part time for state security, or pretending to be an agent," he recalled. Some men were true patriots, he said, but others simply sought war booty. "People said you could make money in the field," Dragutin explained. I learned more details about Dragutin's activities from Tomo, an ethnic Serb from Krajina who said he had worked for local Serb military

intelligence in Croatia. Tomo said he had met Dragutin several times during the war while the latter made truck deliveries for Serbian state security.[84] "There were lots of guys like him," Tomo said, "working either for state security or KOS [Yugoslav federal army intelligence], driving around the country, delivering things and helping make things happen."

Dragutin's tale underlines the importance of the Serbian police for the Military Line. His father had been a police chief, making him visible and trustworthy to state security recruiters, but recruitment was not just limited to the sons of trusted officers. Journalist Julian Borger interviewed a former Belgrade police chief who said Serbian convicts were occasionally recruited to fight in return for reduced sentences.[85] His claim was supported by Miroslav Mikuljanac, a Borba reporter who said he met former convicts on Serbian Radical Party busses heading toward the Croatian fighting in 1991.[86] The men were told their sentences would be cut if they fought and had been sent so quickly to the front that "they hadn't even been given a chance to call home and tell their mothers." Mikuljanac accompanied the Radical Party irregulars from Belgrade to Croatia, where they received Yugoslav army weapons and joined other ethnic Serb fighters at the front.

Obrad, the Serbian journalist, explained that when the fighting began, Serbian police "turned to the people they knew best for help: informers and criminals."[87] It was a natural move, in many ways; secrecy was of the utmost importance, and the criminal underworld was particularly well suited to the work. Borivoje, a respected Belgrade criminal defense lawyer, said the Serbian police had "slowly crossed the line from working with informers to gain information about criminals, to recruiting informers to act as paramilitaries outside of Serbia."[88] Borivoje's argument was supported by Belgrade's former police chief, who told British journalist Julian Borger that "in using criminals, for example as informants, there is always a narrow line you walk along. The police here crossed that line by a mile."[89]

Bosnian Serb Lobbyists in Serbia

Not all Serb support for the Bosnian Serb military effort flowed through criminals and underworld agents, however, and not all of it was initiated by the Belgrade regime. The Serbian national enterprise was immensely popular in some quarters, and many covert cross-border links were generated by Serbian citizens concerned for Bosnian Serbs' well-being. Serb

politicians and intellectuals such as Dobrica ćosić, the famed writer, pressed the Bosnian Serb case in Belgrade, lobbying the ruling Socialist Party to supply Bosnian Serbs with food, fuel, and other items. Bosnian Serb supporters viewed Serbia's official disengagement as a terrible betrayal of cherished co-nationals in dire need. Indeed, some activists did more than send humanitarian supplies. The Belgrade-based Association of Bosnian Serbs in Serbia, for example, was allegedly a clandestine conduit for arms and men, as well as food, fuel, and clothing. The group's board included some of Serbia's leading public figures, including executive director Gojko đogo, a famed nationalist poet. đogo was reportedly an unofficial Bosnian Serb representative in Belgrade, speaking to Milošević on their behalf, mobilizing support in the Serbian press, and perhaps even helping to send paramilitary fighters.[90] đogo himself, however, refused to speak about the issue, saying only that "some things should be reserved for a discussion years from now."[91] The association had branches across Serbia, based in municipal offices, sports halls, and other public facilities. During the war, it collected money, blankets, clothes, and medical supplies, coordinating what đogo called a "tremendous" popular response. đogo said his association enjoyed support from all Serbian political parties, including Milošević's Socialists. "The regime has their spies in our association," he said, "but we have our spies among them as well."

Through the Military Line, top Serbian officials generated a network capable of transferring influence and coercion from Serbia into Bosnia. Secrecy was vital because the West had designated the Bosnian border as a sovereign boundary, barring Serbia from openly intervening. Secrecy also provided Serbia with plausible deniability, which in turn facilitated an ethnic cleansing policy for which the Serbian government hoped it could evade responsibility. Plausible deniability was bolstered by the chaos and confusion caused by the breakdown of normal state controls, and the emergence of a frontier-style institutional environment in Bosnia. Although a slim coordination chain appears to have stretched from Belgrade to Bosnia through the Military Line and its lower-ranking operatives, the extent of Belgrade's actual control over individual events remains unclear.

To some degree, Serbia's ties to Bosnia were actively constructed by the Serbian regime, but to some extent, they existed sui generis. Here, the regime's contribution was to tolerate the continued existence of those ties and to lend a helping hand when possible. In the spring and summer of

1992, Serbs in Bosnia and Serbia were connected through multiple links, and it would have required substantial political effort to sever those ties entirely.[92] Together, Serbian state and society helped construct a complex cross-border network that linked Serbian core to Bosnian frontier, despite conditions of breakdown and chaos. The next chapter explores repertoires of nationalist violence within the Serbian core, where the state pursued a radically different set of policies toward non-Serb populations.

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