Widening the Net for Milosevic Fingerprints Sought in Bosnia, Croatia

By Fesperman, Dan | The Florida Times Union, June 13, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Widening the Net for Milosevic Fingerprints Sought in Bosnia, Croatia

Fesperman, Dan, The Florida Times Union

Albanian refugees fresh from the crime scene of Kosovo have documented the world's case against Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic.

By bearing witness to the brutal campaign of expulsion and massacre carried out by his army and police force, they brought on the May 27 indictment of Milosevic by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, in The Hague, Netherlands.

But the tribunal's investigators, an idealistic bunch with an eye on the bigger picture, are working an even bigger case, one that has yet to yield results: To tie Milosevic to the larger, deadlier campaigns of "ethnic cleansing" carried out in Croatia and Bosnia from 1991 to 1996.

Far from having been dropped or dismissed, the probe of Milosevic's conduct in those wars is active, as tribunal chief prosecutor Louise Arbour made clear in announcing the Kosovo indictment.

There is little doubt of Milosevic's role in striking the matches that ignited Yugoslavia's eight-year burn and disintegration. His reliance on divisive ethnic and nationalist rhetoric in his rise to power is well-documented, as is the way he manipulated state media to heighten the fear, mistrust and ethnic zealotry that soon turned lethal.

Ditto for his secret pre-war meetings with his Croatian counterpart, Franjo Tudjman, in which the two reportedly discussed how to carve up BosniaHerzegovina, the mostly Muslim province between their borders that eventually declared its statehood.

Nor is there any secret about the way Milosevic used the heavily armored Yugoslav People's Army to carry out the fighting at the beginning of the war. With the army leading the way, the brutality soon proved unstoppable, beginning with the leveling of Vukovar in Croatia.

The pace quickened with a vast sweep across Bosnia in 1992, a campaign of human cattle drives that routed large populations of Croats and Muslims from their homes and villages. Its hallmarks were concentration camps, "rape hotels" and mass executions, culminating in the summer of 1995 with the massacre of as many as 7,000 Muslim men and boys after the fall of the United Nations "safe area" of Srebrenica.

But, as Richard Goldstone, the tribunal's former chief prosecutor, said this week in an interview, "Being linked to a war, and even providing an army and providing arms for it, is not a war crime.

"The link has to be considerably more than that. It has to be a direct command [for an act of genocide], or being in position to stop it and you don't. What you and I suspect is good grounds is one matter, but having enough hard evidence to actually make a charge is another."

Which explains why Goldstone's investigators, a team drawn from 40 nations, never came up with enough of the goods to justify an indictment.

"What we had wasn't sufficient," he says. "There's no question that had it been, he would have been indicted."

In fact, the most damning item to turn up in the early case against Milosevic turned out to be the most disappointing.

That was a sheaf of documents smuggled out of Yugoslavia by Cedomir Mihailovic, a one-time secret policeman in Serbia. The documents were stunning. Written over a 15-month period, they were government correspondence that clearly linked the establishment and operation of Bosnia's concentration camps to high officials in the Milosevic government.

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Widening the Net for Milosevic Fingerprints Sought in Bosnia, Croatia


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