Former JNA top intelligence officer, General Aleksandar Vasiljevic, contends that the JNA was neutral: it clashed with the Croat and Muslim sides in BH because their ‘paramilitary units attacked it’, Vasiljevic explained. Vasiljevic argued that the JNA protected Serbs because they in turn supported the JNA and didn’t want to live in ‘banana republics’

Aleksandar Vasiljevic, defence witness of Radovan KaradzicAleksandar Vasiljevic, defence witness of Radovan Karadzic

In a bid to prove that the Bosnian Serb leadership wasn’t responsible for the war in BH, Radovan Karadzic called to the witness stand General Aleksandar Vasiljevic. From June 1991 to May 1992 Vasiljevic was Chief of the JNA Security Administration. Vasljevic claimed that in 1991 the conflict started spilling from Croatia to BH. His administration had the intelligence that unlike the Serbs, Croats and Muslims had been getting ready for the war, Vasiljevic said.

In his statement to Karadzic’s defense, the witness said that Croatian paramilitary units had been established in Herzegovina and that the Muslim Party of Democratic Action had formed the Patriotic League. The Serbs were the only ones without an army and they did nothing but support the JNA, Vasiljevic claimed. The support mostly consisted of their responding to the call-ups while the other two ethnic groups dodged the draft. The JNA thus ended up as a monoethnic Serb army. Vasiljevic nevertheless insisted that the JNA’s goal was to protect all the ethnic groups in Yugoslavia and to prevent the war.

In the cross-examination, prosecutor Uertz Retzlaff reminded the witness that in late 1991 the Federal Secretariat of National Defense issued a directive urging the army to ‘protect the Serb population’. Vasiljevic replied that the JNA decided to protect the ethnic communities that supported it. It so happened that only Serbs did that, as they ‘didn’t want to live in banana republics’. This doesn’t mean that protecting Serbs meant ‘persecuting other ethnicities’, but the JNA did fight those who attacked it: Croats and Muslims.

Vasiljevic insisted that the JNA tried to retain its multi-ethnic character, prompting the prosecutor to remind him of his testimony in the case against Slobodan Milosevic, when Vasiljevic claimed that in the spring of 1992 he was criticized by a number of people, including the Chief of the General Staff Zivota Panic, and was forced into early retirement because he had advocated a multi-ethnic army and retained Croatian officers in service. Today Vasiljevic confirmed what he said then.

Vasiljevic claimed that all the ethnic communities, except Serbs, formed their paramilitary units. The prosecutor reminded the witness that during the wars in Croatia and BH, the JNA was ‘reinforced’ by the Serb volunteers and paramilitary units such as the Yellow Wasps unit, ‘Seselj’s men’, Arkan’s Tigers and others. The prosecutor illustrated the point by noting that ‘Arkan’s men’ were part of the JNA Novi Sad Corps. The documents speak of Arkan’s men as its reconnaissance unit. Vasiljevic thought there was no formal link; the JNA and Arkan’s men fought side by side because of a close relationship between the corps commander, General Biorcevic, and Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan.

This was the fourth time General Vasiljevic testified before the Tribunal, after giving evidence at Milosevic’s trial and in two Kosovo cases. This time Vasiljevic didn’t speak about the crimes the accused is charged with, because he was made to retire at the very beginning of the war in BH.

After Vasiljevic completed his evidence, a former member of the war presidency in Brcko municipality, Pero Markovic, testified in Karadzic’s defense. Markovic said that in late April and early May 1992, Croat and Muslim units attacked Brcko. After the attack, the town was captured by the joint Serb forces. Karadzic read out the summary of the witness statement. Crimes against non-Serbs were not mentioned in the summary; the witness merely remarked that the other side spread lies about the 8,000 Muslims who had purportedly been killed in Brcko while in fact there were ‘just’ 911 casualties. The witness claimed that the Bosnian Serb MUP tried to get rid of the Serb paramilitary units in Brcko. This prompted the prosecutor to remark that the War Presidency had initially invited the various volunteer units to help seize the town. When it was done and all non-Serbs were either expelled or detained, the War Presidency started dealing with ‘problematic’ volunteers’ formations. The witness didn’t agree.

Aleksandar Vasiljevic, defence witness of Radovan Karadzic
Pero Markovic, defence witness of Radovan Karadzic