Witness Says Simatovic had No Command of "Red Berets"
A former colleague of ex-senior Serbian intelligence official Franko Simatovic testified this week that the defendant had no power over the armed unit which the prosecution says he commanded.
The prosecution alleges that Simatovic was head of the Special Operations Unit or JSO, within Serbia’s State Security agency, known as DB. As such, he was under the command of his co-accused in this trial Jovica Stanisic, who was head of the DB from 1991 to 1998.
According to the indictment, Simatovic and Stanisic - established, organised and financed training centres for paramilitary units and other forces from Serbia which were then sent into Croatia and Bosnia, where they committed crimes and forced non-Serb populations out of captured towns and villages.
They are accused of participating in a joint criminal enterprise intended to forcibly and permanently remove non-Serbs from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia through persecution, murder and deportation.
Radivoje Micic, a former member of the DB who described himself as a communications specialist, was the final witness to testify on Simatovic’s behalf at the Hague tribunal.
He told the court that he had known Simatovic “pretty well”, as they were “colleagues and had a number of joint deployments” with the DB starting in 1991.
He said that neither he nor Simatovic had any connection with the JSO, also known as the Red Berets. He said the only connection the Red Berets had to DB operations was that they were “key in providing security” for “observation points” that the DB maintained outside Serbia, particularly in the Eastern Slavonia region of Croatia.
“But as an operative, Simatovic definitely had no command power over them,” the witness said. “In fact, they were completely separate in organisational terms, even in physical terms,” Micic said, adding that the Red Berets used “a completely different block of the building.”
He added that he saw “Simatovic pretty regularly during the days in the office”, even when they were no longer working together, but that he would rarely see anyone from the Red Berets.
The Red Berets appeared to be engaged in legitimate security work, he added.
“As far as I know, the only thing they did was to secure the technology and the personnel present on the sites,” he said, adding that he could not imagine them having taken part in any “crimes or other wrongdoings”.
Earlier, the witness said the first time he was part of a joint deployment with Simatovic was when the defendant was commanding officer of an operation “observing persons who were possibly agents or targets for the US intelligence and counter-intelligence services”. This, he said, included “anyone who went on a trip to the USA, American visitors, businesspeople, journalists, scientists – just about anyone with a connection to the USA”.
When the witness joined this operation in 1990, he said Simatovic was already commanding officer and had the “profile of a good counter-intelligence worker”.
The operation lost some of its importance because war was breaking out, he said, but “Simatovic remained its commander until some time in late spring of 1992”.
The witness said Simatovic subsequently attained “a higher position which was not always related with operative work”, and that there was talk of him having become a senior advisor to Stanisic.
Those placed under surveillance during the operation included “a man who used multiple identities, but whose name at birth was Dragan Vasiljkovic”, the witness said.
Vasiljkovic, a Croatian Serb otherwise known as Daniel Snedden and “Captain Dragan”, has been mentioned numerous times during the trial and is alleged to have commanded a paramilitary unit. He has also been said to have helped to train volunteers at a centre in Golubic, Croatia, which Simatovic allegedly helped to establish.
Vasiljkovic is currently in an Australian prison awaiting extradition to Croatia on war crime charges.
The witness said he remembered Simatovic traveling to Knin, in the Serb-held part of Croatia known as Krajina, in the spring of 1991, to observe Vasiljkovic.
Simatovic and Stanisic are both charged with having formed and supported units in the Krajina region and with sending police and paramilitary forces from Serbia which took part in crimes against non-Serbs in that part of Croatia.
The indictment accuses them of setting up a training centre near Knin in April 1991, through which they “organised, supplied and financed” Serb paramilitary and other volunteer groups which subsequently abused and killed scores of non-Serb civilians.
Micic said that he had never met Vasiljkovic in any role “other than a person targeted for observation”.
He said that there was no way that Vasiljkovic could have been an “employee or otherwise related to the DB”, which prosecutors claim is the case.
“He was an Australian citizen, if I remember correctly, but at that time he was active in the United States with our diaspora, which was a possible serious threat to the security of Serbia and Yugoslavia in general,” the witness said.
He said he could not remember why Vasiljkovic had travelled to the US and then to Knin. It was, he believed, “something allegedly to do with supporting the Serbian cause, but possibly related to criminal and other activities”.
“He was therefore under constant surveillance,” the witness said.
“We considered him a really dangerous guy; dangerous in the sense that he could do a lot of things to harm Serbian national security,” the witness said. “So there can be no talk of the DB having used him or his services in any way – quite the contrary.”
Asked why surveillance could not be done remotely through the use of technology, the witness told defence attorney Vladimir Petrovic that “it was almost impossible to carry out telephone observation outside of Belgrade, let alone outside of Serbia. Therefore, we needed to personally observe him during his stay in Knin.” This stay, he said, lasted for several months until late autumn in 1991.
At that point, “Vasiljkovic returned to Belgrade, so we decided to observe his telephone, which was now technically possible,” the witness said.
The witness said he did not personally travel to Knin to observe Vasiljkovic.
During cross-examination, when asked about some of the events in which the DB is alleged to have participated in Bosnia, the witness said he had “no idea about any such events”.
Prosecutor Travis Farr asked the witness how he knew about the nature of Simatovic’s stay in Knin, as he doubted that the purpose of the stay was limited to “observing Vasiljkovic”.
Micic replied that he received information “from Simatovic himself, as well as Simatovic’s aide, Dragan Filipovic”, a close friend of the witness.
Stanisic and Simatovic were arrested by the authorities in Serbia on June 13, 2003. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Velma Saric is an IWPR contributor in Sarajevo.