THE HAGUE | 26.08.2009.

HOW JOVICA FREED UN HOSTAGES

Former UN official Charles Kirudja is testifying about the role Jovica Stanisic played in the effort to free 388 UNPROFOR personnel taken hostage by the Bosnian Serb forces in the spring of 1995. Will the trial of the former Serbian State Security chiefs be adjourned again?

Just as the latest medical reports indicated that Jovica Stanisic’s health was improving steadily, Franko Simatovic’s defense suffered a big blow. Simatovic’s lead counsel Zoran Jovanovic passed away on 2 August 2009. This could lead to a new adjournment at the trial of the two former chiefs of Serbian State Security Service charged with crimes in Croatia and BH. Simatovic doesn’t want to be defended by his current co-counsel Domazet; he wants to hire a new lawyer. In that case, the trial might be adjourned to give new counsel some time to get acquainted with the case. This issue was discussed in the second part of today’s hearing, the so-called ex parte conference in closed session.

As Simatovic hasn’t yet filed an official request for the adjournment of the trial, the Trial Chamber decided to hear the witnesses who had already come to The Hague. The new counsel would then cross-examine them later. Charles Kirudja appeared today at the witness stand. Kirudja, former special advisor to UN envoy in the former Yugoslavia Yasushi Akashi, described the role Jovica Stanisic played in the effort to free 338 UNPROFOR personnel taken hostage by the Bosnian Serb troops in May 1995 in an effort to stop NATO air strikes on their positions.

At that time, Kirudja recounted, he met Stanisic several times. Stanisic told Kirudja that President Milosevic had given him the task to mediate in the effort to free the hostages. According to Kirudja, Stanisic explained to him that he would contact ‘his own forces’ in BH and meet with RS president Radovan Karadzic and VRS commander Ratko Mladic to secure the hostages’ release. Kirudja had the impression that Stanisic had ‘direct access’ to the two Bosnian Serb leaders.

The witness’s attention was caught at the time by two demands Jovica Stanisic made. The first one was that Akashi and Rupert Smith, the UN commander in BH, should give guarantees to Bosnian Serbs that they would stop NATO strikes if the Serbs agreed to set the hostages free. This would mean meeting the initial demand of those who had taken hostages. The second demand was that the freed hostages should be handed over to Stanisic and not directly to UNPROFOR. As the witness said, Stanisic demanded this to draw attention to himself and Serbia’s role in that process.

In the cross-examination, Stanisic’s defense counsel Knoops didn’t even try to contest most of Kirudja’s evidence. Knoops in fact emphasized the role of the accused in the liberation of hostages, implying that Stanisic’s goal was not only to solve that crisis but ‘the whole Balkans crisis’ as well. The defense counsel then argued that Stanisic didn’t have ‘his own forces’ in BH; what he did have, as any secret service chief worth his salt, was ‘his own operatives’. Kirudja said that he didn’t see the difference between those two terms.

Charles Kirudja has already given evidence at several trials in The Hague – against Slobodan Milosevic, Momcilo Krajisnik, Milan Martic and Momcilo Perisic. Kirudja is likely to appear before the Tribunal again. He will be recalled for cross-examination by Simatovic’s new counsel, and the prosecution plans to call him to testify in the cases against Stojan Zupljanin and Mico Stanisic and against Radovan Karadzic.