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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 March 2005, 11:51 GMT
Analysis: Perisic case is 'key link'
By Gabriel Partos
BBC south-east Europe analyst

Gen Momcilo Perisic. Archive picture
Perisic was the head of the Yugoslav army from 1993 to 1998
The former chief of staff of the Yugoslav army, Momcilo Perisic, has been charged by The Hague Tribunal with responsibility for war crimes committed by Bosnian Serb and Croatian Serb separatist forces during the wars of the early 1990s.

Retired Gen Perisic is the first officer from the army of what was then Yugoslavia to be indicted over incidents in Bosnia and Croatia.

The indictment has been issued on the grounds that the Yugoslav army, or the VJ, retained effective control over Serb forces fighting in those two republics.

Before details of Gen Perisic's indictment were made public on his arrival in The Hague, speculation centred on two incidents in which he had been personally involved as an artillery officer.

In 1991, forces under his command shelled the Adriatic city of Zadar - an action for which a Croatian court subsequently sentenced him, in his absence, to 20 years in jail.

And in the spring of 1992, his artillery attacked the capital of Hercegovina, Mostar, before the Yugoslav army was formally withdrawn from Bosnia, a few weeks after the war had broken out there.

Cross-border crimes

In fact, the charges are in connection with three different cases - all of which relate to the period after Gen Perisic was appointed chief of staff of the VJ in 1993.

Gen Perisic is the first army officer from the former Yugoslav army to be indicted for crimes committed ostensibly across the borders in Bosnia and Croatia
Jim Landale
War crimes tribunal spokesman

By then, the VJ had formally withdrawn from both Croatia and Bosnia and it had ostensibly severed its links with the local Serb forces in both republics.

Yet the indictment of Gen Peresic argues that:

  • He was responsible for aiding and abetting the long-running siege of Sarajevo

  • He was also responsible for allowing cluster bomb attacks on Zagreb in May 1995

  • He had foreknowledge of the attack and the planned massacre of the Bosnian Muslim male population of Srebrenica in 1995.

"I think the fact is that Gen Perisic is the first army officer from the former Yugoslav army to be indicted for crimes committed ostensibly across the borders in Bosnia and Croatia by generals reporting to other commands in those countries," said The Hague Tribunal's spokesman, Jim Landale.

"But now the link has been made by the prosecutors back to Belgrade and back to Gen Perisic himself," Mr Landale said.

'Belgrade control'

The prosecution's case is that Gen Perisic was in practice the superior officer of the Bosnian and Croatian Serb separatists' military cadre.

Ratko Mladic. Archive picture
Ratko Mladic led Bosnian Serb troops during the 1992-1995 war

That includes figures such as Gen Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime military commander, who remains a fugitive from justice.

The indictment states that the officer corps of the Bosnian Serb and Croatian Serb armies were controlled from Belgrade through the 30th and 40th Personnel Centres of the Yugoslav army.

As chief of staff, Gen Perisic had the authority to second officers from his VJ to its Bosnian Serb and Croatian Serb counterparts.

He was also empowered to arrange for the salaries, promotion, training and dismissal of officers who were supposedly serving in these two other armies.

Western intelligence?

Reports of enduring links between the Yugoslav army and Bosnian and Croatian Serb units are not new. But there has been no such detailed case made before The Hague tribunal so far.

Former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic is on trial before the tribunal for alleged crimes that include offences committed in Bosnia and Croatia. However, the formal ties between him and the perpetrators, as established by the prosecution, remain far more vague.

One reason is that at the time of those wars, he was Serbia's president, with no direct responsibility for the Yugoslav army other than as one of the members of Yugoslavia's Supreme Defence Council.

Another reason is that the Yugoslav army was not ostensibly involved in those conflicts after Croatia and Bosnia were recognised as independent states.

The indictment against Gen Perisic suggests that detailed intelligence material relating to the links between the Yugoslav army and Serb forces in Bosnia and Croatia may have been made available - presumably by Western intelligence agencies - to the prosecutors in The Hague.

Genocide charges

If the evidence presented at Gen Perisic's forthcoming trial supports the claims made in the indictment, or if he pleads guilty, the case could also have considerable significance beyond the tribunal.

Bosnia and Croatia have both taken Yugoslavia to the International Court of Justice - also in The Hague - on charges of genocide.

And the case against Gen Perisic, if proven, would bolster those law suits against Belgrade, because of its apparently pivotal role in the wars in the two neighbouring states.

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