According to the prosecution, the minutes from the Yugoslav Supreme Defense Council meeting are key evidence of the substantial personnel, logistic and financial support that Belgrade provided to the war efforts of the Serbs in Bosnia and Krajina. Momcilo Perisic, who was the Chief of the VJ General Staff at the time, was tried for contributing substantially to the crimes committed by the commanders and soldiers of the VRS and SVK in Sarajevo, Srebrenica and Zagreb. The minutes of the Supreme Defense Council meetings can be accessed here
The trial of the former chief of the VJ General Staff Momcilo Perisic was completed on 31 March 2011; the judges are now deliberating. They have indicated that they would deliver their judgment ‘in due time’. As the trial drew to a close, the Trial Chamber decided to unseal the minutes of the meetings of the Supreme Defense Council, thus making available to the public a substantial quantity of the evidence that had initially been admitted in closed session.
According to the indictment, the primary aspect of Belgrade’s support to the war efforts of the Serbs in Krajina and Bosnia consisted of sending VJ officers to serve in the Republika Srpska Army (VRS) and the Army of Serbian Krajina (SVK). According to the minutes of the Supreme Defense Council made public now, the practice of ‘securing’ the officer cadre for the VRS and the SVK was first mooted in the decision of 6 May 1992, signed by the chief of the General Staff Blagoje Adzic, who ordered that all ‘[officers and soldiers] who will remain in the territory of Republic of BH or are assigned to that territory, are entitled to all the same rights as other JNA members’.
The prosecution contends that the minutes show that even after 1992 – when Momcilo Perisic took over as the chief of the General Staff – the VJ ‘continued to implement the policy of the SDC and its individual members to provide and finance the majority of officers comprising the officer corps of the SVK and the SVK’. Those officers were on the VJ payroll. The VJ paid them allowance for combat service while they were in the VRS and the SVK, and they were entitled to all the other benefits and promotion.
According to the minutes of the 14th meeting of the Supreme Defense Council of 11 October 1993, Perisic described the status of VJ officers in the VRS in practice. ‘In order to have foothold, we have paved the way for the President of the state in his capacity as Supreme Commander, to issue an order regulating their status and that of officers here. And in order to avoid having anyone criticize us, we have devised a temporary formation in the Yugoslav Army. We appoint them here; they are not actually here but are performing their duties over where they are stationed’. Perisic illustrated this principle with an example: ‘In our orders, for instance, we write to them: the commander of such and such a unit shall be deployed in a training corps which is supposed to be here, but in fact he’s going over there.’
The training corps described as ‘supposed to be here but in fact being there’ were later renamed personnel centers: the 30th Personnel Center dealt with the VRS soldiers and the 40th Personnel Center was in charge of the SVK troops. The prosecution alleges that the main purpose of the personnel centers was to pay salaries and pensions, to provide training, health insurance and accommodation for the VJ personnel transferred to serve in the VRS and the SVK.
The officers who were sent to the SVK and the VRS were selected according to criteria which were, in part, established by Perisic. Some were selected ‘for being born in either BH or Croatia. Some were selected in order to influence the composition and character of those armies’. Those who were reluctant to go were threatened with ‘forcible early retirement’, the prosecution alleges. Perisic’s opinion of officers who refused to serve in the VRS and the SVK is clear from what he said in the minutes of the 14th meeting of the Supreme Defense Council. ‘If such an individual is not ready to go fight anywhere and this is a single people we need to think about whether he should be in this Army after all’, Perisic said. SDC member Momir Bulatovic warned that the whole exercise of sending officers to the VRS and the SVK should be treated as top secret. ‘If this were to fall into anybody’s hands, they would keep us under sanctions ten years’, Bulatovic argued.
The prosecution tried to prove that the VJ trained and promoted officers serving in the SVK and the VRS. According to the prosecution, promotions of the personnel transferred to the SVK and VRS contributed to ‘the morale of the officer corps serving outside the regular VJ’. Perisic addressed this issue at the 15th meeting of the Supreme Defense Council on 10 November 1993. ‘We’ll be giving them moral support. It’s not just the matter of a flat or something like that. These men are fighting and by doing so, they’re ensuring peace to us. I urge – and that’s why I proposed – that they be given this since it would greatly motivate them. In doing so we would recognize what they have done’.
VJ officers serving in the VRS or the SVK were often ‘nominally promoted in those armies and could be addressed by the higher rank by other members of their force before a final determination was made on their promotion in the VJ’. The process was called ‘verification’, the prosecution alleged. The minutes of the Supreme Defense Council meetings confirm that Perisic in most cases accepted the recommendations from the VRS and the SVK for the promotion of various officers to higher ranks.
The one time when Perisic really opposed the promotion put before the SDC was at its 37th session on 13 June 1995, six weeks after Operation Flash and the fall of Western Slavonia. The Supreme Defense Council discussed the verification of the promotion of Milan Celeketic and Dusan Loncar from the SVK. ‘Given that they are guilty for the situation over there, the General Staff has assumed a stance that these should not be verified’, Perisic said. At the same meeting, the SDC discussed the verification of ranks of the VRS generals, who played a key role in the crimes in Srebrenica and Zepa, according to the judgments handed down by the Tribunal. Among them were Milan Gvero, Radivoje Miletic and Zdravko Tolimir, all of them members of the 30th Personnel Center of the VJ General Staff.
The prosecution contends that Perisic had effective control over ‘all members of the VJ transferred to the VRS and the SVK through the 30th or 40th Personnel Center of the VJ General Staff’. The prosecution tried to prove that a VJ unit was deployed as reinforcement to the VRS in the siege of Sarajevo during Operation Pancir 2 in late 1993 and early 1994. The Supreme Defense Council discussed this in early February 1994. Perisic claimed that there ‘isn’t a single unit of the Yugoslav Army there now’. Bulatovic reminded Perisic that ‘there was a paratroop brigade from Belgrade’ there.
After the Bosnian Serb leadership refused to accept the peace plan, Milosevic decided to withdraw support from the VRS. Perisic nevertheless was in favor of making ‘a decision within the limits of possibilities to pay their salaries according to their ranking, rank and the positions the same as they would be paid here’. At the same, 31st meeting of the Supreme Defense Council, which took place during the four-month cease fire agreed by the BH Army and the VRS, Milosevic noted that ‘if they again start with the big war operations without any reason, we absolutely cannot expect that the people will believe that the FRY is not involved in it in this manner’. Momir Bulatovic warned once again that he ‘would be much happier if we could pay those people one or two thousand each and to de facto make them no longer the members of the Yugoslav Army, because as these things are like now, they are the part of the Yugoslav Army’.
Even after the Dayton peace agreement was signed in 1996, Belgrade continued providing personnel support to the VRS. According to the minutes of the 58th meeting of the Supreme Defense Council of 21 November 1996, Perisic recommended that the FRY should continue to pay salaries to 4,846 military and civilian personnel serving in the VRS and to finance the training for 650 persons. Slobodan Milosevic said that ‘strategic interest of the FRY was that the VRS should be capable instead of provoking possible aggression against them and putting Republika Srpska in danger due to its weaknesses...In briefest, I think that we should help them’, Milosevic concluded.