Srebrenica still haunts Europe
GENERAL RATKO MLADIC, (left), still wanted, shakes hands with British GENERAL SIR MICHAEL ROSE, then with UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR).
FIFTEEN years after the biggest single atrocity committed in Europe since World War II, the criminals remain at large, the dead are not properly laid to rest, survivors remain refugees, and the issues continue to be raised.
In July 1995 Serb nationalist forces took the town of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia. Srebrenica had been declared a "safe area" under UN protection, but as yet unconfirmed reports said the British and French governments had assured the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic of a free hand in eastern Bosnia.
Whatever the truth of that, the British SAS removed observers, and the commanders refused air cover, and the 400-strong Dutch battalion of the UN Protection Force(UNPROFOR) left in Srebrenica decided it could not halt the Serb assault, nor did it prevent the massacre that followed. An estimated 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were rounded up and killed by the conquerors. Some young boys were pulled off the buses on which women and children were sent away.
Altogether 25-30,000 people classed as Muslims were ethnically cleansed from Srebrenica. One small fighting unit of Bosniacs who escaped the massacre town and made their way across the mountains and forests to Tuzla were arrested by UN troops.
Responsibility for the Srebrenica massacre has been attributed partly to Bosnian Serb forces commanded by General Ratko Mladic, and partly to a paramilitary unit from Serbia known as the Scorpions, officially part of the Serbian Interior Ministry until 1991. In 2004, in a ruling at the Hague, Jusge Theodor Meron ruled that :
Ratko Mladić , accused of the crime, remains at large and is suspected of hiding in Serbia or in the so-called Republica Srpska within Bosnia and Herzegovina. From time to time when there were reports of Mladic being seen out in the open, NATO forces showed no hurry to pursue him. Bosnians driven from their homes by war and ethnic cleansing are concerned that Republica Srpska, born in war but sanctified by the Dayton Agreement, may be recognised by the European Union. A delegation delivered a letter to Downing Street about this on Saturday, as part of marking the massacre anniversary.By seeking to eliminate a part of the Bosnian Muslims, the Bosnian Serb forces committed genocide. They targeted for extinction the 40,000 Bosnian Muslims living in Srebrenica, a group which was emblematic of the Bosnian Muslims in general. They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity.
Lord Hurd, the Tory Foreign Secretary famous for saying that lifting the arms embargo on Bosnia would only create "a level killing field", resigned in 1995, only to re-emerge at NatWest Markets, together with Dame Pauline Neville-Jones, the former intelligence chair who had been Britain's woman at Dayton. The pair went to Belgrade for NatWest to help Slobodan Milosevic raise money by selling off Serb telecomms. Both of them did well on commission for this deal. Dame Pauline, who became richer still from the sale of Qinetiq defence shares, is now David Cameron's Security minister.
While British and French dealings with Milosevic may not have been open, Greek involvement in ex-Yugoslavia was more official, even popular thanks to traditional prejudices, and enabled Greek business interests to become a bigger player in the Balkans than might be sustainable at home. We might recall the Greek company Mytilaneous acquiring an option on the Trepka mining complex in Kosova, though this was not well-publicised here. Even less reported was the activity of Greek right-wing volunteers in the Bosnian war.
Stavros Vitalis, who took part in the war, is now bringing a libel action against journalist Takis Michas, the author Unholy Alliance: Greece and Milosevic's Serbia. The suit is reportedly being funded by the Greek ultra-nationalist organization known as the Panhellenic Macedonian Front, for which Vitalis serves as spokesman.
In the book, Michas points to a link between the policies of Andreas Papandreou's supposedly "Socialist" government and the activity of the right wing nationalists. He said that paramilitaries from the country had raised the Greek flag in Srebrenica following the fall of the city.
Vitalis has long admitted to being one of the many Greek volunteers taking part in the Bosnian war, but claims that he has been libeled because the journalist described the Greek volunteers as 'paramilitaries who took part in the slaughter of Srebrenica.'
The writer says that under Papandreou's PASOK government Greece was not content with simply providing humanitarian assistance or even encouraging its oil tycoons to break the UN-imposed fuel embargo on Serbia. It also provided military assistance to the Bosnian Serbs and to indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic. He writes:
‘There were lots of weapons transferred from Greece,’ Professor Wiebes told me in the course of a telephone interview, ‘to the port of Bar in Montenegro; from there they would find their way to the Bosnian Serb Army.’ The weapons consisted mostly of light arms and ammunition. Another aspect of Greek military assistance took the form of leaking NATO’s military secrets to the Bosnian Serbs. ‘NATO officials were very reluctant to share intelligence with either the Turks or the Greeks,’ said Professor Wiebes, ‘because they were afraid that intelligence would leak to either the Bosnians or the Bosnian Serbs. At some point NATO simply stopped sharing intelligence with the Greeks.’
"Equally interesting were the activities of a contingent of Greek paramilitaries who were fighting in Bosnia as part of the Drina Corps under indicted war criminal General Ratko Mladic. As it was reported at the time, this group of Greek paramilitaries were in close contact with the Greek intelligence agencies, providing the latter with info concerning military developments on the various fronts of the war. According to the Dutch report, the Greek paramilitaries took part in the Srebrenica massacre and the Greek flag was hoisted in the city after it had fallen to the Serbs. The report bases its findings on telephone intercepts of the Bosnian Serb Army provided by Bosnian intelligence. ‘One of the intercepted messages,’ Professor Wiebes told me, ‘was from General Mladic, who asked for the Greek flag to be hoisted in the city’ – presumably to honor the Greek lads."
The presence of Greek paramilitaries and the hoisting of the Greek flag in defeated Srebrenica were reported at the time by some Greek and foreign media. The Greek government, however, vehemently denied the allegations..
It was also reported that Milosevic had 250 (!) accounts in various Greek banks during the years 1992-6. The money was used to secretly finance Serbian military operations in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990′s. The revelations were contained in a document from the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal, asking the Greek authorities to assist in opening the accounts. Throughout the 1990′s the Greek banking authorities had repeatedly denied foreign press reports concerning the existence of Milosevic’s secret funds in Greece, while leading Greek judges had publicly refused to cooperate with Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor at the Tribunal.Michas also says that Greece protected Serb intelligence operatives wanted by Belgian authoties in connection with the murder of Kosovan activists.
The libel trial is due to open on September 20.