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May 10, 1993
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 85
Montenegro: The first trial for a war crime

Pandora's Box

by Velizar Brajovic

The criminal council of the Higher Court in Podgorica presided over by Judge Milic Medzedovic sentenced in absentia Janko Janjic (25), Zoran Vukovic (37), Radomir Kovac (31) and Zoran Simovic (28) to 20 years of jail each for the murder of the Klapuh family (father, mother and daughter). The fifth-accused Vidoje Golubovic (25) was sentenced to eight months in jail for not reporting the perpetrators of a crime which carries the death penalty. The five men were members of the notorious Bosnian Serb army "Dragan Nikolic" special unit. They murdered Hasan, Feriha and Sena Klapuh, a Moslem family from Foca on July 6, 1992 in the Piva River canyon in the vicinity of Pluzine. The trial was held in Podgorica because the crime was committed in the Republic of Montenegro. The sentence will be remembered because after a short trial, the accused were sentenced to over eight decades of imprisonment, and especially because this was the first trial for war crimes committed in the territory of Montenegro and Serbia. The sentence disturbed many war criminals who had found sanctuary in Montenegro, and it can be regarded as the heralding of new trials. This is in accordance with a recent decision adopted by the Montenegrin Parliament condemning war crimes and ethnic cleansing, regardless of which side in the conflict is responsible.

Until the trial itself, few in Montenegro knew of this monstrous crime. It was mentioned in whispers, and the newspapers did not give all the details. The murder took place at the time of the exodus of Moslems from eastern Bosnia, who were trying to find sanctuary in Montenegro.

The publication of the story would have made all those seeking refuge in Montenegro, think twice. In late July 1992 it was learned that the victims were buried in Niksic and that it had been ordered that they should be buried in a common grave. The Moslem undertaker refused to do so, and dug three separate graves. The police quickly identified the murderers and information leaked that one them had been arrested and that his family was looking for a lawyer in Podgorica.

Information brought by the daily "Pobjeda" on April 30, came as a surprise to many, because it came at a time when some political parties were threatening with an armed rebellion if the Montenegrin authorities made a move contrary to their wishes and goals. Drives and rallies for undertaking "measures of self-protection" were announced. However, the announcement of the sentence did not result in protests or reactions from extremist parties.

Only accused Vidoje Golubovic was present during the trial by the Higher Court in Podgorica. The others were tried in absentia because they have not been apprehended yet. The Serb Republic in Bosnia-Herzegovina organs were asked on several occasions to surrender the murderers. Golubovic kept denying the claims in the charge, accusing him of being an accomplice in the murder: "I was arrested a month after the event when I went to visit my wife and child in Pluzine. I was surprised as I hadn't done anything," claimed Golubovic. He said that he did not know the Klapuh family, and that he could not have guessed at what would happen. They drove the Klapuh family from Foca, and after crossing the border into Montenegro at Scepan Polje, they entered a cafe where Janko Janjic talked to Hasan Klapuh, while the wife and daughter waited in the car. Some money was mentioned, but according to Golubovic's testimony, he didn't hear the whole conversation. He only knew Janjic. He wasn't well acquainted with the other men as they had been members of the same special unit for only a few months. (!)

At the "Obrad Cicmil" bridge Janjic ordered Golubovic to stop the car. Hasan was killed with a bullet in the back of the head, while the wife and daughter were screaming. "I tried to stop Janjic from killing them," said Golubovic, "but he threatened with the gun and ordered me to shut up and cover all traces of blood on the road. I was frightened and listened. In the meantime the wife and daughter were shot." Golubovic claims that he felt sick and moved away a little. They took Hasan's dead body and the seriously wounded wife and daughter and threw them into the Piva canyon from a height of 100 meters. The cries of the wounded could be heard. Janjic ordered that they continue to Pluzine where they stayed for a short while, after which they returned to Foca.

Attorney Miodrag Latkovic asked "why he, as a member of the special units should have been afraid of Janjic." Golubovic said: "I knew that he had been sentenced several times and was a well know criminal, so that even without being threatened with a gun I would have feared such a man."

Border officials confirmed that the Klapuh family had crossed the Montenegrin border with the accused, and that they had returned without them. They said that the accused had afterwards entered the cafe and behaved as if nothing had happened. The border officials helped identify the murderers.

A roadman found the victims by following the blood trail, and an autopsy proved that the mother and daughter had died 2-3 hours after being wounded. The court did not determine the real motives of the crime, but a story is making the rounds to the effect that the Klapuh family had hoped to reach Skopje and had made an agreement with the accused to pay several thousand German Marks in order to be driven to Podgorica. There is also talk that the unfortunate family had saved a substantial amount of money, and even that the deceased Hasan had been the director of the jail in Foca where the accused Janjic had served time. Be as it may, the public prosecutor has charged the five members of the Bosnian Serb army with committing a war crime against civilians. The court rejected the charges, saying that a "war crime against the civilian population can only be committed in territories where an armed conflict is underway, and it is well known that war is not being waged in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."

It is difficult to say when and if the accused will be apprehended by the Montenegrin police. The court believed the evidence given by Golubovic. In the event that any of the other men are apprehended, the process will have to be repeated, because it could turn out that they lay the blame on Golubovic. The end of the trial is still not in sight.

One thing is sure - extremists and fighters who have found sanctuary in Montenegro as "tested fighters for the Serbian cause" will not feel all that safe now. The same holds true for all those who threaten to turn Montenegro into a burning torch if its authorities betray the Serbian cause, or make moves towards secession. Extremists in Zeta in the vicinity of Podgorica were seriously cautioned when they protested over the sacking of the primary school director. Railway and road traffic were blocked and there were threats of armed resistance if the police intervened. Passions cooled after four participants in the setting up barricades were arrested and the Montenegrin police threatened to use all available means in any similar incidents in the future.

A rally of "citizens of Montenegro and Herzegovina", under the slogan of "no one may divide us", was not held in Vilusi on the border with Herzegovina, but in Klobuk on the Herzegovinian side. No official explanation was given for changing the place of the rally, but it is known that the men who arrived to set up the platform and the inhabitants of Vilusi had a fight on the night before the rally. The police said that the fight was not politically motivated, but four members of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) were arrested. The organizers of the rally in Klobuk were dissatisfied with attendance. The rally gave its support to the decision by the Serb Republic in Bosnia-Herzegovina Assembly in Bijeljina in rejecting the Vance-Owen plan.

SRS leader Vojislav Seselj was also disappointed with attendance at the rally in Pljevlja, but even more so with the fact that the number of his followers is rapidly dwindling.

There is a growing number of peacemakers in Montenegro. It is increasingly clear that there are many who committed crimes which carry sentences lasting several score years. It remains to be seen what a renewed trial of Ceko Dacevic will bring, and who will be accused for the expulsion, murder and abduction of passengers from the village of Bukovica near Pljevlja. A number of citizens are waiting for light to be shed on the death of some members of the former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) killed in areas of combat linked to activities of extremists now moving freely in Montenegro.

In short, it is expected that the silence covering many incidents will be lifted. Many believe that the Montenegrin Parliament's decision condemning war crimes and ethnic cleansing will result in new trials. Doubtlessly, there will also be talk of the authorities' role in all this. There is a growing belief that Montenegro is becoming an unhealthy place for all those who found sanctuary in it after committing various crimes.

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