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Veran Matic
Detention and Disappearance of Ivan Stambolic

author: Nikola Barovic, lawyer for Ivan Stambolic

 

1. Political ties.
Detained on 25 August 2000 in Belgrade, Ivan Stambolic, born 1936, was the last president of the Republic of Serbia before Slobodan Milosevic and was overthrown by Milosevic on 24 September 1987. Throughout the war years, Stambolic as one of the most distinguished political figures of former Yugoslavia maintained constant and often very close relations with the highest levels of political leadership in the former Yugoslav republics: Kiro Gligorov, former president of Macedonia; Milan Kucan, president of Slovenia; Milo Djukanovic, president of the Republic of Montenegro; and Milorad Dodik, former premier of Republika Srpska. Stipe Mesic, president of Croatia, so respects Stambolic that he made a special public appeal on his behalf. Stambolic visited Sarajevo under siege in 1994 and established good relations with Alija Izetbegovic. He was a respected figure within the Serbian opposition to the Milosevic regime.

2. Details of detention emerge.
Exactly one month before elections in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), on the anniversary of the party congress that brought Milosevic to power, Stambolic was forcibly detained near his Belgrade home. With the beginning of the FRY election campaign in early August 2000, Stambolic's home was under sudden surveillance by State Security, so obvious that neighbors commented on it. However, until a press conference by the head of State Security on 26 July 2001 (see below), police repeatedly denied that any operatives were present anywhere near Stambolic's home. The person who witnessed Stambolic's kidnapping testified to police and to the District Court of Belgrade that those persons who detained Stambolic presented themselves to the former Serbian president as police and forced him at gunpoint into a white van. Stambolic's disappearance was reported to the Belgrade police within a few hours by his family. For five days, however, not a single state-controlled or state-affiliated media outlet mentioned that anything had happened to Stambolic. (He is such a public figure that a vacation skiing accident would normally have made the news -- and his disappearance was immediate headline news in opposition and independent media.) Only an actor that could ensure state media silence could have detained Stambolic.

3. State media formulations.
On the sixth day after Stambolic's kidnapping, state media finally reported the kidnapping, as well as the existence of "frightened witnesses." On the seventh day, state media reported that an unidentified police officer said, "If someone wanted to kill him, they would do so immediately." The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR FRY) and UN Special Rapporteur Jiri Dienstbier inquired in writing on 25 August 2000 with the FRY federal government as to Stambolic's whereabouts. Commenting on the speed of the inquiry, the FRY Minister for Telecommunications and spokesperson for JUL, the political party of Milosevic's wife, publicly accused Dienstbier of complicity in and foreknowledge of the abduction.

4. Milosevic, D. Jankovic and R. Markovic.
Milosevic himself and officials of his government took pains to suggest that Stambolic's kidnapping was linked to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. Just a few days after Stambolic's detention, former Macedonian president Kiro Gligorov asked Milosevic about Stambolic; Milosevic told Gligorov that "international frontiers are close by." On 2 October 2000, the Serbian Minister of Justice and JUL confidant Dragoljub Jankovic suddenly requested a meeting with OHCHR FRY and Dienstbier. In that meeting, Jankovic raised the matter of Stambolic, saying that he had an "intimate feeling" that Stambolic "is alive in Bosnia, in Serbia...." After the 5 October 2000 change of government in Belgrade, Radomir Markovic, the Milosevic-era head of State Security who remained as head of State Security until the end of January 2001, continued to do what Milosevic had begun in his exchange with Gligorov, including in Markovic's conversation with the current FRY president, Vojislav Kostunica. Markovic is currently under arrest, indicted for the murder of four officials of the Serbian Renewal Movement and participation in the assassination attempt on party head Vuk Draskovic ("Ibarska highway").

5. International and state engagement.
In September and early October 2000, Stambolic's lawyer met on behalf of his client in Zagreb with Croatian president Stipe Mesic, in Sarajevo with High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch, and in Podgorica with Montenegrin republic president Milo Djukanovic. Each official noted that he would provide all possible support that could help Stambolic. Many governments and international organizations have made demarches, public appeals and/or official inquiries on behalf of Stambolic. Most recently, at its 11 June 2001 Luxembourg meeting, the European Union General Council of Ministers concluded that among "issues needing special attention" were "three highly political cases (Curuvija, Stambolic and Ibarska highway)". Others acting publicly on behalf of Stambolic include the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe/Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights; the Council of Europe; the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Mary Robinson; the UN Working Group on Involuntary and Enforced Disappearances; the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and FRY, Mr. Jiri Dienstbier; and the Government of the United States. Efforts on behalf of Stambolic were also undertaken by Mr. Carl Bildt, UN Special Envoy for the Balkans. During his September 2001 mission to the FRY, Mr. Jose Cutiliero, the UN Commission on Human Rights Special Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina and the FRY, raised the Stambolic with FRY and Serbian officials, including with the President of the FRY, Dr. Vojislav Kostunica.

6. Public support.
The Committee for Release of Ivan Stambolic (the "Committee"), formed in September 2000, includes prominent individuals from Yugoslav public and political life. In addition to its public information efforts, the Committee individually addressed civilian and military authorities, seeking information on Stambolic's fate and whereabouts, and gathered thousands of signatures for his release. Independent media in Serbia and Montenegro continue to mount strong broadcast and print campaigns in support of these efforts.

7. New Serbian government.
On 28 February 2001, Serbian Premier Zoran Djindjic, Serbian Minister of Justice Vladan Batic, and Serbian Minister of Interior Dusan Mihajlovic convened to meet with Stambolic's wife, Katica, members of the Committee for Release of Ivan Stambolic, and Stambolic's lawyer. At that meeting, the premier and ministers reiterated positions earlier expressed in public that one of the government's priorities was resolving the Stambolic case, the assassination of editor Slavko Curuvija and the Ibarska highway case.

8. Conduct of investigation.
On 5 September 2000, during the Milosevic regime, the Belgrade District Prosecutor opened a case file on Stambolic. That file did not come before a judge to begin the investigation until December 2000. By the end of February 2001, investigation in the Ibarska highway case had revealed that State Security had used a white van as a logistics vehicle. The description of the van that emerged in the Ibarska highway case was the same as the description of the van used to detain Stambolic. In late February, Stambolic's lawyer petitioned the investigative judge and prosecutor to determine whether the descriptions in both cases applied to the same van. It took the court until 15 June 2001 to comply with that request, and then the routine cross-check was not conducted in the necessary and complete manner. Since 15 June 2001, nothing further has been brought before the investigative judge.

9. Statements by head of State Security.
On 26 July 2001, the current head of State Security, Gen. Goran Petrovic, stated in a press conference that "The hardest case is the disappearance of Ivan Stambolic, the investigation is practically at a standstill. All that is known is that some guys took him away in a white van and nothing else." He added that the former Serbian president was not under surveillance in the same manner as Vuk Draskovic or Slavko Curuvija and that the State Security operatives observed at Stambolic's apartment building on the day of his kidnapping were instead tailing members of the Otpor movement. However, Stambolic's neighbors maintain that the surveillance, which had lasted for a month before Stambolic's disappearance, ended immediately after his detention. At that press conference, Petrovic drew attention to the existence of other power centers in Serbia capable of carrying out Stambolic's disappearance.

10. Reward.
On 27 August 2001, the Serbian Ministry of Interior announced a 300,000 DEM award for information leading to the arrest of individuals perpetrating or ordering 21 unresolved murders, including that of editor Slavko Curuvija, and the disappearance of Stambolic.

11. "Ibarska highway."
The first court session in the "Ibarska highway" case is scheduled for 11 October 2001. Testimony in that case could shed light on who gave the orders to commit all three crimes called "highly political" by the European Union. It is recommended that monitors attend that trial.

12. Note.
Bearing in mind the recent statements of the head of State Security, it is important to note that an operation such as the abduction of the former president of Serbia could only have been carried out by police officials, State Security officials, the personal security details of government officials and their families, or officials of the military.

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