Ex-Gendarmerie boss testifies; Ulemek refuses
As the Bytyqi murder trial continued in Belgrade on Monday, it was scheduled to hear testimonies from former commanders of JSO and Gendarmerie (Žandarmerija).Source: B92, Beta, Tanjug
Milorad Ulemek Legija of the disbanded Special Operations Unit (JSO) and Goran Radosavljević Guri, who commanded MUP Gendarmerie, have been called as witnesses in the case of the Bytyqi brothers – the three U.S. citizens of Albanian origin who in 1999 came to Kosovo to join the KLA.
When the Serbian police detained them, they were charged with illegally crossing the border with Albania, and sentenced to two weeks in jail. But once they served their sentence unknown members of the MUP took them from the prison in Prokuplje, and subsequently killed them.
At the time, Radosavljević was commanding a MUP training center in Petrovo Selo where the bodies were discovered, while a number of JSO members were instructors there.
The testimonies were initially scheduled to take place on Nov. 24, but the trail was postponed due to one of the defendants' ill health.
Both Ulemek – who arrived from his jail cell in Belgrade – and Radosavljević showed up in the Special War Crimes Chamber of the District Court today.
The person or persons, believed to have been MUP members, who pulled the trigger remain unknown. Former policemen Sreten Popović and Miloš Stojanović are standing trial accused of aiding the murders, and of having denied the Bytyqis the right to a fair trial when they turned them over to their subsequent killers.
The three victims had their hands tied behind their backs as each was shot in the back of the head. Their remains were found in a mass grave in Petrovo Selo in 2001.
Both Popović and Stojanović pleaded not guilty to the prosecution charges when the trial started in November 2006.
As he took the stand today, Radisavljević confirmed for the court that he commanded the MUP training facility in Petrovo Selo, and that Popović was his deputy.
His testimony dedicated to the triple murder case, however, veered in a different direction when he described the circumstances under which he left the Gendarmerie.
Radisavljević first told the judges that he could not state the exact dates when he spent time at the training center, saying that he "sometimes spent a day, sometimes a few hours", and that his daughter "accompanied him there".
He also said that he was unaware of both the murders of the Bytyqis and the mass graves at the location, and that he "first connected the dots" during a MUP meeting when he learned about the graves and that the three bodies were found in one of them.
At the end of July 1999, Radosavljević continued, then MUP General Vlastimir Đorđević – now undergoing trial at the Hague Tribunal – told him that "he and Popović did something on the orders of Interior Minister Vlajko Stojiljković".
Once he was back in Petrovo Selo after a vacation, the witness said, Popović told him that orders had come from Đorđević to take over three persons from the Prokuplje jail and hold them until "people from the MUP came".
Radisavljević also explained that he did not find the order strange, since "these things happen both in times of war and peace". But he also said that he informed his superiors about it.
At that point, Deputy War Crimes Prosecutor Dragoljub Stanković asked the witness about the reasons for his resignation from the Gendarmerie. Radosavljević said when Ulemek surrendered in 2004 he asked to be taken to prison, but that then Interior Minister Dragan Jočić said he should be taken to MUP premises.
Ulemek, at that time the prime suspect, was on the run after the March 12, 2003 assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Đinđić, and the exact circumstances of his May 2, 2004 surrender have stirred controversies ever since.
Radosavljević told the court today that when he asked Jočić to give him a written order to take Ulemek to the MUP building instead of following procedures and taking him to a detention prison, the minister answered, "You know that a verbal order is as good as a written one".
Several months later, the former Gendarmerie chief continued, he learned that criminal charges were to be brought against him for breaking the law in this case, while he acted on Jočić's orders.
Afterwards, he said, Milivoje Mirkov , at the time a high-ranking MUP official, told him that he "must answer four questions", including what his relationship with U.S. embassy staff was, and "whether he was organizing a terrorist group to kill Premier Vojislav Koštunica".
Radosavljević said that he reacted by refusing to provide answers to these questions, and by quitting the MUP.
After a recess, the court was scheduled to hear Ulemek's testimony, however, this witness only said that he was acquainted with Popović, but not with Stojanović, and added that he would not take the witness oath and testify.
Ulemek did not provide any explanation for his decision today. The presiding judge advised him that he could suffer the consequences, but at the same time noted that any punishment of the witness "would be irrelevant, since he is already serving multiple 40-year prison terms".
Ulemek was called to testify since the prosecution believes that the former JSO commander, convicted as the main conspirator in the Đinđić murder, has some information about the Bytyqi case as well.
Namely, at one point in the pre-criminal proceedings he told investigators that he was aware of some circumstances pertaining to the case, but that he did not wish to reveal them.
A document that B92 has seen states that Ulemek said the Bytyqis "got what they were looking for", that everything related to the three was ordered from Belgrade, and that the persons who took them from the prison are no longer alive, while "the whole case has a political background".
As the trial wrapped up today, the judges decided to order Vlastimir Đorđević, currently in Hague detention, to testify once the process continues at a later date.