by Slobodan DURMANOVIC
”Holes” in investigation: On the other hand, people who were charged in the investigation with organizing and ordering the attack on the Tuzla convoy, among other wartime mayor of Tuzla Selim Beslagic, are for now off the hook. Beslagic’s file and that of the current mayor of Tuzla Jasmin Imamovic have been marked with “C” by the Hague Tribunal’s Prosecutor’s Office, which means that the presented evidence is not even sufficient to initiate an investigation against them, let alone issue indictments. High wartime police official in Tuzla Zeljko Knez is also partially off the hook, as his file, as well as another two, were marked with “B” by the Hague Tribunal, which means that investigations of the three of them may continue, but that more evidence is needed for an indictment. Novi Reporter was unsuccessful in its attempts to find out the names of the remaining two suspects, but according to our sources neither Budimir Nikolic nor Ilija Jurisic are among them. Namely, the two of them were important members of the Crisis Headquarters of the Tuzla municipality, and according to the indictment issued in connection with the crimes against the Tuzla convoy by the Military Prosecutor in Belgrade in 2002, Nukolic and Jurisic were mentioned together with Bajric, Delibegovic, Brkic and Beslagic.
However, that indictment is an illustration of the way evidence regarding crimes against YPA members in the Tuzla convoy was collected. Going chronologically from the start of the investigation of that crime until today it remains unclear what part of the job was carried out by military investigative magistrates in Serbia-Montenegro, and what part was carried out in Srpska. It is known that in 1995 the Military Prosecutor in Belgrade issued indictments of altogether 53 persons in the Tuzla region, but that list was reduced to six already mentioned names by the Military Prosecutor in 2002: Beslagic, Delibegovic, Bajric, Brkic, Nikolic and Jurisic. It is unclear how, for example, Faruk Prcic or Zeljko Knez, “disappeared” from that indictment, but their files were sent to the Hague from Srpska. According to our sources in the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Srpska, Hague Tirbunal Prosecutor’s Office was sent on several occasions documentation in connection with the crime against the Tuzla convoy, from different sources. “Not everything was done systematically. Instead documents were sent from Belgrade and Banja Luka, and both through official institutions and through individuals. Whenever someone would get some evidence they would send it to the Hague, so that the Prosecution on several occasions appealed that the file be organized better, as they were sent some documents and evidence several times, while on the other hand, some 'holes' in the file still remained," our source says.
Biggest “holes” have to do with Selim Beslagic’s role and partly with that of other important members of the Headquarters, Budimir Nikolic and Ilija Jurisic. However, Beslagic’s case is especially interesting. According to what can be seen in the indictment issued by the Military Prosecutor in Belgrade in 2002 in somewhat more than one hundred pages that Novi Reporter had access to, evidence against Belsagic is based on statements given by YPA officers who negotiated with him about a peaceful withdrawal of YPA from Tuzla. The key statement is that of the commander of the convoy, YPA major Mile Dubajic, who emphasized that Beslagic violated an agreement about a peaceful withdrawal. However, the statement does not include more detailed information about negotiations between Beslagic and Dubajic, given that they went on for days before the withdrawal and that Beslagic and his men in different ways tried to obstruct the talks. Furthermore, the indictment does not mention phone conversations between Beslagic and YPA officers stationed in the air force base Dubrave near Tuzla, the base that today goes under the moniker “Eagle” and is used by SFOR. Namely, one of these conversations (it was partly shown by a local TV-station in Tuzla on the occasion of May 15, “an anniversary of the liberation of Tuzla”) clearly indicates that Beslagic was fully in control of the situation in Tuzla immediately before and during the withdrawal of the YPA from the city. In several excerpts from that conversation Beslagic warns a YPA officer “to keep airplanes on the ground while the YPA is withdrawing from Tuzla, as otherwise there could be trouble”. It is strange that the YPA does not have transcripts of these conversations, even though Beslagic has obviously made an effort to preserve them. However, these transcripts obviously haven’t reached the Hague?! Another mystery are transcripts of Beslagic’s conversation with his subordinates in the field on May 15, 1992 in the afternoon, even though, as Beslagic himself stated, he personally approved that fire be opened on the convoy with, to say the least, a very strange justification that “fierce fire had been opened on the city from the convoy”. Another interesting puzzle is the questioning of Alija Delimustafic, Minister of Internal Affairs (Police) of Bosnia-Hercegovina at the start of the war. Namely, in the abovementioned file of the Military Prosecutor in Belgrade, one of the suggested actions is to “question Alija Delimustafic, who is held in the Central Prison in Belgrade”. Delimustafic was indeed at that time held in custody in Belgrade, but the authorities had arrested him under suspicion of forging documents.
Legal “holes”: Until today it remains unknown whether Delimustafic was actually questioned in connection with the attack on the Tuzla convoy, as the Military Prosecutor had requested. According to our sources from the Military Security Agency (VBA) of the Army of Serbia-Montenegro, civilian authorities received a request for questioning, Delimustafic initially even volunteered to talk to VBA agents, and then everything disappeared behind the veil of “military secret”. “Two rumors were circulating in the service at the time. According to one, Delimustafic’s lawyers, following the advice of the authorities in Sarajevo, opposed any such questioning, using the justification that ‘Tuzla convoy’ case hadn’t received a green light from the Hague Tribunal based on the so-called ‘Rome rules of the road’. According to another rumor, Delimustafic had some useful information about Beslagic’s activities in Tuzla immediately after the beginning of the war, including his negotiations with the YPA regarding its withdrawal from the city. He was trying to discredit Beslagic, given that Delimustafic was Beslagic’s political opponent. Probably only a few individuals in the VBA and some of politicians who were in power at the time know which one of these two rumors is correct,” our source concludes.
Information about Belagic’s role in the attack on the Tuzla convoy will be much more easily obtained with an additional testimony of major Mile Dubajic. That is one of the “trump cards” that the District Prosecutor’s Office in Bijeljina is counting on, after the go ahead received from the Hague Tribunal. Previously, Dubajic should be “protected” from the two edged sword that has been hanging above his head ever since the fateful May 15, 1992. On the one hand his officers and soldiers are blaming him for being “soft and naïve” in negotiations with Beslagic, while on the other hand Beslagic and his men accuse him of “not preventing provocations from the YPA column towards the citizens of Tuzla during the withdrawal”. In an attempt to intimidate him, Beslagic and company immediately took a first step, framing Dubajic in Tuzla as nearly a war criminal who “provoked justified resistance of the citizens of Tuzla”, which is simply an attempt to hide the responsibility of those who organized and carried out the attack on the convoy. Dubajic, on the other hand, is expected to provide answers to a series of questions, starting with the key one: why did he reject to withdraw towards the Ozren mountain [to the west of Tuzla], choosing instead to take the convoy through the city in the situation when he had been warned that that route had already been “booby-trapped”, including “spontaneous” gathering of “citizens” on the sides of the road. Most of “citizens” were members of the Patriotic League and Green Berets [Bosnian Muslim paramilitary formations]. The finale was entrusted to Faruk Prcic’s and Mehmed Bajric’s boys, who laid mines on the road and set sharpshooters and snipers on roofs of apartment buildings at Brcanska Malta. Soldiers in the convoy had no chance of defending themselves or finding shelter from snipers. If we add to all of that small groups that came out of buildings to finish off the wounded, does anything else need to be said?
“If Dubajic did make some mistakes in military strategy, about which soldiers from the convoy testified, he cannot be prosecuted for them. The problem is, it seems, that he is reluctant to speak openly about what happened, and without him it will be hard to pin Beslagic down,” our source from the District Prosecutor’s Office says, declining to comment on whether the prosecution has contacted Dubajic, who has been living in a small town in Vojvodina [northern Serbia].
The roundabout manner in which the prosecution is trying to implicate Beslagic has to do with the manner his accomplices choose for their defense: Bajric, Brkic, Prcic and Delibegovic. That, much harder road will actually be a serious legal battle between the prosecution and the defense.
For now, it can with certainty be said that four “heroes of Tuzla’s resistance to fascism” will be indicted for violation of laws and customs of war. Within that pretty wide formulation, besides violation of the agreement regarding the peaceful withdrawal of the YPA from Tuzla, made according to the agreement between the then Yugoslav and Bosnian authorities, hides a series of brutal murders of more than 200 YPA conscripts on May 15, 1992, among which stand out “verifications” of wounded soldiers – murdered by point blank shots in the head.
“Briefly, Beslagic’s people carried out a massacre,” is how one of the survivors describes the events that took place at Brcanska Malta on May 15, 1992, waiting for summons to testify in court and face his executioners after 13 years.
Of course, if the first defendants actually make it to the court. They will face their first test in several weeks in response to the summons of the District Prosecutor’s Office in Bijeljina to a questioning. Unless, they suddenly change address and disappear or, become “unreachable” as far as the Federation BH police is concerned…
Related article: Hell In Brcanska Malta, massacre of Yugoslav soldiers in Tuzla, Reporter, Srpska, B-H, 5/21/2002