Franko Simatovic Frenki is the Croat with the longest career - almost 25 years - in the Serbian secret service. Formerly he worked in the Belgrade office of the Federal Secret Service (Sluzba drzavne bezbjednosti - SDB) as a counter-intelligence agent; his task was to follow the activities of American diplomatic offices, business people, even tourists who visited Belgrade. When the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) dissolved, Jovica Stanisic became the head of the Serbian secret service, and Franko Simatovic became his deputy. In the mid-1990's, Simatovic became the head of the newly formed intelligence section of the newly appointed state security department (Resor drzavne bezbednosti - RDB), and later on the commander of a paramilitary unit.
Today Frenki and his family live in Senjak, next to Dedinje, the most exclusive Belgrade suburb, in a three-bedroom apartment in a building built especially for members of the Serbian police.
After Jovica Stanisic was unexpectedly dismissed and retired in 1998, and Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan killed on January 15, 2000, today the only person the president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), Slobodan Milosevic, has left from the team which headed his secret police for seven years is - the Croat Franko Simatovic.
Even though little is known about him because he is a protected member of the secret police, rumors of his exploits have made him popular among Serbian hardline nationalists. They consider him to be a national hero, and utter his nickname, Frenki, with awe and respect.
The public learned a little more about him only in the mid-1990's, when one of the members of Frenki's paramilitary, Branislav Vakic, broke his silence in a British newspaper, "The Guardian". This former paramilitary commander and highly placed member of Milosevic's leftist coalition described how a small group of secret police under the direct oversight of the president led a secret dirty war, arming thousands of prisoners and sending them to Croatia and Bosnia. From April 1991 to the conclusion of the war at the end of 1995, groups such at the Serbian Chetnik Movement and Arkan's Tigers carried out ethnic cleansing and looting in a large area of the former Yugoslavia.
The strings were pulled from the shadows by a group from the secret service department of the ministry for internal affairs (MUP) of Serbia which was completely loyal to Milosevic, who appointed them to these important positions. In the MUP of Serbia they were known as the "military wing" and its key figures, responsible for the arming and training of paramilitary units were police general Radovan Badza Stojicic, who was shot three years ago; the Hungarian Mihalj Kertes, who is now the director of Yugoslav customs; and Croat Franko Simatovic. All three worked at that time for Jovica Stanisic, the head of Milosevic's secret police.
Branko Vakic told "The Guardian" that he met for the first time with Badza and Frenki in May of 1991 in Eastern Slavonia in Croatia. "At that time we received weapons from them. But in January of 1993 we began joint operations in Skelani and the vicinity of Srebrenica".
Vojislav Seselj at one time told reporters that his people fought together with the "red berets" and, besides Frenki, he mentioned Mihalj Kertes as their commander, who was named to this function by yet another Serbian warlord, the self-styled Chetnik military commander (vojvoda), Dragoslav Bokan.
While Frenki took over command of the Chetniks in eastern Bosnia, Badza hooked up with Arkan's "Tigers". A 1991 photograph seen around the world illustrates their "special relationship": Arkan and Badza smile while standing in front of the training camp of the "Tigers" in Erdut, close to the Eastern Slavonian battlefield.
In autumn of 1998, the weekly "Newsweek" wrote: "Frenki's men were officially the special operations unit of the RDB MUP of Serbia. Five hundred members of the unit were recruited from either the RDB or from the Yugoslav Army special forces command. According to CIA data, these are all experienced soldiers, war veterans below the age of 35."
"Every one of them was subjected to continuous so-called psychometric testing, verification of their endurance as well as loyalty to the president of FRY. Only someone who has proven his loyalty toward Milosevic can become a member of the special operations unit..."
"Even though commander Franko Simatovic is officially an RDB officer, he answers only to the president. He earned this position by his role in earlier campaigns of ethnic cleansing. During the conflict in Bosnia in 1992, Simatovic headed a MUP secret police operations unit. The unit ran the paramilitary formations in Bosnia," wrote the New York magazine "Newsweek".
Agents of the British secret service MI6 say that Simatovic was the "link" between the paramilitary units and the Serbian government, and information regarding Frenki's unit was also connected by British major Julian Muir (sp?) who says: "Milosevic's guard is recognizable by their characteristic black masks and red berets. That is why they are frequently called 'red berets' in the press."
"Its members drive modern vehicles with four-wheel drive and special armor. They operate in groups of 20 to 25 men."
"The unit for special operations is well-trained, well motivated and very, very dangerous. It played a key role during the terror in Kosovo. Unlike 'free-lance' paramilitaries of local Serbian leaders and volunteer bosses, this organizations was under Milosevic's direct supervision."
"The RDB special operations unit took part in most of so-called 'black' or 'wet' operations. These are planned attacks in order to liquidate certain persons, families or groups of Kosovo Albanians who were determined to be important targets by Milosevic's intelligence service," states Major Muir.
A third unit of "Frenki's boys" terrorized Djakovica. The local leader of the Serb volunteer guard, Bozidar Dogancic, walked down the streets of the town escorted by a team from the unit for special operations and pointed out the houses of those who were destined to be shot.
However, "the followers of Frenki" were not limited in their activities to the region of Kosovo. In May of 1998, one of their units provoked an armed conflict with the Montenegrin police in the village of Rozaje. It arrested Edin Dedic, the son of a local police chief. However, the armed local policemen freed Dedic and then followed "the followers of Frenki" who withdrew to their base in Pec, in the west of Kosovo.
Evidence of crimes by Serbian paramilitaries is being used, first and foremost, by the Hague court for additional indictments against Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. Chief prosecutor Louise Arbour stated on July 29, 1998 that the investigation of activities of paramilitary organizations "opens very complex questions of command responsibility" and that in the case of "the followers of Frenki", the chain of command is a straight, strong and easily traceable line leading directly to Slobodan Milosevic. "Genocide in Kosovo was planned in advance at the highest level."
"The testimony which we have collected regarding the bestial acts by 'the followers of Frenki' prove that these acts were not spontaneous," added Louise Arbour, stating that "the involvement of Milosevic in Kosovo was incomparably greater that in Bosnia".
According to British top secret documents, Franko Simatovic Frenki was one of the rare members of the secret police of the Serbian ministry of internal affairs who in 1998 survived the dismissal of chief Jovica Stanisic. He remained as the head of his special unit when General Rade Markovic became head of the state security department.
The task of Frenki's army, as the Serbs call it, is to control and suppress the activities of the KLA, the Albanian armed forces, in the trouble spots around Kosovo and Metohija. These points include Bujanovac, Presevo and Medvedja, Serbian municipalities in the south with a majority Albanian population, and the border crossings: Konculj near Bujanovac and the bridge on the Ibar in Kosovska Mitrovica.
Franko Simatovic is called simply Frenki by everyone, even by those who have only heard of him. At the same time, they lower their voice almost automatically. In Belgrade, and not only there, that name is mentioned more quietly than any other and reasons for this surely exist. Fear is only one of them.
Frenki's photograph does not exist in any newspaper documentary. No one, not even the best-informed Belgrade reporters, knows what he looks like. He is approximately 180 centimeters tall, has brown hair and ordinary appearance. He does not differ in any respect from any other average 50 year-old except that he is in much better physical shape.
No reporter is known to have spoken with him. The infamous reporter of the Belgrade bimonthly "Duga", Nebojsa Jevric (who became "famous" when he impudently wrote that, upon entering the house of singer Tereza Kesovija in Konavle in 1992, burned down by the Montenegrins, he peed in her pool), experienced an uncomfortable close encounter with Frenki on the Bosnian battlefield. He raised his camera with the intention of taking Frenki's photograph but before he could click, Simatovic had pointed a pistol at his temple and seriously threatened that if he tried anything like that again, he would pull the trigger.
One of the "legends" about Frenki is that during the time when the rebellion of the Serbs in Knin, before the famous log barricades were put in place, he came to this region as a "reporter" of the pro-Milosevic daily "Politika". Some degree of skepticism regarding this story is understandable but as an example of the stories about him, this information is not insignificant.
Franko Simatovic was born in Belgrade in 1954 where he graduated from the Faculty of Political Sciences and, at the same time, the Senior Police Academy. During the course of his studies at the later institution, he met Jovica Stanisic, later the head of the Serbian secret service, with whom he first joined that organization and in which he later became an agent.
At that time, when the Milosevic regime began working on breaking up the joint state, that is, before mid-August of 1990, it was not prudent to use the telephone for reaching agreements between Knin and Belgrade. As a result, Frenki frequently visited Knin, where he was involved in the organization the local rebels and their ties with "the home base". While there, he became the teacher to the head policeman in Knin, Milan Martic, and his followers, and later he imported into this story the freshly returned emigrant to Australia, the notorious Dragan Vasiljevic, who gave himself the well-known nickname of Capt. Dragan. The story goes that Frenki introduced himself in Knin as an Irishman who served as Capt. Dragan's bodyguard and that the two of them spoke in English in front of reporters.
At a later period in Republika Srpska Krajina (the Republic of Serb Krajina), Simatovic was frequently in Knin. Among other things, at the beginning of the conflict with Croatian authorities in 1990 and 1991, he was tied to the surprising appearance of "volunteers from Kosovo" in the vicinity of Knin. These were young men with short hair in excellent physical condition who spoke in Belgrade slang. They were, in fact, the well-prepared reinforcements from the federal secret service. All paramilitary forces, various "guards" and similar formations which arrived later arrived under Frenki's organization or at least with his knowledge.
One of the stories about Simatovic is that he, as "Capt. Dragan's bodyguard", while training his mercenaries on the training field, was able to hit any target with a knife from a distance of 30 meters.
Briefly, Simatovic did in the vicinity of Knin exactly what the head of security service (Sluzba javne bezbednosti - SJB) and the deputy Serbian police minister Radovan Stojicic Badza did later but in Eastern Slavonia. This included preparations for more effective waging of war, organization of cooperation among Krajina forces, as well as their cooperation and improvement of relations with Belgrade.
At the same time, Frenki coordinated and organized all campaigns, as part of an informal state security department team which implemented the policies of Slobodan Milosevic.
One detail, that has been reliably confirmed, is that Simatovic "held the keys" to the Serb rocket systems in "RS Krajina" and that he would not allow the reactivation of "Hurricane" and "Luna" systems against civilian targets in Croatia and especially Zagreb during the collapse of the Knin parastate. When the self-proclaimed Krajina "president of the republic", the poorly educated and primitive cop Milan Martic, began rabidly firing rockets at Zagreb on the afternoon of May 2, 1995, Franko Simatovic, acting on Milosevic's orders, hastily rushed from Belgrade to Knin.
He arrived a day later while Martic was in the process of ordering a renewed "revenge attack" on the Croatian metropolis. In the middle of a rocket launch, the freshly arrived Frenki ordered the launch halted, put the crazed Martic in handcuffs and then removed the charges from all projectiles. When the bound, humiliated Milan Martic stated dejectedly that after being embarrassed in such a fashion in front of his soldiers there was nothing left to do but kill himself, Frenki coldly put a pistol in front of him and roughly snapped: "So kill yourself!" As we know, Martic did not follow up on his hollow threat.
On the eve of the "Operation Storm", Frenki Simatovic participated in the withdrawal of Krajina rockets from Croatia. Along the same lines, there is a story about his cooperation with the forces of Kladusa leader Fikret Abdic as well as lively commerce between the two.
Besides Croatia, Frenki Simatovic also stayed and left his mark on eastern Hercegovina, and western and all other parts of Bosnia.
Frenki's men arrested four "spies" in Cakor. As an exceptional professional, Frenki at the same time served in the counter-intelligence agency of the Yugoslav Army. At the end of the 1990's, he set up a special reconnaissance team within the Yugoslav Army under the code name "Little Hats". Members of this paramilitary formation operate in a security zone five kilometers wide at the administrative border of central Serbia and Kosovo. Since the presence of the Serbian police and army in that zone are forbidden by the Kumanovo Agreement, the "Little Hats" enter Kosovo by stealth at night and record the positions of the Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army, as well as organize sabotage attacks against them.
Because of tense political relations between Serbia and Montenegro, and the disturbances between Yugoslav soldiers and the Montenegrin police, Frenki and his special forces men during recent weeks have been quartered near Mt. Lovcen. Their assignment is to prevent the entry of foreign instructors who would train the Montenegrin police and to capture those who are most suspicious on the territory of Montenegro in order to "prove" its cooperation with foreign mercenaries. The most recent arrest of four alleged undercover spies, two Britons and two Canadians, confirm reliable sources, was carried out by Frenki's commandos.
The extent of Simatovic's friendship with the head of the secret service, Jovica Stanisic, is also confirmed by the fact that Frenki was, albeit briefly, "put on ice" the moment when, according to popular gossip, Milosevic's powerful wife, Mira Markovic, upon returning from India, energetically demanded that her husband dismiss Stanisic as head of the secret service because, during the time of the autumn and winter demonstrations against the stolen elections in 1996, he opposed the use of brute police or military force to break them up. When Jovica Stanisic was dismissed, Frenki "fell" from the staff of the SDB. But being useful and successful, he was later returned to that body, primarily because of "applications in Kosovo".
Only in Kosovo did the notorious name "Frenki's boys" become more widely known. There, all informal, paramilitary and parapolice forces connected with numerous serious and brutal as yet insufficiently investigated stories, are called "Frenki's boys".
Franko Simatovic is a capable but anonymous blind executor of Milosevic's policies. It is known that he has access to information regarding all people who are responsible for maintaining the dictatorial hierarchy of Slobodan Milosevic during the past decade. But it is not known whether for that very reason he himself is a candidate for a one-way ticket to The Hague.
What is more, those who are familiar with the Serbian criminal milieu, claim that at least 80 percent of murders which occurred in Belgrade during the past decade and which are attributed to [the late Zeljko Raznatovic] Arkan and other underworld leaders were, in fact, committed by Frenki.
Under current conditions on the Serbian political scene, Frenki has again assumed an already well-rehearsed role in preparing a war "that would never happen"...
This time it may well be a war within central Serbia itself, where police forces, and parapolice forces, are behaving increasingly unusually. Violence is increasingly out in the open, as shown by a recent incident in Loznica, a small town on the banks of the Drina. Unidentified masked units burst in there and, without any provocation whatsoever, clashed with the guests at several local cafes. And rumors are increasingly frequent regarding Frenki's people stationed in Montenegro.
The ball of silence was finally unraveled during a meeting with Andro Banovic: "Of course I know Pero! He was my school friend; after the war we played water polo together; we even founded the Partizan Water polo Club in Belgrade!" said Banovic, an elderly man, now a pensioner who spent his younger years teaching mathematics at the Dubrovnik High School. "I know his son, as well. He is some sort of boss with the police in Belgrade. I heard he is Milosevic's right hand man!" added Mr. Andro, thus explaining the silence of his fellow citizens.
"Neither Pero nor his son visited these parts often. I think that little Franko was in Dubrovnik only a few times while he was still in elementary school. Few people remember them."
Thanks to Mr. Andro, we pieced together the saga of the family of Pero Simatovic and the early biography of Slobo's protector, Frenki.
Pero Simatovic was born in 1921 in Dubrovnik. His father (Franko's grandfather) was Baro from Zupa Dubrovacka, that is, from Cibaca. Pero's mother (Franko's grandmother) Ivanica was from Petrovac-by-the-sea [Petrovac-na-moru], from the Montenegrin seacoast. Old Baro worked there in the service of the Austro-Hungarian administration and there he married Ivanica in 1917. This lady never called herself a Montenegrin, or a Serb; she said she was a woman of the Pastrovici clan near Petrovac. Ivanica Simatovic christened and baptized both sons, and her house was blessed regularly by a Catholic priest.
She always said that she had married a husband from a Catholic family and to her death she honored his religious traditions.
After marriage, Ivanica and Baro Simatovic moved to Grude, in Konavle, where they lived until the beginning of the 1920's. In 1923, a second son, Vlado, was also born to them in Dubrovnik. Baro died on the eve of the war, while Ivanica remained in Dubrovnik, where she died in October of 1982 at the age of 84.
Pero Simatovic was active in water polo. He played for the Dubrovnik Swimming Club and completed teacher's college. Mr. Andro remembers him as a very handsome, silent but strong young man, and an excellent player. "He was top notch! If the war hadn't broken out, Pero Simatovic would have entered history as a Dubrovnik water polo player!"
Andro Banovic remembers seeing Pero for the first time after the war in Belgrade, at a military rally. "He had a high rank while I was a common soldier. I was serving my compulsory military service there. On the spot, he invited me to play on the army's water polo team. He told my officer that I was good and the officer released me. So I spent my military tour of duty with him in that team, approximately one year."
"He saved me because we always had food, we slept in beds... From our team, the Partizan Water polo Club was created which included four of us from Dubrovnik: myself, Pero, Ucovic and Cartan. After I left Belgrade, I didn't see Pero for a long time but I occasionally met Vlado and the mother, Ivanica."
In Belgrade, Pero Simatovic and his first wife had two children: a son, Franko, and a daughter, Dubravka, married Horvat, who today lives in Rijeka. Franko and Dubravka as children visited their grandmother in Dubrovnik every summer at least for a few days.
After they grew up, they never came.
Old Ivanica named her children's children, Franko and Dubravka. A probate proceeding was held in June of 1983, the last time that the two of them and their father, Pero, came to Dubrovnik. The brother and sister divided everything equally, the father took only some photographs and documents.
Ivanica's house was owned by the municipality and today is inhabited by a family which assisted her during her last years but without any regulation of status. The Simatovics, at least the ones from Belgrade, never came to visit. There was no word of them. Once in a while, someone would ask about them until the first mortars of the Yugoarmy and the Chetniks fell along Stradun and the people learned who "Pero's little son" - Franko Simatovic - was in Belgrade and what he was doing!
His contemporaries say that they greeted him as a hero because he brought them a whole squad of Domobrani. When the end of the war came, he was in Belgrade with a high rank and with his first [sic] wife, whose first name our sources could not remember but they were certain her family name was Winter [an Austrian or German family name]. And that her brother, Franko Winter, at the end of the seventies, was the director of Zagreb Television. Slobo's protege probably received his name from his uncle. Pero's younger brother, Vlado, headed in the opposite direction in 1941 - he became a Chetnik [Serb nationalist]! But later, like Pero, he joined the Partisans. He died in 1972 and until his death he lived with his mother in their post-war home, near the Minceta fortress.