by Milos VASIC (with assistance of ANSA and other news agencies)
Nikola was mobilized in early February 1999, as a reservist. He was sent to the barracks in Bor, near his residence.
Always at night: "Since I was trained as driver during my mandatory military service, immediately after my arrival in the barracks I was given an empty freezer truck and ordered to take it to Kosovo, to a military camp east from Pristina. As soon as I arrived, a general took me aside and started to question me. He interrogated me for almost an hour, about political views, my past, whether I ever traveled abroad and the whole spiel - whether I was a patriot, whether I wanted to defend the country etc. As I had served the mandatory military service I knew the correct answers to those questions. While we chatted the truck was loaded and sealed. I do not know where that took place - they never let me near. They drove the truck back. I wasn't supposed to ask questions, but to drive. I did about ten trips between Kosovo and Bor; I found it strange that a large truck was going back and forth during the fighting in Kosovo; there was a shortage of manpower, vehicles, supplies, and I was driving an empty freezer truck back and forth... I soon realized that something was fishy about all that. Once I drove an empty truck from Bor; the camp was full of soldiers, police and various paramilitary units that I could not identify; a policeman took the truck and drove it away. Then he brought it back full and sealed and the travel documents had only one sentence - top secret! That was all. I always drove the truck from Kosovo to Bor at night; I turned the truck over to policemen at the entrance to the copper smelter within the Bor mining-metalworking complex. I waited at the entrance for the truck. I soon realized that I was driving corpses. That did not require a lot of intellect... I knew where these corpses were coming from; I did not know what was being done with them in Bor. My guess was that they were burnt in the smelters; perhaps they weren't... Perhaps they were buried somewhere near the mines; the mines include numerous open cast mines, many tailings and waste rock heaps, many spots where a mass grave could be located... I don't know what later happened with the corpses. I only know that I could not put up with that any more. I started getting nightmares. For example, I'm driving a truck and someone who actually isn't dead comes from inside to kill me. I could not take it anymore; besides, I was afraid that they would kill me once that job was over; as a witness, sooner or later. That wouldn't be a problem for them, to kill a man...
When I decided, I asked two friends of mine from my town for help. I trusted them. We made a deal. They were supposed to wait for me at a hidden spot near Bor; I drove fast that night, because I had a set time by when I was supposed to turn the truck over to the police. I was trying to make sure nothing seemed suspicious; I saved a whole half an hour for the action. My friends waited for me as agreed and while I was changing from my uniform into plain clothes, they opened the truck. It was full of corpses, all the way to the top of the freezer... My friends photographed the corpses and then I kept running. They then drove the truck further, to a hidden spot and counted the corpses. There were 78 bodies; mostly civilians, including one woman, as well as three soldiers of the Yugoslav Army. They recognized one of them. He was originally from our town."
Escape from Serbia: Before that evening Nikola told his wife what he was going to do and asked her to go to the Republic of Srpska; whatever the outcome of the opening of the truck, he was convinced that both of them would be in danger. He was right. Nikola also escaped to the Republic of Srpska. He does not want to reveal the details of that journey, but he indicates that he managed to obtain fake Bosnian documents for himself and his wife. Nikola either does not know or refuses to say what later happened with the freezer truck. Perhaps he is trying to protect his friends. He does not say how many photographs were taken that night, but he showed us two, of good quality. In photos, one can identify feet and shoes of corpses piled up almost to the top of the freezer, as well as military number plates on the truck. He did not want to reveal how many photographs he had taken with him.
From the Republic of Srpska Nikola and his wife crossed over to Croatia in early May 1999, almost three months after his decision to open the truck. Nikola does not want to discuss their whereabouts during those three months. However, after his arrival in Croatia their path can be followed with some certainty. He approached a certain humanitarian organization of born again Christians, which helped him contact a lawyer in Zagreb, famous for his moral integrity and advocacy of human rights. The lawyer acted very cautiously, contacting certain embassies, the ones he supposed had contacts with the Hague tribunal. Because of precautions and distrust of the Croatian authorities and their ambivalence as far as the Hague is concerned, this operation took several days of careful work.
Around May 20, 1999, Nikola entered the embassy of one of great powers in the center of Zagreb. The conversation that followed took place in a specially protected "quiet room" of the embassy, in presence of impressive armed and uniformed security guards. Nikola told his story and showed the photographs, but refused to hand them over; his interlocutors requested several days to check the authenticity of the photographs before giving Nikola safety guarantees and taking him from Croatia abroad. Nikola demanded that they first take him and his wife from Croatia, and then he would be prepared to give them all the details and photographs and answer all the numerous additional questions. The bargaining took a while, and finally representatives of the great power accepted Nikola's demands; apparently the photographs were very convincing. Quietly and discretely, Nikola and his wife were transferred to a European Union country and now live there under protection of the secret service of that country.
Following Nikola's tracks Vreme obtained in Zagreb and few more locations confirmations of the whole story, as well as additional information, that is given outside quotation marks in the text above. Faced with infamous persistence of yours truly, two investigators of the Hague tribunal, one of whom is directly involved in the case, confirmed that they had the mentioned witness and that his story is reliable. In several conversation with former and current authorities in Yugoslavia and Serbia Vreme came to the impression that neither the former nor current authorities were aware of Nikola's existence, nor the whole story. That is yet another illustration of clumsy, superficial and capricious tactics of Milosevic's regime in such matters. Between 1991 and October 5, 2000 they were even unable to commit war crimes properly; some victims escaped an execution (Ovcara 1991), here and there they left numerous witnesses behind (Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo), in some cases executioners started "singing" on their own (Erdemovic) or finally some witnesses came to the conclusion that they were better off seeking protection and testifying in return; some lost nerve and, against orders, plunged a freezer truck in the Danube and escaped, who knows where. Putting aside the nervousness and irritability of certain individuals involved in the dirty history of our glorious war in the last ten years... It is not by chance that suddenly mass graves that were supposed to be hidden for eternity are being discovered and that certain individuals are increasingly frequently making incidents in public; as if they want to be arrested while they are still alive...
Melting point: Nikola's story is related here based on his personal testimony and additional statements by honest individuals and reliable witnesses. Vreme was not able to verify the truthfulness of the story for two reasons. The Hague Tribunal got hold of Nikola before we did; individuals who could help clarify these events are still too afraid to talk. However, that does not absolve us of responsibility to analyze the information at our disposal. Above all, there are photographs taken by Nikola and his friends. Those photographs passed several checks; otherwise the Hague tribunal would have chased Nikola away (recall forger Cedomir Mihajlovic and his "secret State Security Service documents" that he tried to pass to the Hague in 1995). Next, it makes sense to assume that Nikola's story was checked by comparison with intelligence data of different kinds; Serbian territory was recently under increased surveillance by spy satellites, electronic measures of surveillance and ordinary spies... Briefly, the story can be taken as reliable.
Now, where does that leave us, our side? First, Nikola's story indicates that the burying of corpses from Kosovo secretly started before the NATO attack on Yugoslavia, on March 24, 1999. That is confirmed by the case of the freezer truck found in the Danube ("Depth 2"). On Tuesday, June 19, 2001, Minister Dusan Mihajlovic announced the discovery of another mass grave "in a different part of Serbia", besides the already found graves in Batajnica and Petrovo Selo near Kladovo. How many hidden mass graves will we find?
Namely, the problem with those mass graves is not only that they are mass graves, but also that they were hidden. Otherwise innocuous military jargon term "asanation of the terrain" has entered the public discourse; however, one detail has been ignored in the public discussions so far. Corpses collected during the "clearing of the battlefield" are noted, identified if that is possible under the circumstances, or are carefully described for later identification, and buried in known locations in clearly marked graves. Therefore, they are not supposed to be loaded stealthily, at night, in freezer trucks that are then driven far away to police bases or copper smelters, so that those corpses can be secretly buried or destroyed (copper melts at 1083 degrees Celsius). Nikola claims that he drove tens of truckloads before his escape; Dragan Velimirovic, editor of "Timocka krimi revija" said for Glas Javnosti (Tuesday, June 19) that only one driver from that region, a retired policeman, between April and June 1999 transported a thousand corpses from Kosovo to different mass graves all over Serbia. The basic question that is so clear and begs for answer was, naturally, missed by the Serbian public opinion - why were those corpses transferred at night, secretly, and buried all over Serbia at locations far away from prying eyes? Why were individuals involved in the operation required to sign a document stating their obligation to protect state secrets regarding those corpses? Why is everyone so scared when those corpses are mentioned? Military and the police are passing the buck these days claiming that the other side was in charge in Kosovo during the war. Suddenly no one knows who was in command while those corpses were being produced, collected and transported; namely, corpses do not grow on trees, as is well known; someone had to murder living men, women and children in order to produce corpses. They were either killed in fighting, with weapons in hands, or as unarmed civilians, which is a war crime. If they were killed in fighting, military honor demands that they be buried on the spot, or at a military cemetery, after identification and without secrecy; if on the other hand, the victims were unarmed civilians, women and children, that's a different matter. Besides, orders of Yugoslav Army General Vladimir Lazarevic, the commander of Pristina Corps, recently published by the press, about the "clearing of the battlefield" during the war in 1999, clearly state that military tribunals were obliged to conduct investigations if there was suspicion that a crime had been committed. Those orders oblige also the police forces, theoretically above the Yugoslav Army in the command chain.
Therefore, everything is clear. There is a well-founded suspicion that grave crimes have been committed (murders if not genocide, obstruction of an investigation, hiding of evidence, abuse of official position, forcing of others to commit crimes etc.). Evidence of horrible crimes is slowly being discovered; the problem with the dead is that they can cry very loudly and demand justice.