interview by Aleksandar CIRIC
Dragan Karleusa says that he does not know why he was appointed for the chief of the operational group for "the freezer truck case". Previously in his career he had mostly dealt with "ordinary" crime, especially robberies and illegal trafficking of stolen art. Two-three dozen paintings leaning against the walls of his office - one of them a damaged canvass from the Yugoslav Parliament building, ten paintings stolen by "our guys" in Switzerland and a Renoir stolen from Slobodan Milosevic's residence - testify that his interest in theft of art is still strong. We did not ask him whether the automatic gun on his desk was his own or a piece of evidence. Regarding the early stages of work on the "freezer truck case" Karleusa says that they were extremely difficult. "Initially, I was also convinced that none of that was true". In the field, in Kladovo he faced the silence of his colleagues. "They say, 'yes, it happened...,' look at us, keep checking whether we're really Police. We were surprised with the reluctance of policemen to cooperate, especially as we were also from the Police and had orders from the very top, from the Minister himself. It went on for days, very ugly. They opened up slowly, because initially they were ordered to forget about everything."
VREME: According to the published information, the then head of the Public Safety Division Vlastimir Djordjevic played the key role in that. Immediately, after the beginning of your investigation he left the country?
DRAGAN KARLEUSA: True. We tried to contact him. He had retired, and I even once phoned him, not knowing that he may be involved. I asked him whether he knew anything about some freezer truck. He mumbled something, but did not really say anything useful.
Where is General Djordjevic today?
We only know of contradictory rumors, that he is in Moscow, Yugoslavia, Macedonia...
Has his extradition been requested?
We have started a local search, within FR Yugoslavia. We have informed all the border crossings and all the Police forces. For an extradition request we need a central arrest warrant issued by a competent court after a legal procedure. The request is then sent to the Interpol and international institutions. As far as I am concerned, he cannot hide. We'll find him if we need him.
General Djordjevic disappeared after your statement on May 25, 2001, that in March 1999, a meeting was held at Slobodan Milosevic's office, and that Vlajko Stojiljkovic, Vlastimir Djordjevic, Radomir Markovic, and others attended that meeting. Who are these "others"?
Why haven't you revealed their names?
Something we know, something we don't. Or perhaps, those names are not relevant. We investigated that side, that story about Vlajko, Rodja... Many others from the senior leadership at the time attended that meeting.
Have you questioned Stojiljkovic and Markovic?
We haven't talked to Radomir Markovic because he was already under investigation. However, the court has his statements regarding this affair, obtained within the already initiated investigation against him. We could not question former Minister Vlajko Stojiljkovic. I called him several times, even officially, in written form. He invoked his immunity from prosecution, as a representative in the parliament, and said that he did not have time to talk with us. Once his immunity is revoked, we'll talk.
In early June you stated that you've had a hard time obtaining documentation in connection with the freezer truck... Why? What sort of difficulties did you encounter?
Even an ordinary crime scene investigation must follow a certain procedure. It must have a beginning, there should be records, a record of collected evidence... However, in such a case, a freezer truck full of corpses, there were no records of any sort. And we already knew that a crowd had gathered, that people other than policemen were involved, such as people who brought coffins, truck drivers, passers by... It is really interesting how tightly all of that was shut, really shut. I asked the investigator how many corpses were in the truck and he said he did not know. "Didn't you photograph the crime scene, as you were supposed to?" "Yes I did, but we were ordered to destroy everything"... Those people haven't committed a crime, but they are nevertheless terrified. You know, at that time "God" walked on Earth. You know what could happen if someone dared do something he wasn't supposed to. Later we obtained negatives and photos of the freezer truck, and that's all we have.
What is the origin of the news about 83 bodies and three severed heads in the freezer truck?
That came from the police technician who, together with tens of others, including the chief of police and chief of crime division, was on the spot. They packed the first 30 bodies and after a while managed to haul them up to the road. Examination of the bodies revealed that they had head injuries inflicted by hard objects, perhaps rifle butts, hammers or axes... All together 86 corpses were counted, two of them children. The technician said he would never forget those two kids. Blue eyes, a blonde kid in a sweater. A girl had a doll, and a notebook. All of that was packed and carried away. Horror! He says: "I had nightmares because of that and this is a chance to unburden my soul." Since as a human being, a policeman, I realized what was going on, that already buried corpses had been dug up and transferred here, in which way they were killed and who they were (out of 36 to 40 of them, there are nine kids, seven-eight Berishas, we found their personal identification cards, various documents, money was found in socks, underwear, pockets) I have no doubts regarding what and why we are doing this.
Initially 86 corpses were mentioned, and in the end, in so far finished exhumations, those 86 are nowhere to be found...
We still haven't found them, but unfortunately we found 400 others. Actually more, because forensic experts talk about the minimum definite number.
That means that there are more mass graves?
Yes. We started exhumations on one end, and so far in Batajnica, 36 bodies have been found in the first and another 269 in the second mass grave. Had we started at the other end, we may have found bodies from the freezer truck. Information obtained in the investigation, which has so far turned out to be correct, indicates that another 3 graves are to be found in Batajnica. We have informed the competent district prosecutor about that. We could not know in advance how many bodies had been buried in each one of the graves. Based on the aforementioned information, we can expect to find about 800 bodies in Batajnica. That is horrendous. At the time we came out with that information, everyone behaved as if we were crazy. And look what has happened! First there was no freezer truck, now it turns it did exist; we initiated the regular procedure, informed the court, obtained a warrant, exhumed one, two, five mass graves...
Who will carry out identifications? Where are the exhumed bodies now?
Identification goes in two directions. Initial identification is based on clothing items, footwear, documents found on bodies, such as photos, driving licenses, movie theater tickets... On the other hand, for definite identification we need DNA identification, because a driving license is, well, a driving license, and found photographs cannot be compared with found human remains. We are capable of performing DNA identification, but our labs have a very small capacity, while the procedure takes time and is very expensive - each identification costs several thousands of dollars. It is necessary to compare samples with DNA samples taken from relatives, and that also takes a while. Personally, I doubt that everyone will be identified. For example, so far several thousands of corpses have been found in Kosovo and very few have been identified, even though considerable international resources were available. Bodies exhumed from the grave in Petrovo Selo were buried at an improvised cemetery as specified by customary procedure. All bodies exhumed in Batajnica are kept in underground tunnels, on the spot. They were not reburied because investigation hasn't been completed. I suppose they will stay here until the identification is finished.
If it is true, as you say, that crime has no name and surname, a criminal definitely has - and we are missing the name of the criminal in this case.
I do not care whether the victims were Albanians, Muslims, Catholics or someone else. These bodies are corpses of people brought from Kosovo and Metohija, most likely ethnic Albanians, killed outside military activities. That is why they were brought here. Figuring out who did that, how bodies ended up here, and who ordered that everything be done, I cannot but realize that now all of us - my honor, the honor of my family, thousands of honorable policemen, soldiers, officers, and finally all of us, Serbs, as a nation, has been soiled. And criminals are individuals and those individuals must be identified, found, and prosecuted. I don't know whether we'll succeed but everything we do is with that goal in mind.
You say you talked to tens of witnesses, participants in the transport, digging up, and reburials...
Kladovo, Tekija, Perucac, Uzice, here in Batajnica... Here, there are many innocent individuals who drove away, drove back, washed trucks; a person gets the task to drive the truck somewhere, there someone else takes over, drives back, go to Pristina and drive a truck back here... Are they guilty? No, they are only witnesses.
From the legal point of view, perhaps not all of them, but definitely some could be indicted as accomplices in destruction of evidence of a crime...
I don't think that is important at this point. Who should decide that?
Fine, if judiciary is convinced that those people share responsibility and should be treated in the same way as those who are directly responsible for everything, that's fine with me. However, it should be kept in mind that during the bombardment, during the war, "God" walked on earth, and people were afraid of their own shadows... many of them were mobilized, worked for the secret service or were reservists.
Police is deeply involved in the whole affair, from its start to the very end.
It turns out that way. But, don't forget that the Police found out that policemen did that. We could not figure out whether the military was also involved. They need to do that on their own. We did what we could and used the information we have access to, but did not poke in other people's backyards. In any case it is certain that everyone involved will be mentioned in the indictment. Whether that will be done by the prosecutor or by us, I'm not sure. However, what I've seen so far - some drove, some took over trucks - that's all the same degree of responsibility. All of them are desperate, bitter that they were forced to do that. It's easy to say today "no way, I wouldn't do it", but then it was still very early in the war.
How come five mass graves in Batajnica and in Petrovo Selo are located within Special Antiterrorist Units (SAJ) training grounds?
We need to ask General Djordjevic why he ordered that trucks be taken to Petrovo Selo and Batajnica. All of that was incredibly stupid and incompetent. Who came up with the idea of pushing the freezer truck in the Danube, and doing it so that it almost immediately floated back to the surface? Almost the same happened with the freezer truck in Perucac. Probably someone reasoned like this: "We won't do that anymore, it obviously does not work". Consequently, they decided to start digging. Those who could explain what was going on are not available. General Djordjevic is the key for the whole story. On the other hand, both SAJ centers were empty during the bombardment, and perhaps that's precisely why they were chosen.
The investigation and forensic work will take a while. Can you guess when the exhumations in Batajnica will be continued?
Exhumations stopped because of technical reasons. We now have 420 bodies awaiting identification. If we were to dig up another 400 bodies, we would not know what to do with them, and the bad weather season is coming. Nevertheless, the most important reason [for stopping exhumations] is that we need to produce complete reports on all the exhumations conducted so far. If we don't know who the victims are, where they came from, we cannot continue. In the first grave we found bodies of at least a few individuals from Suva Reka [in Kosovo]. Therefore, we can proceed, figure out who was there at the time, and did what. There were witnesses there, we've received whole piles of testimonies and evidence... Now, it's up to the courts. That is why it is important to collect basic information about bodies exhumed so far, so that we could direct the investigation towards the perpetrators of the crime. Although, as a Belgrader, I am hurt that our city is being mentioned by the media all over the world because of mass graves, based on conversations with journalists from abroad, my impression is that our efforts and the openness with which we approached the whole investigation have changed their views, for the better.
Two weeks later, April 5, 1999, the freezer truck surfaces. The Police establishes that the truck is full of corpses. Head of the Serbian Public Safety Division (RJB) Vlastimir Djordjevic, after certain consultations, issues the following order: "Secure the location, suppress all information about the incident and pull the truck out of the river". The case was classified as top secret.
May 3, 2001, Serbian Police retired at that time already former head of the RJB General Vlastimir Djordjevic, denying any connection with the "freezer truck scandal".
On May 7, the new head of the RJB Sreten Lukic forms an operative group with the task of establishing all the relevant facts about the discovery of a truck with unidentified corpses and, based on the results of the investigation, taking appropriate legal measures.
On May 18, deputy Prime Minister of the Serbian government Zarko Korac stated in Geneva that "the government is working hard on extending the local indictment of the former president of Yugoslavia Slobodan Milosevic to include war crime charges". His colleague from the government, Justice Minister Vladan Batic, on May 19 demands from the president of the Supreme Court of Serbia and acting state prosecutor to urgently solve "the freezer truck case".
Four days later, on May 23, Natasa Kandic (Humanitarian Law Fund) sends a letter to the Justice Minister and Internal Affairs (Police) Minister, as well as the president of the Serbian Parliament, claiming that a truck with corpses dating to the NATO bombardment has been sunk in the lake near Kokin Brod.
The following day, on May 24, Dusan Mihajlovic, Minister of Internal Affairs (Police), explains that Sreten Lukic, between June 1998 and the end of NATO bombardment in 1999 the coordinator of the Serbian Police Headquarters for Kosovo and Metohija, was appointed for the head of the RJB "because his file is clean" and he "cannot be prosecuted for crimes committed in Kosovo only based on command responsibility". Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic states that the government ministers were aware that Sreten Lukic "is not an angel", but also stresses that he was the most appropriate candidate for that position.
On May 25, Captain Dragan Karleusa announced that evidence of crimes was removed from Kosovo and Metohija based on Slobodan Milosevic's orders, issued in mid March 1999, at a meeting attended by the them Minister of Internal Affairs Vlajko Stojiljkovic, the then head of the RJB General Vlastimir Djordjevic, the then head of the State Security Service General Radomir Markovic and others.
A day before the Police Day, on June 2, Dusan Mihajlovic, Minister of Internal Affairs (Police), announces that exhumation of one mass grave has started and reiterates that there are several mass graves in Serbia. He also mentioned that the freezer truck pulled out of the Danube near Tekija contained 83 bodies, and three severed heads.
On June 7, "Vreme" publishes that the mass grave where exhumation has already started is located in the Serbian Police Special Antiterrorist Units (SAJ) training grounds "May 13" near Batajnica. The Serbian Police later confirms the information published by "Vreme", as well as previously published claims, that more mass graves are to be found near Petrovo Selo, at another SAJ training grounds.
In mid-June Minister Dusan Mihajlovic and the Serbian Police announces that information obtained in the investigation indicates that there are several mass graves in Serbia, containing at least 800 corpses. "Vreme" publishes a dramatic testimony of the driver of a truck with corpses, who has in the meantime found shelter abroad, while "Timocka krimi revija" magazine claims that a driver known to them transported about a thousand corpses from Kosovo and Metohija during the NATO bombardment.
July-August: The exhumation of two mass graves in Petrovo Selo and one in Batajnica unearths remains of at least 110 persons. Unlike in Petrovo Selo, where among 74 corpses only one was of a female, in Batajnica remains of eight children and one fetus were found. The rest were men and women. On six persons documents with the name Berisha were found, all of them from Suva Reka.
September: The exhumation of a mass grave near the Perucac Lake, near Bajina Basta reveals remains of at least 48 adults. In another grave in Batajnica remains of at least 269 men were found, together with the truck trailer in which they were transported.
In the second grave in Batajnica forensic experts found evidence indicating that the victims were "civilian soldiers" (several sets of underwear and clothing worn on top of each other, shaving kits, one Albanian Army identity tag). Information obtained by the Police indicates existence of three more graves in Batajnica, and another one, somewhere under the highway near Vranje. It is estimated that all together, including the exhumed bodies, about 800 bodies are buried in Batajnica.