BOSNIA - OPERATION STORM STIRS UP A TEMPEST

Identifier: 
06SARAJEVO1852

C O N F I D E N T I A L SARAJEVO 001852

SIPDIS

NOFORN
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR (DICARLO), S/WCI, EUR/SCE; NSC FOR BRAUN;
USNIC FOR WEBER; OSD FOR FLORY

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/01/2011
TAGS: KAWC, KJUS, PGOV, PINR, PREL
SUBJECT: BOSNIA - OPERATION STORM STIRS UP A TEMPEST

Classified By: DCM Judith Cefkin. Reason 1.4(b) and (d)

1. (C/NF) SUMMARY: The airing of two videos allegedly
documenting war crimes committed against Serbs during
Operation Storm in 1995 has set off a political firestorm in
Bosnia. The intensity of the political firestorm has been
fueled in part by Serb accusations against a prominent
Bosniak war hero, General Atif Dudakovic. According to the
State Prosecutor's office neither video constitutes prima
fascia evidence of war crime, but both are being
investigated. Sarajevo prosecutors are cooperating with
their counterparts in Zagreb and Belgrade with the
investigations. In a meeting with us, the State Prosecutor's
office stressed that it would take time to build solid
criminal cases sufficient to justify an indictment. In the
meantime, the PIC Ambassadors have issued a statement calling
on politicians to cool down their rhetoric, which is
inflaming an already tense pre-election environment. END
SUMMARY

Operation Storm Becomes A Political Storm
-----------------------------------------

2. (C) On August 11, we met with international lawyers from
the State Prosecutor's office to discuss the political and
media battle surrounding two videos that allegedly show war
crimes committed against Serbs during Operation Storm, the
1995 joint offensive by the Croatian Army and the Army of
Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Army of BiH) designed to
liberate Krajina as well as relieve Serb pressure on the
Bihac pocket. Footage from the first video, which initially
aired in Belgrade on August 5, but was subsequently and
widely picked up by Bosnian media outlets, shows a dead Serb
solider, allegedly executed. The second, aired later in the
week, shows a popular Bosniak war hero, General Atif
Dudakovic, waiving his arms and apparently ordering the
burning of Serb villages.

3. (C) Politicians began commenting on the videos
immediately. Serbs sought to equate these videos with the
"Scorpion video" released earlier in the year, which showed
Serb paramilitaries executing Bosniaks during the 1995
Srebrenica massacre. They also attacked the international
community and Bosniaks for failing to prosecute war crimes
committed against Serbs. Bosniaks responded by accusing
Serbs of seeking to blur the distinction between victims and
aggressors and denying that the videos were evidence of war
crimes in the first place.

4. (C) The rhetoric really heated up after the Dudakovic
video became public. Republika Srpska (RS) Premier Dodik and
RS President Cavic announced on August 10 that they planned
to file a report with the BiH State Prosecutor, Croatian
State Prosecutor and Serbian State Prosecutor accusing former
Bosnian General of war crimes. (Note: Under BiH law any
citizen may file a report of criminal activity with the State
Prosecutor's office. End Note). President Tihic, a Bosniak,
accused Dodik and Cavic of using the case as a political
weapon and attacked them for their selective approach to
support for war crimes prosecution (i.e., their failure as RS
leaders to ensure full RS cooperation in the hunt for Mladic
and Karadzic).

Video One - The Executed Serb
-----------------------------

5. (C/NF) The State Prosecutor's office tells us that it has
been investigating the alleged war crimes committed on the
first video for more than two months, and that they are
cooperating with Zagreb and Belgrade prosecutors. Though
media attention has focused on images that show the body of
an allegedly executed Serb soldier, the State Prosecutor is
looking into five episodes on the video, all related to
Operation Storm. These include (in shorthand):

-- The alleged execution of a Serb soldier (o/a 15 September
1995);
-- The alleged execution of four Serb soldiers (o/a 5 August
1995);
-- The desecration of a Serb Orthodox Church (o/a 15 or 16
August 1995);
-- The interrogation of an old man, who may have been
subsequently executed (o/a 13 or 14 August 1995); and,
-- The "celebratory" dragging by a tractor of an already
deceased old man or soldier (the timing of the episode is
unclear).

6. (C/NF) The episodes, not all of which have aired in the
media, are part of a larger video production most likely
compiled by Serbs to prove that they, too, were victims of
war crimes. According to the State Prosecutor's office, the
Army of BiH or groups associated with it took the original
footage, perhaps to promote the mujahadeen, who fought with
the Army of BiH in Bihac. The State Prosecutor's office
notes that the version of the video in its possession
contains Arabic script as well as Cyrillic added by the
Serbs. It also notes that the one identifiable figure in the
video is Abdul al Harby Twafik (Tuwfik), a former mujahadeen
who lived in Bihac until 2001, but has since returned to
Saudi Arabia.

7. (C/NF) The State Prosecutor's office told us that despite
images suggesting crimes had been committed, it will be
difficult to build successful war crimes cases based on the
video alone. Unlike the "Scorpion video", which showed
clearly identifiable people committing a clearly identifiable
crime, this video shows only the outcome of alleged criminal
acts. For example, the video shows the Serb soldiers dead,
but not their actual executions and does not show who was
present at the time. Nor is the audio as clear as print
reports have implied. Much more time is required to identify
suspects and gather evidence before any indictments are
handed down, the State Prosecutor's office said.

Video Two - General Dudakovic
-----------------------------

8. (C/NF) The State Prosecutor's office believes that the
prima fascia case against General Dudakovic is stronger. The
video, which the State Prosecutor's office only received on
August 9, is not the clear evidence of a war crime that some
politicians and media outlets claim, however. A good defense
lawyer could easily provide a credible explanation for
Dudakovic's alleged order to burn Serb villages, the State
Prosecutor's office explained. For example, a defense
attorney could claim that "burn" was slang for attack or
shell villages where enemy troops were concentrated, and not
a literal order to burn villages. Prosecutors must determine
some basic facts, such as what villages (if any) were burned,
before bringing an indictment against Dudakovic, and this,
the international prosecutors explained, would take time.

Comment
-------

9. (C) The State Prosecutor's office is concerned that the
political and media rhetoric about the Operation Storm videos
is only the beginning of an ethnic publicity war over war
crimes. There are plenty of groups on all three sides of the
ethnic divide who have war crimes claims, and the videos may
encourage them to come forward. Prosecutors also worry that
the young, still inexperienced, State Court and Prosecutor's
office may not be strong enough to withstand six more weeks
along lines of the one that just past. There is little doubt
that the politicians are playing to their respective
galleries with their comments on the videos, and that this is
further poisoning an already unhealthy election year
atmosphere. Late today, the PIC Ambassadors released a
statement urging politicians to cool it, but with electoral
dynamic likely to drive political behavior for the next six
weeks, this is likely a message that will bear repeating,
assuming it is heard at all.
MCELHANEY