Yugoslav General Convicted of Kosovo War Crimes Dies in Serbia
Dragoljub Ojdanic, who was the chief of the general staff of the Yugoslav Army and served a sentence for crimes against Kosovo Albanians during the war in 1999, has died in Belgrade.
Senior Yugoslav Army officer Dragoljub Ojdanic died on Sunday in Belgrade at the age of 79 “after a short illness”, the Serbian defence ministry said in a statement.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia sentenced Ojdanic to 15 years in prison in 2009 for aiding and abetting the deportation and forcible transfer of Kosovo Albanians during the war, when he was chief of the general staff of the Yugoslav Army.
According to the verdict, he “provided practical assistance, encouragement, and moral support to the VJ [Yugoslav Army] forces engaging in the forcible displacement of Kosovo Albanians in co-ordinated action with the MUP [Serbian Interior Ministry]”.
“He contributed by issuing orders for VJ participation in joint operations with the MUP in Kosovo during the NATO air campaign, by mobilising the forces of the VJ to participate in these operations, and by furnishing them with VJ military equipment,” verdict said.
“In addition to issuing orders allowing the VJ to be in the locations where the crimes were committed, he also refrained from taking effective measures at his disposal, such as specifically enquiring into the forcible displacements, despite his awareness of these incidents,” it added.
The indictment was issued in May 1999 and according to the verdict, after receiving it, “Ojdanic continued to issue orders… despite his knowledge of crimes being committed against Kosovo Albanians during previous joint operations”.
Ojdanic appealed against the verdict, but the Hague court announced in 2013 that he had dropped his legal challenge and admitted the crimes.
However, eight months later, when he was released after serving two-thirds of his sentence, Ojdanic withdrew his confession.
He spent over 11 years in prison but his official biography on the defence ministry website does not contain any information about the verdict or his sentence.
Ivana Zanic, executive director of the Humanitarian Law Centre, which monitors war crimes trials, said that this shows how war criminals are treated in Serbia.
“This maintains the public belief that when someone who has been convicted before the Hague Tribunal has served that sentence, it has nothing to do with him anymore so he can continue with his life with all the privileges that this country gives him,” Zanic told BIRN.
Prior to the Kosovo war, Ojdanic was commander of Uzice Corps of the Yugoslav Army, which participated in the Bosnian war.
After the war, Ojdanic become Yugoslavia’s federal defence minister for several months in 2000 and then retired at the end of the year.
Several other senior officials were charged with Kosovo crimes alongside him – former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, former Yugoslav deputy prime minister Nikola Sainovic, former Yugoslav Army commander Nebojsa Pavkovic, former chief of staff of the army’s Pristina Corps, Vladimir Lazarevic, and the former head of the Serbian interior ministry for Kosovo, Sreten Lukic.
All of them except Milutinovic were convicted.