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Milan Babić (Милан Бабић; February 26, 1956 – March 5, 2006) was from 1991 to 1995 the first President of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, a Croatian region largely populated by a Serbmarker minority that wished to break away from Croatiamarker. He was indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslaviamarker in 2004; he was the first ever indictee to admit guilt and make a plea bargain with the prosecution, after which he was sentenced to 13 years in prison. He was found dead in his The Haguemarker prison cell on March 6, 2006, having apparently committed suicide.

Entering politics

Babić was born in the village Kukar near the town of Vrlikamarker, in Croatiamarker (then Yugoslavia). He was originally a dentist by profession. In 1989, he became one of the directors of the medical centre in Kninmarker, a largely Serb-inhabited town in southwestern Croatia. He entered politics in 1990, as Yugoslavia began to disintegrate, leaving the League of Communists of Croatia and joined the newly-established nationalist Serbian Democratic Party at its inception, on February 17, 1990. He was elected President of the Municipal Assembly of Knin shortly afterwards. At the time, Serbs comprised about 11% of Croatia's population, forming a majority in a strip of land known as the "Krajina" or Military Frontier along the Croatian-Bosnian border. Croatia's moves towards independence following the election of the President Franjo Tuđman were strongly opposed to the partitioning of their country by their Serbian minority, which was supported both politically and militarily by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Serbiamarker under President Slobodan Milošević. Nationalist Serbs in the "Krajina" established a Serbian National Council to coordinate opposition to Croatia; Babić was elected its President.

Independence of Krajina

Serbs became opposed to any status that would make them remain in an independent Croatia. After Tuđman was elected, the first democratic constitution was drafted and gave the Serbs a minority status within Croatia.

In September 1990, a referendum (confined to Serb population) was held in the Krajina on the question of Serb "sovereignty and autonomy" in Croatia, which was passed by a majority of 99.7%. The vote was declared illegal and invalid by the Croatian government. Babić's administration in Knin then announced the creation of a Serbian Autonomous District (Српска аутономна област, САО, Srpska autonomna oblast, SAO) of Krajina on December 21, 1990 and on April 1, 1991, declared that it would secede from Croatia to join Serbia. Other Serb-dominated communities in eastern Croatia announced that they also would join the SAO. Babić was elected President of the Executive Council of the SAO on April 30 and was subsequently appointed Minister of the Interior and Minister of Defence by the Krajina Serb Assembly. In this capacity, he established an armed militia, blockading roads and effectively severing the Croatian coastal region of Dalmatia from the rest of the country. Clashes between Krajina Serbs and Croatian security forces broke out almost immediately after Croatia declared independence, leaving dozens dead on both sides.

Around August 1991, Babić became a party to what war crimes prosecutors would later describe as a "joint criminal enterprise" to permanently forcibly remove the non-Serb population of the territory under his control in order to make them part of a new Serb-dominated state. His chief accomplices allegedly included Slobodan Milošević, other Krajina Serb figures such as Milan Martić, the Serbian militia leader Vojislav Šešelj, and Yugoslav Army commanders including General Ratko Mladić, at the time the commander of JNA forces in Croatia, all of them now convicted for war crimes. According Babić's testimony during his war crimes trial, during the summer of 1991 the Serbian secret police - under Milošević's command - set up "a parallel structure of state security and the police of Krajina and units commanded by the state security of Serbia". A full-scale war was launched in which a large area of territory, amounting to a third of Croatia, was seized and the non-Serbian population was either massacred or ethnically cleansed. The bulk of the fighting occurred between August and December 1991. Thousands more died and were deported in fighting in eastern Slavonia, but the JNA was the principal actor in that part of the conflict.

Downfall

The international community attempted to resolve the conflict in November 1991 by proposing a peace plan put forward by the UN Special Envoy Cyrus Vance, under which the Krajina would be demilitarised and protected by a UN peacekeeping force while political talks on its future took place. Babić strongly opposed this, instead renaming the SAO as the Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) on December 19, 1991 (to which was added the Serb-held areas of eastern Croatia in February 1992). He urged the Krajina Serb Assembly to reject the Vance plan. However, Milošević disagreed with this position: his strategic aims in Croatia had largely been achieved and the JNA was needed for the looming war in Bosniamarker. Babić was sidelined and the Vance plan was pushed through the RSK Assembly on February 16, 1992. On February 26, 1992, Milošević engineered Babić's removal in favour of Goran Hadžić, a more pliant figure who was reported to have boasted that he was merely "a messenger for Slobodan Milošević".

Although Babić remained active in RSK politics as its Minister of Foreign Affairs, he was a greatly weakened figure. Babić stated that Krajina policy was "driven" from Belgrade via the Serbian secret police; Milošević has denied this, claiming that Babić had made it up "out of fear".

The Bosnian Serbs' military collapse in July-August 1995 propelled Babić into the post of RSK Prime Minister, but he held this for only a few weeks. In early August 1995, the Croatian government launched Operation Storm to retake the entire area of the Krajina (with the exception of the strip in eastern Slavonia, which remained under Serb control until 1998). Babić fled to Serbia along with the entire Krajina Serb leadership and 200,000 Serbian refugees from the region (most of the Serb population in the Krajina). He was said to have retired to a chicken farm in Vojvodinamarker.

Trial and suicide

In December 2002, Babić was unexpectedly revealed as a witness against Milošević as part of a plea bargain, testifying before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslaviamarker that Milošević had been personally involved in the Croatian conflict. The following November, he was indicted on five charges of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war. Although he did not initially enter a plea, he pleaded guilty on January 27, 2004 to one count of crimes against humanity in an apparent plea-bargain with prosecutors under which the remaining charges were dropped. He expressed "shame and remorse" in a public statement and declared that he had acted to relieve the collective shame of the Croatian Serbs, asking his "Croatian brothers to forgive their Serb brothers" for their actions. His confession to the war crimes charges marked a major victory for the ICTY prosecutors, as Babić was, prior to his death, the only participant in the Croatian war to admit guilt. His testimony was of great importance to the prosecution in bolstering their contention that Milošević was the main actor in the "joint criminal enterprise" in Croatia.

In June 2004, he was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment when the court rejected the prosecutors recommendation for an 11-year sentence. The court found him more responsible than the prosecutor characterized him but also gave him credit for voluntarily surrendering and pleading guilty. The court found that while "Babić was not the prime mover, ... Babić chose to remain in power and provided significant support for the persecutions." He was sent to a secret location to serve his sentence, which was an unprecedented move by the court. This led to some unproven speculations that Babić had been given a privileged treatment in exchange for his testimony against other defendants. The official justification for not disclosing his location was concerns for his safety from people who he testified against.

Fellow Serbs that Babić accused for war crimes in Croatia, during his trial in The Haguemarker:



Milan Babić was found dead after he reportedly committed suicide on March 5, 2006 while in the ICTY detention unit in The Haguemarker, Netherlandsmarker, where he was in the midst of giving evidence against Milan Martić, his successor as President of the breakaway RSK. While the suicide was confirmed by the Dutch authorities, the information that he hanged himself is still unconfirmed.

Milošević trial

In his own trial, Babić gave testimony that was used to indict Milošević. The former also appeared at the trial of the latter to give evidence. In one case, Milošević denied that he supported Babić by quoting transcripts of his tapped telephone, where he referred to Babić as "an idiot", "ordinary scum" and "Tudjman's trump."

Notes

References




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