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Milan Babić (born February 26, 1956 in Kukar, Croatia) was from 1991 to 1995 the leader of the Republic of Serbian Krajina, a largely Serb-populated region which broke away from Croatia following its declaration of independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, in 2004 he was the first ever indictee to admit guilt and bargain a plea with the prosecution, after which he was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Babić was originally a dentist by profession and in 1989 became one of the directors of the medical centre in Knin, 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 (SDS) 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 along the Croatian-Bosnian border. Croatia's moves towards independence following the election of the nationalist President Franjo Tuđman were strongly opposed by the country's Serbian minority, who were supported both politically and militarily by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Serbia under President Slobodan Milošević. Nationalist Serbs in the Krajina established a Serbian National Council to coordinate opposition to Tuđman's policies; Babić was elected its President.
In September 1990, a referendum was held in the Krajina (but was confined to Serb voters) on the question of Serb "sovereignty and autonomy" in Croatia, which was passed by a majority of 99.7% but was declared illegal and invalid by the Croatian government. Babić's administration in Knin announced the creation of a Serbian Autonomous District (Srpska autonomna oblast or 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 would also 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, leaving dozens dead on both sides.
Around August 1991, Babić became a party in 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 co-participants 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. According to testimony given by Babić in 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, during which time approximately 80,000 Croats and Muslims were expelled or killed. Thousands more died and were deported in fighting in eastern Slavonia, but the JNA was the principal actor in that part of the conflict.
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, Slobodan Milošević disagreed with this position: his strategic aims in Croatia had largely been achieved and the JNA was needed for the looming war in Bosnia. Babić was sidelined and the Vance plan was pushed through the RSK Assembly on February 16, 1992. On February 26, 1992, Milošević engineered the removal of Babić 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. The Vance plan went nowhere: the JNA did withdraw but simply turned over its weaponry to the Krajina Serbs, peace talks achieved nothing and non-Serb refugees were not allowed to return. Indeed, the Krajina Serb authorities continued to make efforts to ensure that they could never return, destroying villages and cultural and religious monuments to erase the previous existence of the non-Serb inhabitants of the Krajina. Babić later testified that this policy was driven from Belgrade through the Serbian secret police - and ultimately Milošević - who he claimed were in control of all the administrative institutions and armed forces in the Krajina. (It should be noted that 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 most of the Serb population of the region. He is said to have retired to a chicken farm in Vojvodina.
In December 2002, Babić was unexpectedly revealed as a witness against Slobodan Milošević, testifying to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia 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 is - so far - the only participant in the Croatian war to have admitted guilt. His testimony has also been of great importance to the prosecution in bolstering their case 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. The court found that while "Babić was not the prime mover, ... Babić chose to remain in power and provided significant support for the persecutions."
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