The assassination of Yugoslavia's defense minister, Pavle Bulatovic, by gunmen inside a Belgrade restaurant throws the spotlight once again on the former Yugoslavia and dramatizes the developing crisis. For Bulatovic was a key component of Milosevic's ruling coalition of Socialists, Radicals, and Montenegrin loyalists, and his sudden violent death has thrown the country into a whirlpool of apprehension and even panic. As the chief official of the Montenegrin branch of Milosevic's Serbian Socialist Party, Bulatovic played a leading role in the effort to keep the tiny republic in the Yugoslav federation; he was the organizer of quasi-military police units in the northern part of the country, and was fully prepared to lead a secession movement if Montenegro should finally make its move and break away. As I warned in a previous column, the Montenegrin time bomb has been ticking ever since the NATO warplanes stopped dropping their payloads on Belgrade. The cold-blooded murder of Pavle Bulatovic may be only the first of many explosions.
Belgrade has been hit by a veritable wave of political violence: first the attempted assassination of Vuk Draskovic, the novelist who is also the leader of the biggest opposition party, the Serbian Renewal Movement; once a member of Milosevic's government, he is the most popular and charismatic of the opposition leaders. Then there was the killing of Arkan, the notorious leader of Serbian paramilitary outfits blamed for most of the prewar killing on the ground in Kosovo, gunned down after dinner at one of Belgrade's finer hotels. And now this. It is like something out of a grade "B" movie, Balkan Gangsters, in which hit men and gun molls frolic through the Weimaresque backdrop of Milosevic's Belgrade, strafing the streets with gunfire to the strains of "Cabaret." But who are these Balkan gangsters?
While the Serbian police have captured Bulatovic's assassin, the New York Times reports that "they say that the organizers of the deed remain at large." Who be they? There are several schools of thought on that question, best summarized by Radio B-52's very interesting account, which quotes a Serbian government official as saying that
"the murder could easily be the work of the Kosovo Liberation. Other speculation went further afield, with the Serbian Radical Party accusing US, British and French intelligence services of masterminding the murder. The US State Department said today that the murder of Bulatovic was new proof that the Belgrade regime was maintaining power by spreading fear, crime and violence. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker told media that only a democratic Serbia could relieve its citizens of the evil which controlled their destiny."
But why is it too far afield to suggest that Western intelligence agencies may have been behind the cold-blooded murder of their declared enemies? It was Bill Clinton, after all, who declared in May of last year that the US would launch covert operations to overthrow Milosevic; since the end of phase one of the Kosovo war, the US has been openly supporting the Alliance for Change, a quarrelsome coalition of tiny parties with more officials than actual members, and continuously declaring that Milosevic and his allies must go voluntarily if possible, violently if need be. While the Administration denied reports that the President's Top Secret executive order would authorize KLA operations inside Yugoslavia, no one expected them to admit it. Certainly this theory, favored by the Yugoslav government, is more credible than the Orwellian explanation put out by the US State Department, which expects the world to believe that Milosevic killed a loyal henchman one who was, moreover, a key figure at the focal point of the developing crisis in Montenegro.
The US line on the Bulatovic assassination was meant to echo an undercurrent in the reporting of the Arkan murder, in which it was widely remarked that perhaps Milosevic was trying to get rid of someone who knew too much. But that, too, was not believable. For how did Milosevic benefit from Arkan's death? The idea that he was trying to silence a witness complicit in war crimes is laughable: in order to really achieve this, Milosevic would have to execute each and every surviving Serbian paramilitary, in what would amount to a highly improbable act of self-immolation.
On the other hand, Arkan's death fed into the atmosphere of uncertainty and disintegration inside Yugoslavia, and we all know who benefits from that development. It was all too predictable that some elements of the opposition would use these killings to carry out their role as NATO's fifth column, and presenting themselves as the only alternative to anarchy. The headline on the Reuters story said it all: "Serbia in Chaos, Milosevic Opponents Say." The most immediate beneficiaries of the assassination, the government of President Djukanovic of Montenegro, solemnly echoed this assessment: "Serbia has become a country of chaos, dictatorship and despair,'' said Miodrag Vukovic, a senior official of Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists. In this atmosphere, the decision to hold a referendum on Montenegro's membership in the Yugoslav federation could be implemented as promised by Djukanovic without the threat of Bulatovic leading a rump loyalist Montenegro in the north.
It is always good to ask "who benefits?" But we must also have another kind evidence, if not straight from the crime scene then from the history of the suspects. There is plenty in the known history of Western intelligence agencies to verify their ruthlessness, their willingness to commit murder, mayhem, and worse. The CIA's assassination attempts aimed at Fidel Castro are common knowledge, perhaps because of the comic inability of our Covert Keystone Kops to pull off the job in spite of trying virtually everything, from slow poison to an exploding cigar.
In the case of the former Yugoslavia, however, the evidence we have is a bit more solid: the testimony of a former employee of M16, the British intelligence service, who says that the Brits were involved early on, in 1992, in a scheme to assassinate Slobodan Milosevic. Richard Tomlinson caused a sensation last year when he posted the names of M16 agents on his website, blowing their cover and bringing the wrath of the British and US governments down on his head. Tomlinson's book on his experiences in M16 was suppressed by the British government, and censorship was imposed on British newspapers and other media in order to prevent them from publishing the information, or giving out the address of Tomlinson's site. Naturally this edict had the exact opposite of the intended effect: in the age of the Internet, the list was soon posted practically everywhere you looked in cyberspace, in spite of fruitless attempts by the US and British authorities to close Tomlinson down. Among his more interesting revelations was of M16's plan to assassinate Slobodan Milosevic, a project described by Tomlinson in a letter to his lawyer made publicly available. Addressed "to whom it may concern," it demonstrates how the Brits always the most gung-ho in Kosovo war would stop at nothing in their effort to overthrow the duly elected government of a sovereign nation. Tomlinson writes:
"From March 1992 until September 1993 I worked in the East European controllerate of MI6 under the staff designation of UKA/7. My role was to carry out natural cover operations (undercover as a businessman or journalist etc) in eastern Europe. The Balkan war was in its early stages at this time, and so my responsibilities were increasingly directed to this arena.
"My work thus involved frequent contact with the officer responsible for developing and targeting operations in the Balkans. At the time, this was Nicholas Fishwick, who worked under the staff designation of P4/OPS. We would frequently meet in his office on the 11th floor of Century House to discuss proposed and ongoing operations that I was involved in and, indeed, many other operations which I was not myself involved in.
"During one such meeting in the summer of 1992 Nick Fishwick casually mentioned that he was working on a proposal to assassinate President Milosevic of Serbia. I laughed, and dismissed his claim as an idle boast as I (naively) thought that MI6 would never contemplate such an operation. Fishwick insisted that it was true, and appeared somewhat offended that I did not believe him. However, I still presumed that he was just pulling my leg, and thought nothing more of the incident
"A few days later, I called in again to Fishwick's office. After a few moments of conversation, he triumphantly pulled out a document from a file on his desk, tossed it over to me, and suggested I read it. To my astonishment, it was indeed a proposal to assassinate President Milosevic of Serbia. The minute was approximately 2 pages long, and had a yellow minute card attached to it which signified that it was an accountable document rather than a draft proposal. It was entitled "The need to assassinate President Milosevic of Serbia". . . .
"The first page of the document was a political "justification" to assassinate President Milosevic. Fishwick's justification was basically that there was evidence that Milosevic was providing arms and support to President Radovan Karadzic in the breakaway republic of Bosnian Serbia. The remainder of the document proposed three methods to assassinate Milosevic. The first method was to train and equip a Serbian paramilitary opposition group to assassinate Milosevic in Serbia. Fishwick argued that this method would have the advantage of deniability, but the disadvantage that control of the operation would be low and the chances of success unpredictable. The second method was to use the Increment (a small cell of the SAS and SBS which is especially selected and trained to carry out operations exclusively for MI5/MI6) to infiltrate Serbia and attack Milosevic either with a bomb or sniper ambush. Fishwick argued that this would plan would be the most reliable, but would be undeniable if it went wrong. Fishwick's third proposal was to kill Milosevic in a staged car crash, possibly during one of his visits to the ICFY (International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia) in Geneva, Switzerland. Fishwick even provided a suggestion about how this could be done, such as by disorientating Milosevic's chauffeur using a blinding strobe light as the cavalcade passed through one of Geneva's motorway tunnels."
Tomlinson goes on to say that "there was no doubt in my mind when I read Fishwick's proposal that he was entirely serious about pursuing his plan. Fishwick was an ambitious and serious officer, who would not frivolise his career by making such a proposal in jest or merely to impress me. However, I heard no more about the progress of this proposal, and did not expect to, as I was not on its distribution list." He published the names on the distribution list, however, and presumably further inquiries should be directed at them. As to Tomlinson's veracity, one can only surmise that his motives have nothing to do either with financial gain or personal ambition: since 1995, when he broke with M16 and started making his extraordinary revelations, he has been banned from coming to Britain, the US, Australia, and France, and, last we heard, was on the run from spooks, having just been driven out of Switzerland.
Tomlinson's testimony is powerful evidence that the "evil" controlling Serbia's destiny is not centered in Belgrade, as State Department spokesman Philip Reeker would have it, or even in Kosovo, as the Yugoslav authorities suspect, but in London, Washington, and Berlin. The idea is to create chaos, to destabilize the country to the point where even the cowardly collaborators of the US-controlled "Alliance for Change" will start to look good and seize the opportunity to break off yet another slice of Yugoslavia.
In this context, even the attempted assassination of Vuk Draskovich begs to be seen from a new perspective: for he is the only opposition leader who has failed to cooperate in any significant way with the NATO-crats, insisting on retaining his independence and unequivocally calling for an end to the Allied assault on his country. If the attempt on his life had succeeded, Milosevic would surely have been blamed and a prominent obstacle to the US goal of consolidating the opposition under its control would also have been achieved. Of course, that's just a coincidence right?
The terrorist campaign now being waged against Yugoslav government officials is aimed, first and foremost, at Milosevic. Remember that hours after NATO bombed his mansion, the Serbian leader was at the negotiating table and the war began to wind down. If assassins can off Arkan and Bulatovic in the heart of Belgrade, then isn't Milosevic next? The Bulatovic assassination is clearly a warning to Milosevic: back down or face the consequences. Once again, the NATO-crats seem to be underestimating both the Serbians and their leader. Whatever else he may be, Milosevic is a survivor: the death of Communism, the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the loss of Kosovo, the humiliation and decimation of defeat after all that, old Slobo is still standing. If the NATO-crats think he will turn himself in to the International Tribunal at the Hague, and deliver not only himself but his country up to the Allied conquerors without a fight, perhaps they are engaging in wishful thinking. Whatever course the Serbian leader may take, it would be an error to mistake Milosevic for the Serbian people. In the unlikely event that Slobo runs up the white flag of surrender, his own people will doubtless string him up in its place.
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