Dragan Vasiljković, nicknamed Captain Dragan, was a founder and captain of the Serbian paramilitary unit called Knindže (Nicknames: Knin ninjas, Red berets). He is accused of war crimes by the Republic of Croatia, and is currently being held in an Australian prison pending an appeal against the successful extradition application by the Croatian Government in a Sydney court. His grounds of defense are that as a Serbian Captain, he believes that he would be biased facing a Croatian Court and that no evidence of the allegations are required under the Extradition Act 1988 (House of Commons Extradition Requirements - Section 10) for an Australian citizen to be extradited. He worked as a golf instructor in Australia. He was also a presidential candidate of Serbia in 1991, flew a single engine aircraft PA32 (N3507W) across the Atlantic in 1990, sailed around the world (SY THYNDERCHILD - cutter rig) and is a golfer single figure handicap. Dragan also helped with securing the Radio station Studio B and B92 in Belgrade during popular uprising against Slobodan Milošević.
In 1967 he went to Australia with his mother and two siblings under the name Daniel Snedden. After he finished high school in Melbourne he worked in a photo shop. He spent 4 years in the Australian Army's reserve unit 4th/19th Prince of Wales's Light Horse. After his military service, he served as a weapons instructor in Africa and South America. He was sailing around the world and stayed in Serbia in 1988 where he set up a boat and airplane charter business.
He returned to Belgrade in May 1990, as Croatia elected Franjo Tudjman's HDZ to a parliamentary majority. In Belgrade, Captain Dragan met Krajina Serbs at a local coffee bar. He met Sasa Medakovic, one of the defenders of the barricades in Krajina following the Log Revolution in August. Medakovic was a friend of Knin chief of police and convicted war criminal Milan Martic and was an employee of Krajina state security. Captain Dragan visited Krajina in the autumn 1990 and witnessed a "primeval fear on the part of the Serbs who lived in the area", and "their fear was most sincere".
There, he met Milan Martic and noticed that the defence of Krajina appeared "very disorganised". He thus decided to help organise the Krajina defence. "I could help introduce some discipline into this defence and kill many enemies", he said. When he met Martic, he was told "We went to the beds of our great grandfathers where we slept over the past 600 years, and the next day we woke up not knowing whether we would live until next week." Martic added that "At this point in time, we need all sorts of things. We need money. We need equipment. We need political support. We need everything. We are endangered here, and also we are encircled. We will kill anyone who is against us."
On his return to Belgrade, he attempted to gather support for his effort. He was a member of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement and through a fellow member, Srba Milanov, was able to meet "members of the service". He then returned to the United States to complete his aviator training.
During the March 1991 Belgrade upheaval when the Serbian Renewal Movement's challenge to the government was met with tanks in the streets, Captain Dragan was compelled to return there. Again, Milovanov had him in contact with Serbian State Security personnel, among them Franko Simatović. They exchanged telephone numbers. Simatović told him of his Krajina-related activities that "if his bosses were to learn about it, he would probably be arrested and dismissed". On April 4, Captain Dragan went to the Krajina to work for Milan Martic.
On 25 June 1991, Croatia proclaimed its independence. Soon after, war broke out in the Krajina. He served during the Croatian War of Independence under the newly-created Republic of Serbian Krajina as a volunteer; International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia prosecutors claim that this service took place under Serbian police auspices, and media even reported that he claimed this during his testimony at the Milosevic trial in 2003. Milosevic asked him of this, and to this he replied "I was speaking exclusively of the Service of Krajina, the Police of Krajina or the Army of Krajina or the JNA until the Vance Plan".
Asked if "at any time was there a unit of the MUP (Ministry of the Interior Police) of Serbia?" in Krajina with him, he replied
The only men who set their foot there from the MUP of Serbia, as far as I know, and I believe I know a lot, were Jovica Stanisic once on an informal visit; Frenki Simatović three or four times. Let's make it five. I saw him only in the beginning. Milan Radonjic who spent a total of three days there... And Dragan Filipovic whom I also saw three or four times In my view, what were they doing there? They were collecting intelligence...
He was asked if Stanisic and Simatovic ever gave him any orders. He replied "There were no circumstances for them to give me orders. They knew nothing about what I was doing, nor were they qualified in my field of work."
He commanded special units known as Red Berets (not to be confused with the Special Operations Unit or JSO founded in Serbia in 1996) or Knindže after the Krajina's capital of Knin and ninja fighters. He trained units at Krajina's Golubić training camp for which he was allegedly paid by the State Security Service of Serbia; he denied this at the Milosevic trial, despite his role as a prosecution witness. He added that the only time that the Serbian State Security paid him was for a 28-day stint in 1997 "to monitor exercises"; his fee was 2,200 dinars.
He addressed the confusion between the JSO and the Knindže, both also known as Red Berets, during the Milosevic trial. He said that the "people who created the JSO, in other words Frenki Simatović...needed a tradition to put behind a unit that did not exist...He simply started appropriating traditions. He asked me if I had any souvenirs from battles in Glina, from Ljubovo, and I gave him what I had. He was driven by the desire to lend importance and tradition to a unit which never exceeded a company in strength."
Asked if he received any weapons from the Serbian government, he replied that "The only piece of weaponry was the CZ-99 pistol I received from Jovica Stanisic as his own personal gift to me with an inscription and a card, and I believed he made it to me man to man. That is the only piece of weaponry received, and not a single shot was fired from it."
He was allied with Interior Minister Milan Martic in his power struggle with President Milan Babic, whom he described as "dishonest, a man who was not of his word." Martic, in contrast, he considered to be "a man of honour and a man of his word." In November 1991, Babic called Vojislav Seselj to Knin to help him thwart what he believed to be a coup attempt being planned by Captain Dragan himself. According to Seselj, "Captain Dragan interfered and started a rebellion among the army ranks", and organised a rally of military personnel. Seselj toured the front lines and in the media explained to people that "those who want internal conflicts while an armed clash is still going on cannot be friends of the Serb people." He also met Captain Dragan near the front at Benkovac. The rally, Seselj said, proved a failure and Babic remained in power.
Not long after, however, a plan for freezing the conflict was offered to the parties; the Vance Plan. Here Milan Martic supported the plan, as did the leadership in Belgrade. Babic opposed it. During this time, Vasiljković left Krajina as a result of the dispute. Babic soon was forced from power and the Vance Plan was adopted. Krajina thus became a United Nations Protected Area.
Following the June 1992 Croatian attack on the UN Protected Area at the Miljevac plateau, Vasiljković returned to Krajina and became an officer in the Krajina army, based in Bruska, serving as an instructor and training adviser, appointed to this post by General Novakovic. During this time, he refused to contact his friend Simatovic "lest I brought him into a position where he would have to choose between his service and our friendship."
When Milosevic asked him if he had any knowledge that crimes were ordered in Krajina by Serbian officials, he replied.
As your political opponent, that is something I never concealed. If I had had any such knowledge, I think I would have done everything to make that public so that you would be dismissed from the position you held, so that never for a moment did I have any information or knowledge or even belief that you or any other member of the Serbian system had ordered or participated or had knowledge about any crimes.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has already rendered several judgments about Vasiljković's role in the war, as part of others' trial proceedings. One of the most significant is his participation in a joint criminal enterprise including Krajina officials, Serbian officials and the Serbian intelligence community.
One supposed co-conspirator in this Joint Criminal Enterprise, Vojislav Seselj, testified at the Milosevic trial that...
Captain Dragan had a training centre in Golubic, I think. That is near Knin, but I never visited that centre. I always kept my distance from Captain Dragan, considering him to be an ordinary criminal and a cheater.
During the war, he founded the Fond Kapetan Dragan aimed at helping victims of war. The foundation was the largest in the history of the Balkans, 67,000 victims of war received aid. In May 1995,Croatian forces overran the United Nations Protected Area's Sector West in Operation Flash. In August, it overran Sectors North and South during Operation Storm. As a result of the latter attack, Sector East, still under Krajina rule, was subject of an agreement to have it placed under Croatian rule in 1997. After this defeat, Vasiljković returned to Perth, Western Australia.
Dragan was teaching golf in Perth when the Australian Newspaper printed a front page article saying that a war criminal was living in Perth and teaching golf. Dragan lodged a public defamation case against Nationwide News for the article which was to commence in the first week of February 2006. Dragan was arrested on the basis of a Croatian warrant on 19th January and has been in prison since.
The ICTY Hague Tribunal named Vasiljković as a "participant in a joint criminal enterprise" against Croats and other non-Serbs in the Martic decision, but did not request his arrest. He gave evidence against Slobodan Milosevic at the Hague without immunity. All of the others named are either already on trial at the Hague or at large.
In a statement written in December last year in Sydney's Parklea jail, Mr Vasiljkovic said he could never receive a fair trial in Croatia. Mr Vasiljkovic wrote that his prosecution is in retaliation for the prosecution of Croatian military Commander Ante Gotovina by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. "I believe that the purpose of my surrender is to persecute me politically and use as a propaganda trophy against the Serbian people and as political revenge for Gotovina," he wrote.
A witness in the Local Court Judge Strbac indicated he would travel to Croatia to give evidence in favour of Vasiljkovic. This is now unlikely as Croatia has now listed Judge Strbac as a War Criminal.
Serbs for Justice and Democracy president George Bubalo said the man known as Captain Dragan is innocent and noted the International Criminal Court in The Hague had not pursued him. Mr Bubalo said "If there is something to prove he did something wrong, take him to The Hague, let him face the music", "It's interesting The Hague doesn't want him, or the organisation set up to look at war crimes in Croatia (the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia)".
On April 12, 2007, authorities in Sydney granted Croatia's extradition request, and Vasiljković is being held pending the appeal at Parklea Correctional Centre in its maximum security section. As an alleged war criminal he is in a cell by himself but has been given a musical instrument (a guitar) and is now allowed to have a pen and paper. He wishes to enroll on the electoral roll as he is an Australian citizen but as yet he has been unable to do so. He is also prevented from speaking to members of the press.