What happened at the Raska barracks in March 2004? A humanitarian bridge for the extraction of the population and an American General who stopped violence

Tadić i general Krga/Foto: Insajder

During the March 2004 violence, the former Yugoslav Defense Ministry and army planned to establish a humanitarian bridge and pull out Kosovo Serbs into safe territory, the former Minister of Defense, and later Serbian President, now opposition leader Boris Tadic has confirmed 15 years later. The three-day, large scale ethnic violence against the Kosovo Serbs, and their religious and historical heritage in 2004 was aborted after the U.S. KFOR soldiers halted Albanian extremists at Caglavica. The former NATO Admiral and the South Wing Commander, U.S. Admiral Gregory Johnson, described the escalation of the three-day violence: „This type of activity is almost equal to ethnic cleansing and cannot continue.“ A retired Admiral at present, was the one who prevented the exodus, Tadic testified on the ‘Slobodno Srpski’ show in Caglavica. He still fosters friendship with the ‘great man’, as Tadic described him. Unlike the rest of the NATO command chain, he was the only one who had shown understanding for Serbia back in those years and acted to stop the violence. „Although he was Serbia’s enemy during the airstrikes, he became a friend to Kosovo Serbs during this operation,“ the former Serbian President said.

While recalling the events in March 2004, Tadic confirmed that it was a dramatic moment for him as he was in the position of Minister of Defense.

„Back at that time, the protests in Serbia were re-launched, led not only by the politicians, but by criminals as well, requesting from Serbia to intervene with the military. This was despite the fact that we had the Kumanovo Agreement, and clear prohibitions on any military intervention in Kosovo, which would mean starting a war with NATO. Political structures were on shaky ground, a new Serbian government had just been formed after the elections in late 2003, everything happened fast,“ is how he described parallel events in Belgrade, with the „expulsion, killing, wounding, and burning of churches and monasteries“ in Kosovo.

Tadic described firsthand the enormous lack of understanding he faced from NATO officials in an effort to protect Serbs:

„I tried to conduct diplomatic talks with the highest NATO authorities at that time, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and his associates. I travelled urgently to international forums, in Bratislava, where I faced enormous mistrust which stemmed from the Bosnian war. Heffer was a Dutchman, there were many prejudices against Serbia due to Srebrenica, even towards a democratic Serbia at that time.

He confirmed that an approach to U.S. Admiral Johnson was the only option that remained, with whom he had previously established close communication during the talks on security reforms in Serbia and Montenegro in the context of European politics.

„This proved to be very significant,“ the former Serbian President and Minister of Defense said.

„General Krga, who was the Chief of Staff, and myself went to the Raska military barracks. He (Johnson) came with his associates and I presented the situation. If the exodus and the attack on Serbs were to continue, I would be forced to launch a humanitarian bridge to pull out civilians, and that would call the Kumanovo Agreement into question. I told him that it is a problem, both for myself as the Minister of Defense and for our country, that the political situation in my country is more than fraught, but that my task is to save the people’s lives, as much as I can,“ Tadic described the now-historical meeting in Raska with the man who „commanded attacks against Serbia“ during the NATO bombing:

„And so we found ourselves sitting across from each other, me as a representative of an enemy country, although I was not a state politician during the NATO bombing, and him as a soldier, but also a well-educated person.“

„I was very serious. Honestly, at that moment, I did not know what our defense systems had in place for such an operation, and that is what I asked General Krga. On the other hand, I did not know what such extraordinary circumstances fully required, but I sought an expert’s advice, which I largely got from the former Chief of Staff and his associates,“ Tadic testified and recounted how he formulated his message to the US general:

„I cannot say that I threatened, I outlined: We are facing a humanitarian catastrophe, the exodus of the Serbian population has started, and my constitutional and legal obligation is to do everything to protect the population. It is your duty to preserve the peace, we have to find a solution in such circumstances. You have the Kumanovo Agreement, we must not intervene from the other side.“

At that time, we had certain human resources in North Kosovo, but the problem was with Serbs in Caglavica. The problem was with Serbs in other parts of Kosovo where they, in some way, lived surrounded. That was the situation we were in.

At the US General’s remark, „you must not intervene,“ the Yugoslav Minister of Defense agreed that was the case in a military sense, but he added:

„My obligation is to do everything to protect the population.“

Confirming that Johnson did not speak at all, Tadic added:

„… And it was dramatic, I thought he would not do anything. He said ‘I have to leave now.'“

To this very day, I am grateful to Gregory Johnson. I send him a message from time to time. He’s now a retired admiral. He is a great man, and thanks to him, the exodus was prevented. I would like to promote Admiral Johnson’s name in the Serbian community even through this show: Although he was the enemy of Serbia during the bombing, in that operation he became a friend of Kosovo Serbs.

Tadic remained in the base of the former Yugoslav Army in Raska to continue talks with the base commander and General Krga about what Serbia can do in a military sense.

„Then I headed for the helicopter because I had no final answer – what should I do at that moment, but I saw Admiral Johnson was waiting for me, he did not want to fly out until I did. Krga and I were very disappointed with this conversation, because Johnson, as an experienced professional, did not show any reaction. We saw that they were watching us from the helicopter cabin, I told General Krga that he should control his facial expression to show stability and determination. We entered the helicopter and when we landed, we received the news on an intervention of the forces commanded by Johnson, who took over the command at that time,“ Tadic described the key moments in stopping the violence.

Tadic also spoke about what German Chancellor Merkel had asked him to do. You can read and take a look HERE at what else he said in the ‘Slobodno Srpski’ show (the beginning of the show), by Budimir Nicic.

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