Special Operations Unit (Serbian: Јединица за специјалне операције - ЈСО, Jedinica za specijalne operacije - JSO), or the Red Berets (Serbian: Црвене беретке, Crvene beretke), was an elite special unit of the Serbian Service of State Security.
It was officially incorporated into the security system of the FR Yugoslavia in the spring of 1996, by merging paramilitary units which operated in Bosnian and Croatian wars under command of Željko Ražnatović "Arkan" (the "Tigers") and Franko Simatović (the "Red berets") and under the auspice of Jovica Stanišić, head of Serbian security service (Resor državne bezbednosti, RDB). From 1996 to November 2001, it was formally under the competence of the RDB. The unit was finally disbanded in March 2003, after the Prime Minister of Serbia Zoran Đinđić was assassinated as a result of a conspiracy in which some members of the unit were involved. Its members were sacked or transferred to other police units.
The origins of the unit can be traced back into April 1991, in the eve of Croatian War of Independence, when a group of armed men, led by Franko Simatović and Dragan Vasiljković set off from Belgrade to Knin. Several days earlier, on March 16, Milošević promised "preparations of appropriate units capable of defending interests of Serbia and Serb people outside Serbia" in a closed session with Serbian municipal presidents.. The order of creating such a unit was given to Jovica Stanišić, Milošević's strongman and head of RDB, which committed the task to Stanišić. The unit had not have any formal connections with Belgrade, so the operation was taken solely within RDB, without involvement of Serbian Ministry of the Interior. In Knin, Simatović and Vasiljković contacted Milan Martić, minister of the interior of Republic of Serbian Krajina, who subordinated a group of fighters under Vasiljković's command, who gave them thorough training and imposed the discipline; the unit would later became known under the name Knindže (a pun on "Knin" and "ninja"), and Vasiljković under the war name "Kapetan Dragan". The name "Red Berets" came after the battle for Glina, when Vasiljković distributed the berets to his men.
The other wing of the unit was apparently formed in May 1991, in Eastern Slavonia. According to the hints given by Simatović, the unit seems to have been involved in Borovo Selo killings on 1-2 May, when 12 Croatian policemen were killed and several tens wounded. May 4 will later be taken as the unit's anniversary. According to several witness accounts, Radovan Stojičić "Badža", an official of Serbian ministry of interior, was in charge for operations in Eastern Slavonia.. Upon the arrival in the Eastern Slavonia theater, Željko Ražnatović "Arkan" took over the paramilitary unit under the name of "Serbian Volunteer Guard", better known as "Arkan's Tigers".
They were among the elite of the Serbian fighting forces and used to do the dirty work at the behest of the Serbian government during the Balkan wars of the 1990s in Croatia and Bosnia. The trials in Serbia for the assassination of Zoran Đinđić, the Serbian Prime Minister from 2001 to 2003, as well as the trials for war crimes at the Hague Tribunal have revealed the numerous and complicated connections between the activities of the government led by Slobodan Milošević, the secret services under his command, and the criminal groups operating in the combat zone where the war crimes were being committed.
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