Courtside

Sarajevo Units Fired on Own Side to "Blame Serbs"

Former general of besieging Bosnian Serb troops says he wept when he came across dead soldiers from government side.
  • Defence witness, Dragomir Milosevic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)

A former Bosnian Serb general testified this week that Bosnian government forces fired on their own territory in Sarajevo so that his side would get blamed for it.

The witness, Dragomir Milosevic, was testifying on behalf of wartime Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic at his trial at the Hague tribunal.

Milosevic, the general in command of the Bosnian Serb army Sarajevo-Romanija Corps from August 1994 until the end of the conflict, stood trial in The Hague in 2007. He was found guilty of terror, murder and inhumane acts for deliberately targeting civilians in the 44 month shelling and sniping campaign against Sarajevo that ravaged the city and left some 12,000 people dead.

He was initially given 33 years in prison, but that was reduced to 29 years on appeal. Milosevic is currently serving his sentence in Estonia.

This week, he appeared in the defence case of Karadzic, who was president of the self-declared Republika Srpska from 1992 until 1996, and is charged with planning and overseeing the siege of Sarajevo.

Karadzic has repeatedly stated in court that the opposing Bosnian government army, made up mainly of Bosniaks, routinely fired on its own people and staged attacks in order to provoke international intervention.

This week, the accused spent several minutes asking his witness about “deliberate firing from Muslims”.

“Were there any deliberate instances of firing from large-calibre weaponry on their own territory?” Karadzic asked.

“There were such instances… with the intention of blaming the Serbs,” Milosevic confirmed. He added that this gunfire was directed at Sarajevo itself, and also on the headquarters of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force, known as UNPROFOR.

“The first thing I know is that they constantly tried… to create the impression with UNPROFOR that this was done by our forces,” Milosevic said.

He explained that the Bosnian government army would engage in fire, and then ask UNPROFOR to “lodge protests against our side because it was allegedly our weapons”.

Milosevic said the “Muslims” were constantly trying to provoke the Bosnian Serbs for political reasons.

“They would undertake some action in order to prompt us to fire and show we did not [respect] any behaviour codes. During any kind of important gathering, our forces did not [respond] in order not to provide a pretext to them,” Milosevic said.

He went on to claim that when a Turkish prime minister visited Sarajevo, the Bosnian government army “opened artillery fire… from their positions in their own zone”, in order to “show what danger they were in”.

Milosevic claimed that General Sir Michael Rose, the UNPROFOR commander during 1994, confirmed this event at the time. (For Rose’s recent testimony in the trial of Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic, see UNPROFOR Chief on Mladic's "Total Control" .)

Milosevic told the court that the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, which held positions in the hills surrounding the city, faced “daily assaults” from the Bosnian government army below.

“They attempted to break through [the front line] with considerably strong force… They labelled this as ‘de-blocking’ Sarajevo. Certainly this was not a de-blocking effort; this was about crushing the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps,” Milosevic said.

Describing one such “de-blocking” attempt which he said his forces thwarted, Milosevic said he found seven enemy soldiers who had been killed when they stepped on Serb landmines.

“If you believe me, I cried over those dead bodies. It was sending people to their deaths. Seven people in one place were beheaded, their limbs were blown off in that mine explosion, and I asked myself, ‘Who is it sending those people towards us without any proper estimation?’ These people were not skilled for these tasks,” he said.

Milosevic said he lost his right eye in 1995, when a tank shell, which he claimed was fired from Sarajevo, hit his observation post.

At the beginning of Milosevic’s testimony, Karadzic asked him why he had agreed to appear as a defence witness.

“I welcomed the request,” said Milosevic. “Essentially what was missing altogether [from my own trial] was a faithful depiction of the armed conflict. Who were the clashing parties? What was the progress of the clashes? I don’t think we ever reached a point in that trial when everything going on became clear,” Milosevic said.

“Did you have [a] chance to contribute to a more faithful depiction of events during your own trial?” Karadzic asked.

“That is my problem, isn’t it? My defence failed to produce evidence really showing what happened there at the time,” Milosevic said, adding that there was “manipulation and things being staged” during the war.

Milosevic said he was “discouraged” by his lawyers when it came to testifying in his own trial.

“I didn’t understand what that meant – to appear as a witness in my own trial. Perhaps it would have been construed as trying to lead biased evidence in my favour. It wasn’t like I was trying to take distance from anything I did at the time,” he said.

Milosevic will continue his testimony next week.

Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.


Also in this issue

Two neighbours who fought in opposing armies reached out to each other as they rebuilt their lives.
Former Bosnian Serb leader writes to Bosniak ex-commander's lawyer asking him to appear as defence witness.
Former general of besieging Bosnian Serb troops says he wept when he came across dead soldiers from government side.
United Nations peacekeeping officer describes shelling and sniper rifle fire he observed.