"We Never Shot at Civilians" – Serb Colonel
Appearing as a witness at the Hague tribunal this week, a former colonel in the Bosnian Serb army insisted that his unit never targeted civilians in Sarajevo.
Vladimir Radojcic, a defence witness for wartime Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic, was commander of the Ilidza Brigade of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps of the Bosnian Serb army or VRS.
This brigade, the witness said, was a "prominent and important contributor” to the military operations of the corps and the VRS generally.
The witness testified in support of Karadzic's claim that VRS troops never engaged in what the indictment says was an organised campaign of sniping and shelling against civilians the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, which was under siege for 44 months between 1992 and 1995.
The indictment alleges that Karadzic, who was president of the self-declared Republika Sprska from 1992 to 1996, is responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer which “contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory”.
Witness Radojcic said he became commander of the brigade in early 1993 on merit. He said he had "more than enough exact memories about the war” and about everything he did, and that he “knows very well the rules that must be respected in such a case”.
The witness insisted he respected those rules.
"We never shot at civilians, that's nonsense. As commander, I never issued any orders to shoot at civilians. The only time we shot at the town was to shoot command posts of the Muslim Army, but we never intended in any way to shoot civilians” or endanger them, Radojcic said.
Radojcic maintained that any military action was conditioned by the need to defend the "area under the brigade's control", and nothing more.
He added that convoys of the United Nations Peace Keeping Force or UNPROFOR had free passage through the territory controlled by his brigade, and that for him personally it was "clear that any arrangements that were there had to be respected".
During cross-examination, prosecuting lawyer Carolyn Edgerton presented Radojcic with a wartime order that contradicted this claim.
The document was issued by the commander of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, General Dragomir Milosevic, ranked “one level higher” than Radojcic. It gave an order to shoot an "unannounced UNPROFOR convoy” passing through the Ilidza Brigade's territory, Edgerton said.
General Milosevic, who stood trial at the tribunal in 2007, was sentenced to 29 years in prison for terror, murder and inhumane acts committed during the siege of Sarajevo.
The witness initially told the court he could not "quite remember" what the order was about, but then said it "probably meant that the convoy was mixed". The term “mixed”, he added, referred to "the perfidious tactics of Muslim forces to infiltrate and abuse the Red Cross or the UNHCR for transporting their own things, so that the convoy was essentially also a convoy of Muslim forces".
"You see, Muslim forces very often abused humanitarian aid", the witness added.
Radojcic said he had information that convoys of humanitarian aid were being transported to "help fulfill the needs of the Muslim army and its soldiers", and that civilians could only "buy aid" on the black market at high prices.
"However, President Karadzic gave an order himself that all convoys are to be let through and without hindrance or disturbance,” Radojcic said.
Another order that General Milosevic issued to Radojcic stated that the Ilidza Brigade should "use airborne bombs" against the Sarajevo district of Hrasnica because that would cause the "largest material losses and human victims,” Edgerton said.
"Oh no – you see, that is completely taken out of context,” Radojcic responded.
“This was standard military technology; it meant that this was an action against soldiers. This meant that the action was quite productive, it yielded results,” he continued.
Edgerton disagreed and pointed out that "human victims" was not a term usually used in military terminology.
The witness retorted that the “Muslim army… abused civilian objects in Sarajevo, and kept firing on our positions from these objects”.
"We would keep from firing back at them if there was a chance of putting civilians at risk... and they failed to evacuate civilians from areas of conflict,” he said.
Edgerton countered this claim by saying that crimes committed by one party cannot be justified by any "action or omission" of the other side.
The Karadzic trial continues next week.
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.