Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Atrocity Logistics Revealed

Bosnian Serb captain tells of preparations for the Srebrenica massacre.
By Karen Meirik

A reserve captain in the Bosnian Serb army, who was called up in the summer of 1995 to help organise the execution and burial of Bosnian Muslims from Srebrenica, this week took the stand against his former superiors, Vidoje Blagojevic and Dragan Jokic.


Over three days, he provided the court with unsettling detail of how the massacre was planned.


The reserve captain’s identity was concealed from the public for safety reasons, so he was known to the court only as P-130.


What is known about him is that he came from the Zvornik brigade, worked as a security officer and answered directly to Drago Nikolic, a Bosnian Serb officer who has been indicted but is still at large.


P-130 said he helped organise the execution of 600 Muslim men and boys who had been transported to the village of Orahavac, just outside Zvornik.


“My task was to organise accommodation for the Muslims of Srebrenica who were taken to the hall of the elementary school in Orahovac,” he said.


P-130 said he was tasked to oversee the logistics of the massacre by Colonel Ljubisa Beara, the chief of security of the main staff of the Bosnian Serb army - a Srebrenica indictee who is still at large.


“He [Beara] said, ‘All of these people have to be executed immediately. You prepare to take the people out of the vehicles and arrange to get them to the execution site.’ That was the beginning of my involvement and direct responsibility,” P-130 said.


In his earlier testimony, P-130 had neglected to mention this role because he feared he too would be indicted by the tribunal.


The witness’ testimony corroborated evidence provided last November by Australian military analyst Richard Butler.


To refresh his memory, prosecutors presented P-130 with his own notes from the watch log written down during the days in July 1995 when the killing-operation took place.


The log showed that on July 16, 1995, P-130 asked Lazar Ristic of the nearby fourth battalion for reinforcements to assist Lieutenant-Colonel Vujanin Popovic in the area of Pilica and Vranjevo.


Popovic requested a bus, gasoline and 500 litres of diesel.


“I knew that he [Popovic] was carrying out the executions of Muslims located in that [Pilica] area,” P-130 said. “The fuel was used for the transportation and continuation of the operation, of the killing.”


Later, P-130 said he had to provide a loader, excavator and a dump truck and again, he said he knew exactly what they would be used for. “This was for the execution of the Muslims who were there, the digging of the pits and their burial,” he said.


According to the logbook, P-130 notified both Jokic and the assistant to the commander of the Zvornik brigade, Sretan Milosevic, about the machinery provided.


The Bosnian Serb army was apparently pleased with the job P-130 did, because a few months later, the Drina corps security chief called upon him to help relocate the bodies in a mass grave. His job appeared mostly to involve the distribution of fuel.


P-130 said Jokic was involved in the cover-up, “I met with [him] to see which particular group was involved. He said there should be no problems, nothing to worry about.”


The witness recalled in disturbing detail how all of the people who participated in the reburial operation “were given three days off and two [three-kilogramme] bags of washing powder (…) so they could wash the clothes they had worn during the work”.


He told the court that he also discussed expenses and logistical needs with Jokic, as if the relocation was a construction job.


“I asked [him] to tell me what the working hours of the construction machines would be, so that I could justify it [in the accounting]…,” P-130 said.


Blagojevic and Jokic’s defence lawyers spent a considerable amount of time cross-examining P-130.


Upon conclusion, Michael Karnavas, the lawyer for Blagojevic, asked, “Do you believe you are guilty of any crimes for which you should be indicted?”


“Yes,” P-130 replied.


Following testimony from the protected witness, the prosecution called Novak Kovacevic, a former Republika Srpska, RS, military prosecutor in the Bijelina district, to take the stand.


Kovacevic told the court that no steps were ever taken against perpetrators of war crimes in RS even though there was legislation on the books enabling prosecutors to do so.


He said that a year after the massacre, the then Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic ordered an investigation into the crimes of Srebrenica. But by that time the witness said he was working as a judge and didn’t know if the inquiry was ever undertaken.


Karen Meirik is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.