Bosniaks in Rogatica "Relocated" by Own Leaders

Prosecutor notes that major military offensive came soon after Serb politicians renounced deal dividing territorial control with Bosniaks.

Bosniaks in Rogatica "Relocated" by Own Leaders

Prosecutor notes that major military offensive came soon after Serb politicians renounced deal dividing territorial control with Bosniaks.

Thursday, 25 September, 2014

Prosecutors in the trial of the Bosnian Serb army’s wartime chief Ratko Mladic this week examined the process by which local Serb political leaders moved to take control of the whole of Rogatica, a municipality in eastern Bosnia. 

General Mladic was overall commander of the Bosnian Serb army from 1992 to 1996, and prosecutors allege that in that role, he was responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible population transfer which “contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory”.

The indictment says that in pursuit of this objective, from March 1992, “Serb forces and Bosnian Serb political and governmental organs attacked and/or took control of towns and villages in the municipalities.”

Rogatica is one of the municipalities enumerated in the indictment.

Mladic is also accused of planning and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead, as well as the massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.

Milorad Sokolovic told the court this week that he was elected chairman of the executive board of the Rogatica Municipal Assembly “in the middle of 1992”.

At several times during the examination and cross-examination, prosecutor Arthur Traldi and presiding Judge Alphons Orie probed Sokolovic on the history of and relationship between the Rogatica Municipal Assembly and a Serb Municipal Assembly that was formed under an agreement to divide the whole municipal area into two parts – one Serb and one Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim). This agreement fell apart in May 1992, and fighting then rapidly escalated.

Prosecutor Traldi read out a section of Sokolovic’s witness statement concerning the duration and end of the agreement to divide Rogatica municipality into Serb and Bosniak areas.

“This situation lasted until the St George’s Day [May 6 in the Serbian calendar], or approximately for two months,” the portion of the statement read by the prosecutor said.

Traldi then quoted from a report signed by Sokolovic which the Serb Municipality Assembly’s executive board sent to the Bosnian Serb presidency, and which said that the assembly annulled the agreement on May 18 because conflict had broken out.

“You don’t mention in your statement that the Serbian assembly of Rogatica abrogated the agreement, do you?” he asked.

The witness acknowledged that he had not mentioned this in his statement, but that reading written documents could “jog one’s memory.”

“This is correct, isn’t it – that the Serbian assembly withdrew from the agreement on the 18th of May, 1992?” Traldi asked.

“Well yes, that is what is written here, so that’s the way it’s got to be,” Sokolovic replied.

At this, Judge Orie reminded the witness of his obligations. Addressing the judge, defence lawyer Branko Lukic questioned whether the same procedure had been adopted when prosecution witnesses appeared in the Mladic case earlier.

Judge Orie replied, “Whenever I find that a witness gives us half of the story, where important elements are known to the witness and when the witness says, ‘I didn’t tell it because you can read it elsewhere’ – if that would happen. I would have reacted. I don’t know whether it happened; it’s not my recollection, but I certainly would have reminded the witness that he should tell the whole truth.”

When Lukic suggested that there had been discrepancies between the written statement and verbal testimony of a prosecution witness in the Mladic case, Judge Orie asked him to submit any information relating to that matter so that he could look at it and check whether there had been any “difference in approach”.

After this exchange, the prosecutor cited more of the report announcing the end of the territory-sharing agreement, and asked the witness, “Now you don’t mention in your statement that after withdrawing from the agreement, the Serb assembly of Rogatica declared all of the territory of Rogatica to be Serb territory, do you?”

The witness replied that he was “not a lawyer” and “not really trained to write a long paper on this”.

Traldi pressed on. “Sir, just to be perfectly clear, what I’m putting to you is that in your statement, you haven’t given a complete and accurate picture of the events surrounding the agreement on dividing the territory; that you cannot properly understand that agreement without knowing that the Serb assembly withdrew from it and claimed the entire municipality as Serb territory. That’s true, isn’t it?”

To this, the witness said, “I have to remind you of this: when we started discussing a solution to the problem – the two sides, the Muslims and the Serb sides – we said that we should do everything possible to avoid a conflict. If killing starts, then all talks end.”

Sokolovic referred to an attack on a Serb patrol in which a man was killed and the “representative of the Muslims” refused to hand over his body.

“And then all talks stopped…. After this happened, we did not talk any more,” he said.

He confirmed that the man killed in this incident was Drazenko Mihajlovic.

The prosecutor challenged this account of the sequence of events by noting that Mihajlovic was killed on May 21. “That’s after this [May 18] decision to claim the entire municipality, isn’t it?”

The witness said he “really can’t link that up now”.

“From this point [May 18 decision], it was the Serb assembly that met, that made decisions about life in the municipality of Rogatica, right?” the prosecuting lawyer said.


“There was a large-scale attack on Muslim areas of Rogatica by Bosnian Serb forces just a few days after the Serb assembly withdrew from the agreement,” Traldi said.

The witness said he thought this happened after the killing of Mihajlovic.

“Muslims left those areas in response to that attack – that’s true, isn’t it? Traldi asked

“I don’t think so,” the witness replied, citing relatives of his in the town of Rogatica who said that the Muslims who formed the majority population there “all stayed even after that”.

Asked about the settlements that were attacked, Sokolovic said, “I assume that perhaps in that area where Mihajlovic was killed, that part of the Muslims left then.”

He went on to suggest that the departure of Bosnian Muslims from Rogatica was an orderly process decided and driven by their local leaders.

“After this happened, the Muslim leadership decided to move out of Rogatica slowly, led for example by the president of the municipal assembly of Rogatica. They were relocated. They went a few kilometres out of Rogatica [town], and after that they did not return to Rogatica. They continued towards Medzedze, going through Muslim villages. That is one wing, and the other one went westward, again led by some military officers and so on…. And I understand that that was an instruction. They were the majority there and they left.

The prosecution then turned to a notebook Mladic kept, which is part of the evidence. The relevant entry concerned a May 17, 1992 meeting which he, Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic and Republika Srpska assembly chairman Momcilo Krajisnik had with representatives of various localities including Rogatica.

Asked about this meeting, Sokolovic said he had not been told about it.

When Traldi asked whether the Rogatica Serbs’ intention to claim the whole municipal territory (put into effect the following day) was conveyed to the senior officials attending the May 17 meeting, the witness said, “I don’t think I attended the meeting and I don’t know about this; I mean I don’t know that this discussion happened. At least I do not recall.”

The examination of defence witnesses continues.

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