Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
A former member of the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Sarajevo told the Hague tribunal trial of Radovan Karadzic this week that the Bosnian Serb army could not initiate attacks on the city without first receiving orders from the army’s top commander.
“The … command in Sarajevo could not take [its own] initiative,” said anonymous witness KDZ450, who testified in French with digital image distortion.
“It was General [Ratko] Mladic who was telling them, act on Sarajevo in order to exert pressure on the Muslims so they would stop their actions in the rest of Bosnia-Hercegovina,” the witness continued. “For me it was crystal clear.”
Mladic, who remains wanted by the tribunal, was commander of the Bosnian Serb army and subordinate to Karadzic, who from 1992 to 1996 was president of the self declared Bosnian Serb entity, Republika Sprska, RS.
Karadzic – who represents himself - stands accused of planning and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead. His army is accused of deliberately sniping and shelling the city’s civilian population in order to “spread terror” among them.
The indictment - which lists 11 counts in total - alleges that Karadzic was 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”. He was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run.
During the cross-examination, Karadzic asked the witness to elaborate on his previous statements regarding the “initiative” of the Bosnian Serb army.
“The [Sarajevo Romanija] corps could only take the initiative to return fire,” the witness reiterated. “When they had to launch an action… on Sarajevo and when there was a link with an operation outside Sarajevo, [the corps commander] was receiving orders from the higher command, from Mladic.”
After posing some questions in private session, Karadzic asked if the witness agreed that the “civilian head of state and the civilian commander of the army does not deal with operative and tactical issues, only strategic issues?”
“I do not understand the difference you are making between operational and tactical,” the witness replied.
Karadzic also asked the witness to identify a “single case” where the Bosnian Serb side “started action” in Sarajevo.
The witness pointed to a shelling incident that killed eight people on February 4, 1994, in a residential area of Dobrinja.
“The shell fell and it was clearly identified as coming from the Serb sector and it led to the casualties of civilians - adults and children,” the witness said. “As far as I know, Dobrinja [was] not a military target and [this] only led to civilian deaths.”
The witness mentioned another shelling incident in the area of Alipasino Polje on January 22, 1994, in which six children were killed.
“Those examples show that actions were taken, and were … targeting the population and coming from the Bosnian Serbs,” the witness said.
Karadzic then contended that the origin of the shell was never established in the Alipasino Polje incident.
“For technical reasons it wasn’t possible to ascertain where the shell was coming from, but there were suspicions,” the witness said.
“But we informed you that we didn’t open fire, and we still claim that all major incidents involving civilian casualties originated from those who wanted to involve NATO as a warring party on their side,” Karadzic replied.
He also contended that “as many as 5,000 troops” from the Bosnian government army were deployed in Dobrinja at the time of the February 4 shelling.
“Did you know that?” Karadzic asked.
“The confines of Dobrinja were indeed on the confrontation line, but shells arrived in a residential area and only caused civilian casualties,” the witness responded. “This is what I noticed, and I could tell without a doubt that those shells were coming from an area controlled by Bosnian Serbs.”
“Who established that?” Karadzic asked.
“An investigation carried out by UNPROFOR [UN Protection Force] services,” the witness said.
Karadzic countered that he had “managed to prove” that there was a mistake in this report through the testimony of a prior witness.
He was interrupted by Judge Howard Morrison, who told the accused that it was “not appropriate to put a witness’s testimony to another witness and claim it has been proved.
“It’s not accurate, and certainly not appropriate,” the judge said.
Karadzic later asked if the witness had “proof” that Bosnian Serb forces targeted civilians.
“Do you know there were up to 70,000 Serbs living in the Muslim part of Sarajevo?” he asked.
“I was not aware of exact figures, but I was aware of the fact that Serbs were living in the Bosnian Muslim-controlled part of city,” the witness said.
“Is there a difference between Serbs and Muslims when you see them walking in the street?” Karadzic asked.
“It is difficult to tell them apart and you are quite right to underscore this,” the witness answered.
“If Serbs are the type of criminals who wouldn’t spare civilians, how [did they do this] considering that one third of the population was Serbs? Is any proof that [Bosnian Serbs] deliberately targeted civilians?” Karadzic asked.
“I have proof that civilians were targeted and fire was coming from a sector controlled by Serbs,” the witness answered. “That’s what I can ascertain here.”
The witness acknowledged that it was often difficult to establish the origin of fire, but they “tried to do it every time” and also sent protests to the side they believed to be responsible.
At the end of the cross examination, prosecuting lawyer Carolyn Edgerton asked some follow-up questions.
“Did the protests [regarding shelling incidents apply] equally to both sides or more frequently to one of warring factions?” she asked.
“We sent more protests to Bosnian Serbs than we did to Bosnian Muslims,” the witness said.
“Did this signify anything in terms of the establishment of the origin of fire?” Edgerton asked.
“This demonstrates that we established that the origin of fire came more often from Serbian sector than it did from the Muslim sector,” the witness said.
The trial continues next week.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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