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

Bosnian Serb Disobeyed Order to Execute Bosniaks

Prosecution witness says he couldn’t believe his ears when told to kill Bosniak prisoners captured after the fall of Srebrenica.
By Merdijana Sadović
A former member of a Bosnian Serb special police brigade this week told the trial of seven Bosnian Serb police and military officials indicted for crimes at Srebrenica that he refused to participate in mass executions of captured Bosniak prisoners in July 1995.



Witness PW 100, who appeared under protective measures with his face and voice distorted, said he was “shocked” when he saw what was happening to the Bosniak men and boys who surrendered to Serb forces after the fall of Srebrenica and disobeyed the order to execute some of the prisoners himself.



He said he was later told by his superiors that he would be arrested and sent to Hague tribunal if he ever told anyone what he had seen in Srebrenica.



Witness PW 100 testified as a prosecution witness in the trial of seven high-ranking officials from the Bosnian Serb army and the military police - Vujadin Popovic, Ljubisa Beara, Drago Nikolic, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Radivoje Miletic, Milan Gvero and Vinko Pandurevic.



The accused are alleged to be among the most responsible for the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which more than 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were summarily executed when this eastern Bosnian town fell to the Serb forces.



This week’s testimony particularly focused on Borovcanin, who, at the time of the Srebrenica massacre, served as deputy commander of the Bosnian Serb Special Police Brigade, SPB, which is alleged to have directly participated in mass executions of Bosniak prisoners.



The prosecutors claim that Borovcanin, who was charged with complicity in genocide, was present in and around the areas of Bratunac, Potocari, Sandici, Kravica, Srebrenica and Zvornik from July 11-18, 1995, and that units under his command were deployed there.



Witness PW 100 told the court this week that in summer of 1995 he and other members of the SPB were subjected to rigorous training at a police training centre at Jahorina near Sarajevo. He said his supervisor was Dusko Jevic.



The witness testified that at the training, Jevic told recruits how to behave in combat and how to treat prisoners of war.



“He said some contradictory things,” said the witness. “First he would tell us that prisoners of war were protected by Geneva conventions, but then he would add that killing a person is not a big deal, and that we should all kill one.”



He also said Jevic instructed the recruits how to kill a prisoner of war.



“He told us that if a prisoner of war has to be killed, it should be done in a military way, with one bullet in the head,” recalled the witness.



He told the judges that he and other members of the SPB from Jahorina received an order to go to Potocari near Srebrenica in mid July 1995. His company was commanded by Mendeljev Djuric, while Jevic was one of the assistant commanders. According to the indictment, they were all subordinated to Borovcanin.



PW 100 said he thought their assignment was “to secure the road to Potocari and make sure nothing happens to the Bosniak civilians who were captured after the fall of the enclave”. He added that he was informed that “some civilians will be bussed to Tuzla, but no problems were expected”.



The told the judges he heard men were being separated from women and children. When he came to Potocari, he saw there “lots of women and children who were crying” and “they all looked very frightened”.



“It was not a nice picture - I didn’t like it,” he said.



The following day, PW 100 and his unit was deployed along the Kravica-Konjevic Polje road and were told to capture Bosniak men and boys who were coming down the hills to surrender to Serb forces.



He said that on a meadow near Sandici they came across a large group of Bosniak prisoners, who were then put on buses and sent to Konjevic Polje.



However, late that afternoon, there were no more buses and the witness and other members of the SPB Jahorina unit asked their superiors what they were supposed to do with the remaining prisoners.



“The answer was: get rid of them, shoot them!” said the witness.



“We just couldn’t believe what they told us,” he said. “We thought all prisoners were being sent to Tuzla to be exchanged.”



According to the witness, a man named Aleksa issued the order for the execution, “but he probably received that order from his superiors”.



The indictment alleges that “on 13 July 1995, just after dark, SPB deputy platoon commander from the Jahorina Training Centre under the command and control of Ljubomir Borovcanin ordered that a group of 10 to 15 Bosnian Muslim prisoners held in custody at Sandici Meadow were to be summarily executed”.



The indictment further claims that the killings were carried out “under the command and control of Ljubomir Borovcanin”.



PW 100 said he and other two members of his unit refused to obey the order and shoot the prisoners, but several other men “volunteered to do the job”.



Prosecutor Nelson Thayer wanted to know whether the witness ever talked to other members of his unit about this execution. PW 100 responded that he asked one of the men why he volunteered to kill the men.



“He told me this was a revenge for his family being wiped out,” said the witness.



PW 100 told the judges he personally didn’t capture nor execute any prisoners in July 1995.



He added that after he returned to his base in Jahorina, Jevic said he would be “arrested and sent to the Hague tribunal” if he ever told anyone what he had seen in Srebrenica.



PW 100 told the court that soon after these events he requested a few days off and used that leave of absence to desert the Bosnian Serb army.



“I ran away as far as I could,” he said.



The trial continues next week.



Merdijana Sadovic is IWPR Hague programme manager.

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