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Bosnian Serb General "Not Aware" of Plan to Split Sarajevo

Corps commander says aim was just to maintain military balance around city.
By Rachel Irwin
  • Dragomir Milosevic, defence witness in the Karadzic trial at the ICTY. (Photo: ICTY)
    Dragomir Milosevic, defence witness in the Karadzic trial at the ICTY. (Photo: ICTY)

Under intense questioning from prosecutors, a former Bosnian Serb army general this week denied that he was ever aware of a plan to divide Sarajevo into separate Serb and Muslim parts. 

The witness, Dragomir Milosevic, was testifying on behalf of wartime Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic as part of the latter’s defence case at the Hague tribunal.

Karadzic, who was president of the self-declared Republika Srpska from 1992 until 1996, is charged with planning and overseeing the siege of Sarajevo. He is also alleged to have been part of a joint criminal enterprise with other political and military officials to remove Muslim and Croats from Serb-claimed territory.

Milosevic commanded the Bosnian Serb army’s Sarajevo-Romanija Corps from August 1994 until the end of the conflict.

He stood trial in The Hague himself in 2007, and was found guilty of terror, murder and inhumane acts for deliberately targeting civilians in the 44-month campaign of shelling and sniping against Sarajevo that ravaged the city and left some 12,000 people dead. Milosevic was initially given 33 years in prison, but that was reduced to 29 years on appeal. He is serving this sentence in Estonia.

Karadzic questioned his former general for some 14 hours over a two week period, before the prosecution commenced its cross-examination on February 4. (For previous reports on Milosevic’s testimony, see Sarajevo Units Fired on Own Side to "Blame Serbs" and Bosnian Serb Officer on Mladic-Karadzic Rivalry.)

During the cross-examination, Milosevic said that “nobody issued an order to me to carry out combat action with the purpose of dividing Sarajevo”.

Such an order could only have come from the commander of the Bosnian Serb army’s general staff, Milosevic said.

“Even if anyone had ordered anything like that, I would have had to find another way of opposing that. The forces we had could not have made that happen,” Milosevic said.

For the prosecution, Caroline Edgerton questioned this assertion, saying, “Even though the division of Sarajevo into Muslim and Serb parts was identified in the strategic goals, that wasn’t one of the [Sarajevo-Romanija] corps’s objectives?”

Milosevic said that he had never even heard of the six strategic goals that were allegedly developed by Karadzic and other officials in the Bosnian Serb leadership, until he was preparing for his own trial and learned about them from another defendant.

“During combat, no one issued anything to me or to [my predecessor] General [Stanislav] Galic. No one said, ‘Here are the goals – implement them,’” Milosevic said.

At that point, Karadzic interjected to say that dividing Sarajevo was a “political and strategic goal”.

“Could we please see where it was stated that it was a military strategic goal?” the accused asked.

Edgerton turned to the witness and – reading from notes - stated that his objective as commander of the Sarajevo Romanija Corps was “to maintain and improve positions under your corps’s control which would set facts in place on the ground to ensure the achievement of divided Sarajevo as part of a negotiated settlement”.

Milosevic replied that the “basic thing is to maintain the existing situation and to improve it. As for what would happen at the negotiations, that is up to someone else, not the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps.”

“I would kindly ask you not to see this as a military task… if the point is to say that the division was supposed to be achieved by military means. This is a task that was not issued by anyone, nor was it possible to carry it out, or to achieve by combat,” Milosevic continued.

Edgerton pressed the witness, saying, “You were able to carry out your task because your existing area already effectively represented a division of the city, didn’t it?”

“The term division is something I am going to leave out of my answer,” Milosevic replied. “At the point in time [1994] when I came to position of commander, all the issues were already crystallised. There was a balanced ratio of forces, and everyone knew what they wanted more or less…. There was no longer any question of division, but it was more [a] question of the sides staying wherever they were.”

Edgerton then turned to the prosecution’s claim that civilians in Sarajevo were deliberately targeted by the Bosnian Serb military. She noted that Milosevic had repeatedly denied doing this during his direct examination.

She then noted specific instances when civilians were shot by snipers and asked him to comment on them.

The first instance, on July 11, 1993, was when Milosevic was still chief of staff of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps. He did not become its commander until August 1994.

Edgerton cited the case of a woman named Munira who went to get water from the river Dobrinja in order to do her washing. While she was by the river, she was shot twice by Bosnian Serb forces from the tower of a Serbian Orthodox church. She could not be dragged to safety because bullets were still landing near her, Edgerton said, citing the testimony of the victim’s daughter.

“Would you agree that this evidence shows that the victim was deliberately targeted?” Edgerton asked.

“First of all… if that person is a civilian, it is not something I can deny. I can’t possibly say that’s untrue,” Milosevic said.

However, he said, the shots were not fired from the church in question.

“It doesn’t mean I exclude the possibility of late Munira being fired at. In the case of her death, there is nothing I can assert other than it couldn’t have been done from the church. It was not allowed. I am positive of this. No one allowed any soldier to climb up the tower,” he said.

Edgerton asked him again whether the circumstances of Munira’s death “sound like deliberate targeting”.

“Whether that was done deliberately or under other circumstances is something I cannot say,” the witness said. “I exclude the possibility that things developed that way. Even if they had, it did not come about as a result of anyone’s decision or anyone’s issuing of tasks to marksmen to engage civilians. If – under God knows what circumstances – it was done by a soldier, he couldn’t have been so instructed by his superior, that is what I can tell you.”

Edgerton challenged this response by saying, “You’re able to offer evidence or information that I would submit is purely speculative as to what might have gone on with respect to soldiers’ involvement. My question is… if that wasn’t direct targeting, what is?”

Milosevic replied by asking the prosecutor not to suggest he was “trying to be speculative or manipulative”.

“That is not my task here,” he continued. “I do not accept that kind of assertion. I kindly ask you to refrain from doing so…. I can confirm that any engagement of civilians is impermissible and cannot be justified. I can confirm what our policy and practice was.”

After Milosevic concluded his testimony, another former general in the Bosnian Serb army, Radoslav Krstic, was due to take the stand on Karadzic’s behalf.

Krstic was chief of staff and then commander of the Drina Corps when the Srebrenica enclave fell to Bosnian Serb forces in July 1995. In the days that followed, more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were murdered, according to the indictment against Karadzic.

Krstic was initially convicted of genocide in 2001, and sentenced to 46 years in prison. However, on appeal, his conviction was reduced to aiding and abetting genocide and his prison term was cut to 35 years.

Krstic appeared in the courtroom on February 8, but said he was unable to testify for health reasons. Judges have instructed the court registry to prepare a detailed medical report of his physical and mental health by March 8.

Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.

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