Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
A Bosniak witness at the trial of former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic described the takeover of a municipality in eastern Bosnia and said the defendant was closely allied with the town’s Serb governing body.
Prosecution witness Dzevad Gusic formerly chaired the local board of the Party of Democratic Action, SDA, in Bratunac, just north of Srebrenica. In the 1990s, the SDA was the largest party within the Bosniak Muslim community.
The leading Serb political party at the time was the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, of which Karadzic was the first chairman.
“On April 17, 1992, a group of mercenaries from Serbia, without any resistance from the Muslims, came into the town and took it over,” Gusic said.
Although the witness left Bratunac that day, he says he learned from people there that by June 1992, “around 1,000 Muslim civilians had been killed” there.
Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, the president of Bosnia's self-declared Republika Srpska from 1992 to 1996, is 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 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 some 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.
Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run.
As part of the “normal political process”, Gusic said he met SDS representatives several times after he became SDA chairman in March 1992.
“They were becoming very nationalistic and were providing weapons to the local Serb population, arming them,” Gusic said. Despite this, he said, “the local Muslims… believed that nobody would attack them”.
Under pressure, the Bosniak SDA entered a 50-50 power sharing deal with the Serb SDS in Bratunac, despite the fact that the latter was a “significantly smaller fraction in the municipal assembly”.
The witness confirmed that the SDS in Bratunac was chaired by Miroslav Deronjic, who pleaded guilty to persecution charges at the tribunal in 2003.
In particular, Deronjic was convicted of ordering an attack on the undefended village of Glogova which killed 65 Bosniak civilians and destroyed numerous homes and buildings, including the local mosque.
Deronjic was sentenced to ten years in prison but died in 2007.
“In April 1992, Deronjic came to me and said that the police must be divided into two forces, because this was necessary for protection of Serbs, and because Karadzic insists. He said that if we didn't agree, we'd be forced to disappear,” Gusic said. “So we consented.”
The witness stated that it was Karadzic who chose Deronjic to chair the SDS in Bratunac, and that the two were close allies.
"Deronjic was very deeply entangled into a 'Greater Serbia' ideology, and gladly and openly spoke about separations and divisions,” Gusic said. “I recall that he started talking about that in 1991.”
“He kept speaking about Karadzic, about what Karadzic said and did, about what he thinks,” Gusic continued. “So it was imaginable that he was Karadzic's right hand.”
This became even clearer when Deronjic became chair of the local SDS, the witness said.
“It seemed that Deronjic had been Karadzic's own choice because of his ideology,” he explained.
However, during the cross examination, Karadzic stated that he and Deronjic were “political opponents” and that they had a “cold, distant” professional relationship.
He also said that he had no idea about what was happening within the local SDS board in Bratunac, and it was up to the board itself to choose its leadership.
Speaking about Deronjic, Karadzic said he had no idea whether he had taken part in any crimes, or about what “local Serbs and Muslims kept doing to each other”.
The accused described the witness’s testimony as “Muslim propaganda” and accused him of being “a war criminal who had fought in the Muslim army”.
Faced with these accusations, Gusic said he regarded them as “pure fabrications completely unrelated to what really happened”.
Karadzic then tried to prove that the Serbs needed to create parallel government authorities because they felt unrepresented in existing local structures. He claimed, for example, that the SDA blocked Serb appointments in the police force.
Gusic rejected this argument, saying “the SDA did not obstruct the appointments and was – since it had no weapons or armed forces on its side – never in a position to argue”.
At the closing of the hearing, Karadzic complained that he did not have enough time to "thoroughly question this or other witnesses and thus dismantle their claims".
“Without time, I cannot defend myself," he added, saying that he would consider what steps he would take in this regard.
The trial continues next week.
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.
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