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

Court Hears Belgrade Helped Bosnian Serbs

Expert witness provides documents relating to alleged ties between Serbian authorities and Bosnian Serbs.
By Goran Jungvirth
A witness this week testified that Belgrade supported the Bosnian Serbs throughout the 1992-5 Bosnian war in order to gain control of territory that could later be joined to create a Greater Serbia.

Patrick Treanor, a political expert working for the Office of the Prosecutor, OTP, at the Hague tribunal, presented a report which he wrote based on the analysis of evidence, including alleged letters and minutes of official meetings.

Prosecutors hope the report will show that the accused in the trial, General Momcilo Perisic, supervised the Bosnian Serb’s military operations and can therefore be considered responsible for their actions.

“[The Serbian leadership] gave their support to Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia in order to gain control over the Serb-held territories in these countries. They intended to keep that control for a few years, before uniting them into one state,” the witness told the court.

According to Treanor, Perisic, the former chief of staff of the Yugoslav army, VJ, was actively involved in carrying out that alleged plan as a key member of the state leadership.

Perisic is one of the highest-ranking Serbian military officials to face justice at the Hague tribunal.

According to the indictment, he bears responsibility for crimes committed by his subordinates, including the massacre of some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995, as well as attacks on the Croatian capital Zagreb in the same year.

The Perisic trial will be closely observed to see if prosecutors can prove a connection between the Serbian state and military actions and atrocities committed beyond its borders. A previous opportunity for them to try and establish such a link was lost during the trial of former Yugoslav and Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, who died in 2006 before proceedings against him finished.

Perisic’s indictment alleges that he gave military support to Bosnian and Croatian Serbs during the wars in these countries in the early Nineties, including arms, personnel, equipment and funding.

It also states that between August 1993 and November 1995 – when he was chief of staff of the VJ – Perisic helped plan, prepare and execute attacks on civilian parts of Sarajevo which resulted in thousands of people being killed or injured.

This week, Treanor quoted from a purported letter of gratitude allegedly sent by the wartime president of the Bosnian Serb parliament, Momcilo Krajisnik, in September 1993, in which he thanked Perisic “for the help that will be directed to the Sarajevo battlefield”.

“You have done a lot for our people, General Perisic,” Krajisnik allegedly wrote, without specifying exactly what kind of help had been provided. In 2006, the Hague tribunal sentenced Krajisnik to 27 years in prison for his role in the crimes committed in Bosnia during the war. His conviction is currently under appeal.

During his testimony, Treanor also discussed several alleged meetings between Serbian and Bosnian Serb military leaders in the early years of the Bosnian war at which their strategy and future goals are said to have been discussed.

He said that at the alleged meetings, Perisic represented the Serbian side, while the Bosnian Serbs were represented by General Ratko Mladic and other top-ranking military officials. Mladic was indicted for crimes against humanity, including genocide, 13 years ago, and remains on the run.

The witness said that as of 1994, the common goal of the governments in Belgrade and in the Serb-controlled part of Bosnia was to end the hostilities and secure international recognition for the territories Bosnian Serb forces had gained during the war.

As an example of Perisic’s alleged influence on the Bosnian Serb leadership, the witness quoted a statement which the former army chief reportedly made at the 20th session of the Serbian Supreme Defence Council held in Belgrade in 1994. Perisic allegedly suggested that the war in Bosnia should stop, because “with weapons we have achieved the goals which need to be preserved by wise politics and verified by the international community”.

During cross-examination of the witness, Perisic’s defence team – which is trying to prove that the Bosnian Serb forces acted independently of Belgrade – attempted to undermine Treanor’s testimony and his report.

Defence counsel Gregory Guy Smith put it to the witness that in court this week, he had presented his report in one particular way, even though different conclusions could be drawn from it.

“I presented this material because I find it relevant, relevant for this subject, and I leave it to the readers to draw their own conclusions,” replied Treanor.

When the defence described Treanor’s report as subjective and incomplete, the witness replied that he had not intended to write a history of Yugoslavia, merely a document limited to 60 pages. He added that his report described events relevant to Perisic’s indictment and contained evidence of Serbia’s alleged strategy before and during the wars in the Balkans.

Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR-trained journalist in Zagreb.