Court Hears of Confusion Over Srebrenica Orders

Ex-police commander says there was discord among Bosnian Serbs at time of massacre.

Court Hears of Confusion Over Srebrenica Orders

Ex-police commander says there was discord among Bosnian Serbs at time of massacre.

Saturday, 30 May, 2009
A witness told the Hague tribunal this week that Bosnian Serb wartime general Ratko Mladic and former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic appeared to have issued contradictory orders related to the fate of Bosniak captives around the time of the Srebrenica massacre.

Dragomir Vasic, ex-head of the Zvornik Public Security Centre, from where the activities of local police stations in that area, including those in Srebrenica, were coordinated, was testifying this week in the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav Army, VJ, chief Momcilo Perisic.

Perisic, the most senior VJ officer to be charged with war crimes in Bosnia and Croatia, has pleaded not guilty to charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including aiding and abetting the 43-month siege of Sarajevo, the shelling of the Croatian capital Zagreb and the massacre of some 8,000 Bosnian Muslim males after the fall of Srebrenica to the Bosnian Serb Army,VRS, in July 1995.

The indictment says he provided financial, logistical and personnel support to Serb forces operating in Bosnia and Croatia between 1991 and 1995.

Prosecutors called Vasic to testify about what he witnessed in mid-July 1995 in the nearby municipality of Bratunac, which at the time was under Bosnian Serb control.

Vasic told judges that on the evening of July 13, 1995, he went to the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, headquarters in Bratunac to speak with Miroslav Deronjic – a leading Serb politician in the area at the time and president of the municipality crisis staff – about the large influx of Bosnian Muslim captives into the town of Bratunac.

“I was concerned the town was filled with prisoners and … there was nobody to secure them,” said Vasic.

“Mr Deronjic told me that he was going to call President Karadzic and ask for instructions on how to proceed further.”

After that meeting, Vasic said he travelled between the Bratunac police station and the SDS headquarters two or three times that same evening to find out whether communication had been established with Karadzic.

When Vasic arrived at the SDS headquarters for the last time at around midnight, both Deronjic and Colonel Ljubisa Beara, chief of security of the main staff of the VRS, were already present, he said.

Beara is currently on trial at the Hague tribunal in a separate case, accused of genocide over the Srebrenica massacre. Having pleaded guilty to war crimes at the tribunal in 2002, Deronjic died in prison in Sweden in 2007 while serving his sentence.

During his testimony, Vasic said Beara informed him that he had received orders to kill all the prisoners held in Bratunac.

“I asked him whose order it was, and he just replied, ‘It came from the boss,’” said Vasic.

“When I asked him, ‘Which boss are you referring to?’ his answer was, ‘General Mladic’.”

But the witness said that on the same evening, an argument broke out between Deronjic and Beara because Deronjic had obtained orders from Karadzic which he thought contradicted those that Beara said he received from Mladic.

“[Deronjic said that] the President conveyed to him an encrypted order which read, ‘Miroslav, the commodity must be in the warehouse’,” said Vasic.

Deronjic repeatedly insisted that this message was an order to move the prisoners from Bratunac to a prison facility, the witness told judges.

“Eventually, Colonel Beara reluctantly said that he would comply,” said Vasic.

The witness then recounted how he went to the Bratunac police station at around 7 am the following morning to prepare for a visit by Tomislav Kovac, the then Bosnian Serb minister of internal affairs.

When he arrived, he said preparations for the transport of the Bratunac prisoners were already under way.

But at the police station, he again saw Beara, said Vasic.

“[Beara] repeated that… the order from Mladic was to kill the prisoners, and he asked if I could set aside a few .… trusted policemen who would be placed under his command in order to carry out this task,” he said.

Vasic said he refused, pointing out that “as far as I understood, the order [given was otherwise]”, which prompted Beara to turn away angrily and leave, he said.

When Kovac arrived, the witness said he informed him of both encounters with Beara.

According to him, Kovac responded by saying, “The military prisoners were under the jurisdiction of the army [not the police] and that we shouldn’t interfere with these matters.”

Vasic noted that relations between the army and the police were “tense” at that time.

During cross-examination, defence lawyer Novak Lukic questioned Vasic regarding the organisation and chain of command of the police forces in the Bratunac municipality.

“During the whole period when you held office, did you receive from your superiors any task to carry out any investigation regarding Srebrenica?” Lukic asked the witness.

“No, I didn’t receive any task of that nature,” replied Vasic.

The trial continues next week.

Andrew W Maki is an IWPR contributor.
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