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Court Told Bosnian Serb Army "Tool" of Political Leaders

Stanisic and Zupljanin trial hears testimony regarding policy formed at strategic 1992 meeting.
By Velma Šarić

A military expert gave evidence this week in the Hague tribunal trial of Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin on the connections between the political and military structures in Republika Srpska, RS.

Prosecution witness Ewan Brown testified that the Bosnian Serb Army, VRS, served as a tool for achieving the strategic goals of political leaders, which were defined and adopted at the sixteenth session of the Bosnian Serb assembly on May 12, 1992.

Stanisic and Zupljanin are accused of crimes committed between April 1 and December 31, 1992, in 20 municipalities throughout Bosnia and are alleged to have participated in a joint criminal enterprise in 1992, the goal of which was the permanent removal of Bosniaks, Bosnian Croats and other non-Serbs from the territory of an intended Serb state.

Prosecutors say that this criminal plan was led by Bosnian Serb president and Hague indictee Radovan Karadzic; former Bosnian Serb parliamentary speaker Momcilo Krajisnik; ex-Bosnian Serb president Biljana Plavsic and Bosnian Serb wartime commander General Ratko Mladic.

Zupljanin, who became an adviser to Karadzic in 1994, is accused of extermination, murder, persecution, and deportation of non-Serbs in northwestern Bosnia between April and December 1992.

Stanisic is charged with the murder, torture and cruel treatment of non-Serb civilians, as well as for failing to prevent or punish crimes committed by his subordinates.

Both defendants – whose indictments were joined together in September 2008 – have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Brown, a British army officer, worked on intelligence and strategy between 1986 and 1996. From 1998 to 2008, he worked with the Hague tribunal, including four years in the prosecutor's office.

For the trial of Momcilo Krajisnik and Radoslav Brdjanin in July 2002, he compiled an expert report which analysed the political and military situation in the area of responsibility of the First Krajina Corps of the VRS, as well as the role and actions of the territorial defence and police forces.

“When I first came to the [tribunal], at the prosecutor's office in 1999, I was aware that a whole set of documents relating to the archive or parts thereof of the First Krajina Corps had been found or confiscated,” the witness said at the start of his testimony. “The material I mostly used for my reports was material from this collection.”

He said he believed that the “breaking point” in the political and military situation came during the sixteenth session of the Bosnian Serb assembly in May 1992.

"It was at that sixteenth session that the VRS was founded, that decisions related to military questions were taken. It was also then that it was determined that [Ratko] Mladic would be the army commander, and that strategic goals were discussed,” the witness explained.

Mladic, the commander of the main staff of the Bosnian Serb army from 1992 to 1996, is wanted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Brown said that it was at the assembly that “within the strategic goals, the political context becomes easily obvious, as do the tasks for the army in the coming months.

“Radovan Karadzic pointed out six strategic goals, the most important of which was the separation of the Serb ethnic group as opposed to the other national groups in Bosnia-Hercegovina.”

Prosecutor Joanna Korner asked the witness how these strategic goals related to military action.

“They reflected in a series of military orders or directives given by the command and general staff in the immediate aftermath of the session,” the witness answered, adding he thought “that [the strategic goals] weren't about political rhetorics, because they were easily over-viewable and reflected in the very actions of the military during that year”.

According to the indictment, Stanisic and Zupljanin are held responsible for “imposing and maintaining restrictive measures against Bosnian Muslims and Croats”, having thereby perpetrated persecution on a political, racial or religious basis, which is qualified as a crime against humanity.
The witness said that the Bosnian Serb assembly session also discussed the question of whether the non-Serb population should be transferred and how territories could be gained, and kept for and by the Serbs.

He also noted Mladic's “unusual” demonstration of “partial precaution” in a speech where “he warned that ‘people are not pawns, nor keys in a pocket to be transferred here or there as one wishes’”.

Korner asked whether this was the statement Brown had in mind when he had previously described Mladic as “partially vigilant”.

“Yes, I think that this speech by Mladic mentions two or three such things also mentioned in my report, there are a few others, such as one where he says how he has a certain idea what this is all about, about forced transfer of population, and that this isn't something that could be easily done,” the witness responded.

Brown also said that he wished to turn the court’s attention to something Mladic later said, “Namely: ‘What we are here speaking about should be our secret, something we should keep in confidentiality, which is how I see this assembly session’.

“Apparently, he realised what would ultimately happen and is warning that there could be expulsion and transfer of people.”

Stanisic surrendered to the tribunal in March 2005. Zupljanin remained in hiding until June of the same year, when he was arrested in the town of Pancevo, just outside the Serbian capital Belgrade.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist.