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

Court Told How Bosnian Serb Police Set Up

Expert witness provides details of plans to create a separate interior ministry.
By Velma Šarić

The Hague tribunal trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic continued this week with the appearance of Christian Nielsen, a prosecution expert witness, who testified on how the Serb police broke away from Bosnia’s pre-war ministry of interior, or MUP.

Karadzic, who is the former president of Republika Srpska, RS, is charged with eleven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the genocide in Srebrenica in July 1995 and the 44-month sniping and shelling campaign against the Bosnian capital Sarajevo.

Nielsen, whose testimony began on July 5, has already appeared before the tribunal to testify in the trials of other high-ranked Bosnian Serb officials, Momcilo Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin, as well as Momcilo Krajisnik.

Nielsen has undertaken research for the tribunal on the creation and functioning of the Bosnian Serb MUP.

During his testimony, the witness said that Karadzic was personally involved in the "the division of power in the [pre-war] joint interior ministry", after the first multi-party elections in Bosnia in 1990, together with the Vitomir Zepinic, also an ethnic Bosnian Serb, who served as deputy interior minister in 1991.

According to Nielsen, Karadzic and Zepinic were in close contact, yet Karadzic was becoming "increasingly unsatisfied with the way Zepinic was standing up for Serb interests". Therefore, he decided to involve Momcilo Mandic, an assistant minister of interior, who was acquitted of war crimes charges by the Bosnian’s court’s appeals chamber several years ago.

"Together, Karadzic and Mandic represented the micro-management of the [Serbian Democratic Party, SDS] in the process of nomination of Serbs to senior functions in the joint interior ministry," the witness said.

According to Neilsen, Karadzic and Mandic’s efforts to protect Serb interests were "not resulting in the desired outcome, so that by Autumn of 1991 the Serbs were considering alternative measures”.

These measures included a number of options centred around "decentralization", part of which included "the creation of a separate Serb ministry”.

Karadzic himself demonstrated his commitment to this in several meetings, such as "on February 11, 1992, in Banja Luka, or on February 20, where the Serb People's Assembly adopted a Law on the creation of the Serb MUP", according to the witness.

Nielsen then quoted Karadzic, at the said assembly meeting, as having said that "soon events will happen in which the police will have to play a key role", without specifying what these events will be.

"On March 31, 1992, Momcilo Mandic sent a dispatch to the SDS, stating that the Serb MUP would start functioning next day," the witness continued, describing this document as the "birth certificate of the Serb MUP".

The witness said the Serb character of the newly founded institution was very clear, since "by summer of 1992, only six non-Serbs had remained employed”.

"The adjective Serb was simply added to many existing police stations," Nielsen explained. "The Serb MUP played a key role from the very beginning in grabbing 'occupied' and protecting 'free' territory.”

"Despite assurances by authorities that all citizens would be safe, we can clearly see that the Muslims and Croats were not provided such security, nor were the crimes against them treated with any kind of priority by police investigations," he stated, adding that detention centres in Omarska, which was under police jurisdiction, or crimes against some 200 civilians in Koricanske Stijene, were illustrations of the absence of that protection.

The trial continues next week, when the witness will be cross-examined by the accused Karadzic.

Karadzic was arrested in 2008 in Belgrade, after spending ears living under a false identity in Serbia.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in The Hague.

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