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

COURTSIDE: Sarajevo Shelling Trial

By Vjera Bogati in The Hague (TU 297, 20-24 January 2003)

"We were practically surrounded and we had to fight hard to defend ourselves," said the witness, who had been employed in the corps' moral and information department.

Galic, the former corps commander, is accused of war crimes allegedly committed during the 44-month siege of Sarajevo. The indictment claims that his troops repeatedly fired into the city, terrorising the civilian population.

But the witness told the court that these troops were fighting for survival. "(We) were in an inferior position both in numbers and equipment and had to fight hard to prevent Muslims from taking over important factories around Sarajevo which they would have used for a brutal revenge," he said.

"We are perceived as aggressors. But how can I be an aggressor if I was defending my home?"

The witness denied the prosecution's claim that the Yugoslav army, JNA, aided the siege of Sarajevo by taking strategic positions around it in the spring of 1992.

As a former JNA officer, he claimed that the army - with all its units and weapons - was expelled from the city by Muslim paramilitaries in early May 1992.

"The JNA wanted a peaceful resolution of the conflict - and forcing it to leave had catastrophic consequences," said the witness.

He dismissed the accusations that Galic's forces implemented a sniping campaign to terrorise Sarajevo's inhabitants as "pure propaganda", and claimed he had never seen a sniper in the corps.

Another protected witness - a former soldier in the Sarajevo-Romania corps - said that people often thought that "when someone was killed with a single bullet - it was [the work of] a sniper". He claimed that any automatic rifle could have caused similar injuries.

Galic's defence team then attempted to show that stray bullets - and not snipers - might have caused the deaths of many Sarajevo civilians. But when asked if this could have been the case, the witness told the court that such injuries happened only rarely.

Despite indicating that Galic would testify, the defence keeps postponing a final decision on the issue - drawing repeated complaints from the prosecution.

The defence case continues.

Vjera Bogati is an IWPR correspondent in The Hague and a journalist with SENSE news agency.

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.