COURTSIDE: Sarajevo Trial

Corps commander must bear responsibility for any casualties, court told

COURTSIDE: Sarajevo Trial

Corps commander must bear responsibility for any casualties, court told

The prosecution in the trial of General Stanislav Galic last week called on an expert witness to explain the rules of engagement for artillery units.


According to the indictment, artillery and sniping attacks were primarily used by the Bosnian Serb army's Sarajevo-Romanija corps, which Galic commanded until 1994, to terrorise the city's civilian population.


Lieutenant-Colonel Dr Vilmos Kovacs of the Budapest Military History Museum told the tribunal that if there is a risk of civilian casualties, the artillery brigade commander is not allowed to order shelling before informing the corps leader.


Once the brigade commander does so, the consequences of such an attack become the responsibility of his superior, he said.


Kovacs added that it is a prerequisite in the artillery command chain for regular reports to be submitted to the corps commander so that he might investigate irregularities.


Galic's defence has claimed the corps targeted legitimate military objects and that civilian casualties were collateral damage. They have also suggested that the defendant could not have known about all the activities of his front-line troops.


Kovacs was questioned by the defence on "observable" and "non-observable" military targets in the city, and whether the latter required more ammunition to hit the target.


The witness answered that as firing on a city is likely to incur civilian casualties, as little ammunition as possible should be used when aiming at unobservable targets. Whether it is legitimate to hit these targets or not cannot be said, Kovacs added, as the decision lies with the commander.


General Ad Van Baal, a UN commander in Bosnia in 1993, returned to the witness bench and testified that civilian casualties in some areas were not likely to constitute collateral damage. The indictment alleges that many civilians, including women and children, were killed or wounded while using public transport.


Van Baal said snipers situated in high buildings along the so-called Sniper Alley shot down their counterparts on the opposite side. However, he claimed it would have been impossible for them to have "accidentally" shot civilians travelling in trams at street level - implying that these people were shot on purpose.


He also testified that bullets fired from that height and distance could not have bounced off the ground and unintentionally hit anyone.


Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor


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