Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
COURTSIDE: Sarajevo Trial
Stanislav Galic’s defence team opened its case last week by claiming that the siege of Sarajevo was a fiction concocted by the media.
The Bosnian Serb general is accused of responsibility for the shelling, sniping and terrorising of the capital’s civilians in his capacity as leader of the Sarajevo-Romanija corps.
"The prosecutor alleged that the Yugoslav Peoples Army, JNA, took strategic positions around Sarajevo and kept the city under siege...the defence will show that this was not the case and will not allow any media forgeries to remain unresolved," Galic's chief counsel Mara Pilipovic told the court in her opening statement last week.
"The defence will show that Sarajevo was neither surrounded, nor placed under blockade, but was divided along ethnic lines."
Pilipovic, a Belgrade attorney, rejected all the prosecutor's claims, including those relating to events leading up to the conflict in Sarajevo. "The prosecutor claimed that peace ended on April 6, 1992. The defence will prove it was endangered long before that," she said.
She claimed that the city was first destabilised by the Bosniak-led Party for Democratic Action, SDA, which set up paramilitary formations such as the Green Berets and the Patriotic League.
Under such circumstances, Pilipovic continued, Bosnian Serbs "had no choice" but to establish local government bodies in areas where they held the majority. This political partition later served as the basis for territorial divisions once both Bosnian Serbs and Bosniaks had decided, in May 1992, to name Sarajevo as their capital.
In the conflict that followed, Galic's forces "only responded to provocations of the Bosnian army", according to the defence.
Pilipovic told the court that, as they were inferior in numbers, the Sarajevo-Romanija corps had been forced to use artillery to redress the balance but had only used it against "military targets" that were often located in or near civilian sites.
The defence team is claiming that the blame lies not with Galic, but with the other side’s failure to evacuate civilians from the war zone.
Pilipovic said that the Sarajevo-Romanija corps’ goal was to prevent 75,000 Bosnian army personnel from leaving the city and reinforcing other front lines, as this could have led to the defeat of Serb forces.
The defence described the civilian victims as "collateral damage" and disputes that thousands were killed as stated in the indictment. It claims that there were only 262 deaths and 750 wounded.
Galic, who was corps commander from September 1992 until August 1994, does not dispute that he was in control of his troops. Neither has he denied the presence of "volunteers" or paramilitary units in his field of responsibility.
In the first week of evidence, four witnesses appeared in court, all under concealed identities. For the most part, their testimony concentrated on the problems faced by Sarajevo’s Serbs and on alleged attacks by the Bosnian army.
This approach triggered an intervention by Prosecutor Mark Ierace, who reminded the defence that the trial was not "an investigation of what happened in Sarajevo but a presentation of evidence" to support or undermine the allegations listed in the indictment.
When one defence witness claimed last week that the Bosnian army had opened fire from three tanks located some 30 metres from Kosevo hospital, Ierace demanded that the judges stop the proceedings and have the witness taken out of court.
Once this was done, Ierace remarked that this was the third of four defence witnesses who had suddenly "remembered important things that were absent from the written statement".
After Dutch judge Alphonsus Orie asked Pilipovic to explain this, she said the witness had only volunteered the information on his arrival in The Hague, just before testifying, and that she had not had time to inform the prosecution.
Judge Orie then recalled the witness to the courtroom and asked him, "When did you tell the investigators or the attorneys about the tanks placed 30 metres from the hospital?"
"In November last year," the witness replied.
Emir Suljagic is Hague correspondent for the weekly magazine DANI.
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