COURTSIDE: Sarajevo Trial

Bosnian commander tells of the capital's defence

COURTSIDE: Sarajevo Trial

Bosnian commander tells of the capital's defence

A Bosnian and a UN general testified last week at the trial of Bosnian Serb commander Stanislav Galic, who is charged with shelling, sniping and terrorising Sarajevo civilians.

Galic, who commanded the Sarajevo-Romanija corps of the Bosnian Serb Army, faced the testimony of his Bosnian counterpart General Vahid Karavelic - who, as commander of the Bosnian army's First Corps from August 1993, effectively conducted the capital's defence - and Abdul Razek, commander of the UN Sarajevo sector from 1992 to 1993.

Karavelic told the court of his military studies - also undertaken by Galic - which included a course on protecting civilians in conflict situations. After he explained the general position of Bosnian forces in Sarajevo, the defence questioned him on details of the city's armed resistance.

The witness said at the start of the conflict in April 1992 there were numerous formations across the city, including the Patriotic

League, the Green Berets, the HVO, the Territorial Defence and Presidency forces among many other units.

Most units were soon placed under the command of the First Corps, though the Presidency forces - several hundred men led by Jusuf "Juka" Prazina - remained independent and reported only to army headquarters.

Turning to rumours of the continued presence of special units in the city, Karavelic said certain soldiers had wanted to "show off" and there was nothing special about their formations. The only trouble the corps encountered was with two brigades that refused to execute orders in summer 1993, but they had been overpowered by October.

When the defence suggested the dominant character of the city's defence forces was Muslim, Karavelic replied that many Serb officers served in the Bosnian army, including deputy chief of staff Jovo Divjak.

Galic's defence then used the fact that Karavelic had deserted the Yugoslav National Army, JNA, and joined the Patriotic League, whose creation in June 1991 was backed by the overwhelmingly Muslim Party for Democratic Action.

The defence described the league as an illegal formation. As Bosnia was part of Yugoslavia until declaring independence in spring 1992, the defence says the JNA and Territorial Defence were the only accepted military formations until then.

Karavelic told the court that league members were armed before the start of the war but disputed their illegality "because of the circumstances in Yugoslavia at that time".

The witness said the legality of the JNA depended on the respect it commanded, and claimed it had none in Bosnia at that time - at least among Muslims and Croats.

General Razek said he had complained to Galic of excessive civilian losses and casualties among UN troops as a result of shelling. The only reply he received was that Bosnian forces fired the projectiles themselves to gain UN support.

Razek said this possibility was discussed at UN meetings but after studying ballistic reports, it was concluded that almost all were fired from Serb positions.

The defence suggested Galic's forces targeted UN headquarters in the city because an alleged munitions factory was located in its basement.

Razek rejected this, saying that while the Bosnian army may have targeted Serbs from positions near the building and thus triggered retaliation, the Serbs had continued to fire even after the UN had proclaimed a 500-meter radius exclusion zone for all Bosnian forces around the building.

The defence has in the past suggested that Bosnian mobile artillery fired at Serb positions from across the city, including positions around hospitals and the UN building.

However, General Karavelic told the court that after receiving complaints about provocations aimed at Serb positions from locations around the UN HQ, he sent police to investigate immediately. He claimed these patrols arrived within minutes but never established the source of the provocations. Karavelic said he later asked the UN to monitor these incidents and react but this request was never acted upon.

Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor.

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