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

COURTSIDE: Sarajevo Trial

Sniping was so horrendous that civilians had to dig communications trenches for their own use, claims former Bosnian commander
By Mirna Jancic

An expert witness in the trial of Stanislav Galic - who is charged with shelling, sniping at and terrorising Sarajevo civilians - last week explained the crucial issue of population loss in the city between September 1992 and August 1994.


Ewa Tabeau, a member of the prosecution's demographics team, has analysed population change during the Bosnian conflict in previous trials.


In the case of Sarajevo, Tabeau and two co-authors produced a report on casualties in parts of six city municipalities, by examining data collected during the 1994 Household Survey of Sarajevo, HSS, the Bakije funeral firm and an organisation titled Muslims Against Genocide. The information obtained from the different sources was compared with Bosnian and Serb army lists of killed soldiers.


The HSS survey covered 85,000 households - a total of 340,000 people - representing the majority of Sarajevo's population at the time.


The study found that at least 1,400 civilians died and 5,100 were wounded during the September 1992 - August 1994 period covered by the indictment against Galic. Of those killed, around 670 were women, 85 were elderly and 300 were children - 100 of them 10-years-old or under. The report also listed some 1,250 wounded children. The ratio of civilian-soldier deaths was one to one point seven


Because civilian casualties were exceptionally high compared to military ones on certain days, Tabeau's team concluded this may suggest a deliberate targeting of civilians.


Shelling, sniping and other firearms were responsible for the majority of casualties. Most victims were Muslims, who made up about 49 per cent of the city's pre-war population, alongside 28 per cent Serbs, seven per cent Croats and 16 per cent others. The report concludes that the present Muslim majority could be the result of wartime population movements and immigration from across Bosnia.


The court later heard the testimony of Ismet Hadzic, the then commander of 1st Dobrinja battalion of the Bosnian army. Dobrinja is a suburb of Sarajevo that was cut off from the rest of the city for most of the conflict.


Hadzic said that after the Yugoslav National Army, JNA, withdrew from Slovenia, it passed through Dobrinja on its way to headquarters in Lukavica, near the capital. He saw hundreds of tanks rolling through the streets, along with trucks carrying tons of technical equipment.


The former commander claimed ethnic tension did not follow Bosnia's first multi-party elections and said the suburb's residents only took up arms after JNA troops climbed the neighbouring hill and captured its water reservoir. The army's ethnic Albanian members left soon after, Hadzic said, and were replaced by Serb forces.


He told how a tank and two transporters opened fire on Dobrinja on May 4, 1992, followed by loudspeaker announcements telling people to leave the area and take only hand luggage. Of Dobrinja's 45,000 residents, around half - many of them Serbs - remained during the siege.


The sniping and shelling that followed was so horrendous and non-discriminatory that civilians were compelled to dig trenches to move about the suburb, he claimed.


The defence asked Hadzic if he was aware of threats against Dobrinja's Serbs by local ethnic Muslim volunteer groups, who allegedly marked their flats and constructed a prison for Serbs. The witness denied this.


Most of Hadzic's testimony involved indicating Bosnian army positions in the suburb. He said the Dobrinja brigades were lightly armed and wore civilian clothes owing to a lack of uniforms. He denied the testimonies of two previous prosecution witnesses, one of whom claimed the brigade headquarters was located in a nuclear shelter. Hadzic claimed such shelters were never used for military purposes.


Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor


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