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COURTSIDE: Srebrenica - The Prosecutor's 'Missing Link'

An ex-Bosnian Serb general provides crucial evidence that could convict General Krstic of genocide.
By Mirko Klarin

A former Bosnian Serb commander now living in Serbia has provided what may be the crucial missing link confirming the chain of command implicating Gen. Radislav Krstic in the massacres at Srebrenica.


Although the prosecution and defence rested their cases two months ago, the trial judges allowed the prosecution to submit new evidence - a document informing the Drina corps of Krstic's command.


Throughout the case, the prosecution has been unable to prove conclusively that Krstic took control of the Drina corps of the Army of Republika Srpska, VRS, at precisely the dates in July 1995 when more than 7,000 Bosniak (Muslim) men and boys were massacred.


One link was missing in the firm chain of evidence that the prosecution presented charging Krstic with genocide: a document confirming when the accused took command of the Drina corps, whose units took part in July 1995 in seizing the enclave under the UN protection.


The prosecution claimed that General Krstic assumed command on July 13 at the latest. This would mean that most of the mass executions - which took place July 12-17 - were carried out under his authority. But the prosecution was compelled to try to prove this indirectly, as it did not possess a document clearly putting a date to Krstic's appointment.


The defence asserted that Krstic "formally" assumed the position of commander on July 20, assumed the responsibilities "factually" only on August 2, when Operation Zepa (the seizure of the other enclave under UN "protection") occurred, under General Krstic's command.


Both sides presented various documents, but inconclusively. The prosecution had the order of General Krstic of July 13, dispatching units of the Drina Corps to "search the terrain" - i.e., to hunt for the line of Bosniak men, fighters and civilians, who tried to make their way though the woods to the territory under the control of the BH Army.


Krstic signed the order as a "commander", but the defence and its military expert claim this referred to his position as a "commander of the operation relating to Zepa", not as a corps commander.


For its part, the defence presented a July 14 decree of the "supreme commander and president of republic", Radovan Karadzic. This order appoints Krstic to the position of commander of the Drina corps. According to the defence, it went into effect the next day, July 15. Krstic was absent in Zepa at this time, so did not take over command until July 20.


The prosecution claimed that the written decree was preceded by an oral order, but had no supporting documents.


The dispute over this evidence has been going on practically since the beginning of the trial, March 13, 2000, and it seemed the case would close without proof being entered that would indicate, beyond a reasonable doubt, the date Krstic took over the Drina corps.


Then this April, after both the prosecution and the defence concluded the presentation of their cases, the prosecution found what it was looking for, when tribunal investigators met VRS General Milenko Zivanovic, Krstic's predecessor as Drina corps commander who now lives as a pensioner in Valjevo, Serbia. He provided a document dated July 13, 1995, informing the units of the Drina corps that General Krstic had taken over as commander.


According to Witness JJ, an employee of the Office of the Prosecutor, Zivanovic told investigators that he had been relieved of duty of the Drina corps on July 11. He says he was told the next day that Krstic was the new commander. He explained that on July 13, in the presence of Generals Ratko Mladic and Krstic, he bade farewell to his soldiers in a ceremony in front of the headquarters of the Drina corps in Vlasenica.


At first, the defence tried to dispute the authenticity of the document. In the face of analysis from prosecution experts, it shifted tack, and sought to dispute its relevance. The defence's military expert, Yugoslav Army General Radovan Radinovic, told the court that this was a "completely unofficial and non-binding document" that "cannot be proof of the take-over of duty".


The only reliable proof, the defence and its expert claimed, would be actual minutes of a meeting about the change of responsibilities, and such minutes cannot be found in any of the VRS archives.


The defence blamed the absence of any minutes on a "conspiracy" against Krstic by his former colleagues, revenge against him for his own effort to point the finger for the Srebrenica crimes - which he does not dispute - at General Mladic and his intelligence officers.


Despite the defence's dismissal of the document as "worthless", the judges concluded, after a brief deliberation, that it was relevant evidence and entered it into the prosecutor's exhibits.


Prosecution and defence closing arguments are scheduled for June 26-29. A verdict could come by mid-July, the sixth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre.


Mirko Klarin is IWPR senior editor for the war crimes tribunal and editor-in-chief-of SENSE News Agency.