Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Evert Rave, prosecution witness in the Mladic trial. (Photo: ICTY)
A former member of the Dutch peacekeeping battalion in Srebrenica this week described the fall of the enclave in July 1995 and his subsequent meetings with General Ratko Mladic.
Evert Rave appeared as a prosecution witness in the Hague trial of the commander of the Bosnian Serb army, which overran the town of Srebrenica in July 1995. The indictment holds Mladic responsible for the ensuing massacre of over 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys.
Mladic is accused of responsibility for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer which "contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory".
Rave was liaison officer and assistant commander for terrain security with the Dutch battalion of the United Nations Protection Force, UNPROFOR. He was deployed in Srebrenica from January 1995.
He is just one of several ex-officers of the Dutch battalion, or Dutchbat to appear as prosecution witnesses in the trial of Mladic.
Rave has previously testified before the Hague tribunal in the 2000 trial of Bosnian Serb general Radislav Krstic, who was found guilty of aiding and abetting genocide and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment; and in the trial of General Zdravko Tolimir, convicted of genocide late last year and given a life sentence. He appeared in the ongoing trial of wartime Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic in late 2011.
In court this week, Rave described accompanying Dutchbat commander Thomas Karremans to a meeting with Mladic and other officials at the Hotel Fontana in Bratunac on the evening of July 11, 1995. Earlier that day, the Srebrenica enclave had fallen to Bosnian Serb forces, and thousands of civilians were fleeing to the UN compound in nearby Potocari.
Rave said Mladic was “very upset” about NATO air strikes on his troops earlier in the day, and he demanded to know whether Dutchbat commanders were responsible for calling them in.
“[Mladic] remained upset after we told him we weren't [responsible], and I wondered if we would be taken outside and shot. Mladic then said that if air attacks on his forces continued, he would retaliate by shelling the Potocari combat of Dutchbat and killing Dutch hostages currently under his custody,” the witness said.
In his statement, Rave said he witnessed Bosnian Muslim men being separated from their families in Potocari on July 12, and later hearing gunshots after the separation took place.
"General Mladic was aware of the separation of men, as it took place while he was in Potocari. When he was walking towards a blockade on the road [from Potocari], I saw that a large number of separated Muslim men were already in a house on the road and others were being led there, so it was impossible for him not to see them,” Rave said.
During the defence’s cross-examination, Mladic's lawyer Branko Lukic suggested to the witness that the Bosnian government army and UNPROFOR planned to "jointly attack and fight” the Bosnian Serb army. He further claimed that there was "a tactical attempt by the Bosnian Muslims in May 1995 to test Dutchbat and see what their true intentions were, and whether they would help fight the Serbs".
The witness answered that he was aware of some "tactical games" going on when he arrived in Srebrenica. However, he said, while the Bosnian government army may have "attempted to determine the direction of Dutchbat and to see how far we would go", one could not speak of any "joint attempt".
Lukic, however, went on to claim that there were clear orders for UNPROFOR to "fight” the Bosnian Serb army.
He cited the so-called “green light” order from Dutchbat deputy commander Robert Franken. According to Lukic, on July 9 – shortly before Srebrenica fell – Franken ordered his troops to "use all available means" to defend Srebrenica. This did not adhere to the “restrictions imposed by the UN mandate", Lukic said, calling it an open declaration of war on the Bosnian Serb army.
"We were attacked, as if we were at war ourselves, and were trying to use whatever we could to defend ourselves. It was the situation we were brought into", Rave said.
Lukic then asked the witness why UNPROFOR did not do more to demilitarise Bosnian Muslim soldiers in the enclave, to which the witness replied that Dutch forces did "take weapons away whenever weapons were found". He added that the same applied to "both sides".
The lawyer asked the witness whether he was aware that Bosnian Muslim troops boasted of having cheated the Serbs. He claimed that Naser Oric, who commanded Bosnian government forces in Srebrenica, said in an interview that he gave Dutchbat “only useless old weapons, but kept all the good ones and the ones [they] couldn't find".
"There were weapons, yes; there were armed civilians on both sides as well. In addition, in such a big area, it is not difficult to hide weapons. But it was also impossible to know they had weapons [that] they told us nothing about, you see,” Rave said.
The trial will continue next week.
Velma Saric is an IWPR contributor in Sarajevo.
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