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Ex-UN Officer Claims Sarajevo Trams Targeted

Former United Nations military official says Bosnian Serb army chief threatened sniper fire if trams were allowed to run.
By Rachel Irwin
  • Prosecution witness General Adrianus van Baal during the cross-examination. (Photo: ICTY)
    Prosecution witness General Adrianus van Baal during the cross-examination. (Photo: ICTY)

The chief-of-staff of the Bosnian Serb army said he would “see to it” that trams in Sarajevo were targeted with sniper fire, a Dutch general, who formerly served as a senior military official in the United Nations in Bosnia, said this week during the trial of Radovan Karadzic.

“Are you sure you accurately remember what [chief-of-staff General Manojlo Milovanovic] told you?” Karadzic asked prosecution witness General Adrianus van Baal during the cross-examination.

“Are you sure he told you that the trams will be the target of snipers?” Karadzic asked.

“I am 100 per cent certain,” answered Van Baal, who served as chief-of-staff to General Sir Michael Rose, who was the commander of UN forces in Sarajevo during 1994.

Van Baal said he was in frequent contact with Milovanovic, who was his counterpart in the Bosnian Serb army.

According to a summary of Van Baal’s witness statement read aloud by prosecutors, Milovanovic complained about trams being allowed to operate in Sarajevo and said he would “see to it” that the trams were targeted if the UN allowed this to continue. Van Baal stated that the trams – and the civilians on them - were subsequently the target of sniper fire.

“Is this a significant piece of information?” asked Karadzic, who continues to represent himself.

“It was very important because General Milovanovic’s intonation and diction gave me the distinct impression that he could influence what happened on the ground in Sarajevo regarding this subject,” answered Van Baal, who has testified in two previous trials at the tribunal.

“Did you inform your superior command about this?” Karadzic asked.

“Absolutely,” replied Van Baal, who said that he had told Rose.

“Why are there not any written traces of such a major issue that violates the laws of war?” Karadzic asked. “[You] inform me about every [humanitarian] convoy but fail to inform me about such an important matter?”

“It was not my task to inform you,” Van Baal responded. “It was my task to notify my commander and ensure the information reached the appropriate place [at the UN command] in Zagreb.”

“Is there such a written notification?” Karadzic asked.

“I don’t have the information as to whether a written document exists,” Van Baal said.

When Karadzic pressed Van Baal on what exactly was said, the witness maintained that Milovanovic said he would “see to it” that trams were targeted.

“That means that he would use his own influence to ensure this would in fact happen,” Van Baal continued. “I can’t imagine this in another way.”

Karadzic then requested that Van Baal turn over his notes from the meeting, which Van Baal initially declined to do, but later told judges that he would “think about it”.

Karadzic subsequently filed a written motion requesting that judges order Van Baal to produce his notes, with any personal details redacted.

Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, the president of Bosnia’s self-declared Republika Srpska from 1992 to 1996, planned and oversaw the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that ravaged the city and left nearly 12,000 people dead.

Karadzic’s army is accused of deliberately sniping and shelling the city’s civilian population in order to “spread terror” among them.

The indictment - which lists 11 counts in total - alleges that Karadzic was responsible 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”. He was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run.

The topic of humanitarian convoys was also discussed in some detail this week. Several other witnesses - including Van Baal’s former commander Rose – have testified that the Bosnian Serb army prevented the convoys from reaching needy civilians.

Van Baal said this was indeed the case, and told prosecuting lawyer Carolyn Edgerton that the Bosnian Serbs would constantly come up with new and “highly ingenious” grounds for blocking the convoys.

He said that, among other reasons, the Bosnian Serb army would claim that the convoys were being used to conduct illegal trade and to smuggle “weapons and ammunition to the Muslims”.

“I’m fully convinced this situation never occurred,” Van Baal said.

As a result of the convoys being blocked, he said the situation in the eastern enclaves became “increasingly desperate”.

However, during the cross examination, Karadzic said that his army’s caution regarding the free passage of humanitarian convoys was “legitimate and justified”.

“Do you remember, General, that you were always being given reasons and a basis on which a convoy was halted or denied passage?” Karadzic asked.

“Yes indeed, we were always given reasons why that was the case, but the reasons were not valid,” Van Baal said.

He reiterated that there was “no evidence” of ammunition and fuel being smuggled into the enclaves, nor was there anything to suggest that UN soldiers were participating in a black market.

“What if I were to tell you that on the Serbian side the perception was that … the Muslims [were] stepping up attacks within the enclaves,” Karadzic said. “Would that be a cause for concern … in relation to the convoys?”

“…The humanitarian [convoys] were for civilians and had nothing to do with strengthening [military capability] in the enclaves,” Van Baal said. “The convoys would never include military goods for the civilian population in the enclave.”

“Did the Serb army request these examinations because [it] was an evil army…or did they [have] the right to conduct inspections … about what the other side might have been receiving in that way?” Karadzic asked. “Were the Serbs evil or simply concerned?”

“I can only guess as to what was on the minds of the Serbs,” Van Baal answered. He noted that the UN agreed to a “visual” inspection of the vehicles, but objected to “bodily searches” or searches of particular possessions.

Later, Karadzic asked Van Baal about the alleged agenda of the Bosnian government, a topic he has raised with numerous witnesses throughout the trial.

“Were you aware that certain elements of the army in Bosnia Hercegovina were intentionally enhancing shortages and…the suffering of Sarajevo?” Karadzic asked. “The main purpose was to victimise civilians and provoke sympathy from the international community and draw NATO into the conflict. Were you aware of these aspects?”

“Generally speaking, the situation in Sarajevo when I arrived in 1994 was one of desperation and horror,” Van Baal answered. “People were 10 to 15 kilos lighter than a normal body weight.

“There were lots of dead and injured people. I never noticed that the Bosnian Muslim government made any [attempts] to thwart our efforts. They tried to ensure that goods were properly distributed.”

“Please stick to my question,” Karadzic said. “It would be nice to chat but I don’t have a lot of time.

“Was it known that the Muslim government was trying to draw the international community into the war and carrying out incidents that would aggravate and increase the suffering of citizens of Sarajevo?” he asked.

“It was clearly the intention of the Bosnian Muslims that the international community and the [UN] would [help resolve] the conflict,” Van Baal answered. “The second part [of your question] was certainly not the case. I had no reason to think it was a policy.”

The trial continues next week.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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