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

Expert Sets Out Bosnian Serb Wartime Strategy

Prosecution in Karadzic trial argues that political aims were reflected in military actions.
By Velma Šarić

A British military analyst testified in the trial of Radovan Karadzic this week on the Bosnian Serb leadership’s strategy during the 1992-95 war and its plans for the “separation” of Serbs from other ethnic groups. 

Ewan Brown, a British army officer during the Bosnian conflict, testified earlier this year at the Hague trial of two former Bosnian Serb police officials, Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin, regarding the connections between the political and military structures in Republika Srpska, RS.

Brown is an expert on Bosnian Serb military strategy and intelligence, and from 1998 to 2008 was employed by the Hague tribunal, including four years he spent working in the prosecutor's office.

Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, the president of Bosnia’s self-declared RS from 1992 to 1996, is 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”.

Arrested in Belgrade after 13 years in hiding, Karadzic is accused inter alia of the massacre of more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995 and the 44-month siege of Sarajevo, the longest in Europe’s recent history.

During the examination-in-chief conducted by prosecutor Julian Nichols, Brown talked about the document known as the “Strategic Goals of the Serb People” adopted by the Bosnian Serb assembly on May 12, 1992. The prosecution argues that the strategic goals were not just political rhetoric, they were also reflected in the actions of the Bosnian Serb military during the war.

They allege that the most important of these strategic goals was the separation of ethnic communities and the creation of an ethnically pure Serb state in Bosnia.

“This session of the assembly was what helped precisely define the aim of the Serb leadership to establish their own state, on a territory they considered their own, and without…too many internal enemies,’” Brown told the judges this week.

“Incidentally, also on May 12, 1992, the RS army [VRS] was formed, and [General Ratko] Mladic was named its commander,” Brown added, referring to the former Bosnian Serb army chief, who is currently awaiting trial at the Hague tribunal.

Brown said he had undertaken a comprehensive analysis of the documentation produced in 1992 by the Serb leadership, especially the military.

He explained that “this documentation included extensive notes taken by Ratko Mladic during meetings he had in spring and summer of 1992. During a meeting held in June 1992 between Karadzic, Mladic, [Bosnian Serb parliamentary speaker] Momcilo Krajisnik, and a group of other people whose identities are only partially clear from the notes, it can be understood…that the separation along ethnic lines of Bosnian Serbs from Bosnian Croats and Muslims was defined as their main strategic objective”.

The witness said he believed it was obvious from Mladic’s notes that the Serbs were “about to create their own state” and that they were aware that creating such a state “cannot happen without military [involvement], without war, without an army protecting [their] borders”.

At this stage of the proceedings, Karadzic’s legal advisor Peter Robinson, who was also present in court, filed an objection against Brown's testimony, saying that the witness was “testifying on something which was clearly not within his field of expertise”. However, the trial chamber turned the objection down.

Brown went on to say that “despite the fact that the Yugoslav People's Army [JNA] was not formally present in Bosnia any more [in summer 1992], from the documents which I analysed, it is obvious that it had simply effectively transformed itself into the VRS”.

He added that by “transformed itself”, he meant that “many of the [JNA] personnel and resources had simply changed the formal description of the armed forces they were members of and had started accepting orders from Bosnian Serb military leadership”.

Brown added that on June 7, 1992, there was a meeting at which the organisational structure of the VRS was established. According to the witness, “it was clear that …the VRS was supposed to militarily implement the set strategic goals”.

“The [siege] of Sarajevo to ensure its division embodied in the strategic goals was a task awarded to the newly organised [VRS] Sarajevo-Romanija Corps,” he continued. “The First Krajina Corps, on the other hand, was given the task of ensuring the corridor between the western and the eastern Serb lands, i.e. between Krajina and the Drina river area, which was a step [towards] permanently connecting Serb lands on both sides of the [Bosnian-Serb] border,” he said.

The trial will continue next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.

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