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General Krstic Trial

Defence witness claims Mladic's intervention spared Srebrenica from an even worse fate

The bloodshed in Srebrenica would have been "much worse" but for the intervention of General Ratko Mladic, a defence witness claimed last week.

Yugoslav Army General Radovan Radinovic, appearing as an military expert for the defence, said Mladic, as the then commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, VRS, headquarters, altered a directive from Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, which had called for the United Nations protected area to be "eliminated".

General Radislav Krstic, former commander of the VRS Drina Corps, is on trial charged with genocide for his alleged role in the Srebrenica massacres, which left at least 7,500 Bosnian Muslim men and boys dead after the fall of the town to VRS troops in July 1995. Krstic's defence team claim Mladic had taken over control of the Srebrenica operation from the accused before the killings started.

Radinovic faced a difficult task disputing the analysis of prosecution military experts, United States military intelligence analyst Richard Butler and British Major General Richard Dannett (see Tribunal Updates Nos. 182, 185 and 186).

The witness has served as a senior officer in the Yugoslav Peoples Army and the Yugoslav Army. He taught at military colleges and, during the Bosnian wars, served as a military advisor to the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia President Dobrica Cosic, a vocal advocate of Serbian nationalism.

Radinovic opened by challenging Butler and Dannett's claim the Srebrenica operation - code named Krivaja 95 - was well-planned, complex and precisely executed. Radinovic also disputed the presence of an efficient chain of command, with Krstic at its head, first as chief of staff and then commander of the Drina Corps.

With occasional glimmers of contempt Radinovic said Krivaja 95 was "not a big military operation" indeed "it was not even an operation." He described the battle as "small in scope and low intensity". Progress was slow, "with small losses on both sides and a very small degree of destruction."

It was, Radinovic said, "a hastily prepared and provoked military action with limited aims."

The aims, according to Radinovic, were to "prevent subversive terrorist incursions by members of the 28th Division [of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Army], which violated the protected zone", to sever links between the Muslim enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa, and to "reduce the enclaves to the town areas".

These goals were achieved on July 9, 1995, Radinovic said, when units from the Drina Corps took up their planned positions on high ground around Srebrenica.

Then "a crazy plan to capture Srebrenica crossed someone's mind," the witness said.

Radinovic said the decision to press on into Srebrenica was made by Karadzic, who as Bosnian Serb president was also supreme commander of the armed forces. Radinovic conclusion was based on an order sent to the Drina Corps forward command post on July 9, 1995, which read "the President of the Republic approves the continuation of the attack and the entry of the VRS into Srebrenica."

Radinovic veers off at this point from the defence's basic argument that Mladic had ordered the capture of Srebrenica and had taken over command of the operation from Krstic.

But the witness did attribute responsibility for the crimes to the politicians, to the police, who were under the control of the Bosnian Serb government, and to the "independent chain of command within the security services of the VRS."

Due to the "balance of forces" between the VRS and the BiH Army's 28th Division, no soldier had considered capturing Srebrenica, Radinovic said. He claimed BiH troops outnumbered the Bosnian Serb forces by almost 3 to 1.

"Military doctrine," Radinovic said, dictated "attackers must be 7 to 10 times superior in number to defenders" in order to capture a town.

That Srebrenica did fall, on July 11, 1995, was due more to the failings of the 28th Division and the BiH Army supreme command, Radinovic said. The international community was also partly responsible, he said.

The 28th Division "defended the town with a very small degree of persistence" even though it had sufficient manpower and arms to hold out "long enough for the international community to get involved," Radinovic said.

A decisive defence of the town would have forced the UN mechanism to act, Radinovic argued. He said the international community's decision not to take any action was "irresponsible".

Radinovic said blame rested not only with the Dutch UN Protection Force Battalion in Srebrenica, but also with the then High Representative Carl Bildt, UN Representative Yasushi Akashi and the commander of UN forces in Bosnia, British General Rupert Smith.

Had these officials come to Srebrenica on July 11 and 12, 1995, Radinovic said, "the consequences which then ensued would have been avoided."

Radinovic did not deny the mass execution of prisoners of war, but said most of the casualties were the result of heavy fighting between Drina corps units and troops of the 28th BiH division, which were trying to break through to Tuzla.

"The intensity of the fighting was so great," Radinovic said, "it is realistic to express the losses in the thousands, rather than hundreds."

He criticised VRS headquarters for failing to "register properly" where BiH Army soldiers were buried. Radinovic said those BiH officers responsible for the decision to try and break through VRS lines must have realised what the likely consequences would be and that they had in effect "sacrificed the 28th Division."

That the bulk of the Drina Corps was involved in an operation near Zepa was "lucky", Radinovic said, otherwise the losses experienced by those trying to get to Tuzla "would have been even graver."

Radinovic faced three and half days of cross-examination by prosecutors last week. British Major Andrew Caley led the prosecution's questioning.

Caley immediately homed in on the directive from Karadzic, issued in June 1995. Radinovic described the directive as a "list of desirable aims" and not as a binding order governing military operations.

In the directive Karadzic called for "daily planned and thought out combat operations" to create "conditions and total insecurity, intolerability and make impossible the further survival of life of the inhabitants in Srebrenica and Zepa."

Under pressure from the judges Radinovic was forced to agree with the prosecutor this was a directive "to eliminate the Srebrenica enclave."

But Radinovic insisted Mladic, in his order (directive 7.1), had "corrected" the Karadzic directive - deliberately replacing the phrase "elimination of Srebrenica" with "active military actions around the enclave" - because he understood all too well what Karadzic's "aspirations" could lead too.

"It was good that he did," said Radinovic, "because the consequences would have been much worse."

Before moving onto other areas of the cross-examination Caley then asked Radinovic who was commander of the VRS headquarters when the Srebrenica enclave was eliminated in July 1995.

After some moments Radinovic said "General Ratko Mladic."

The defence's military expert now has to explain how Mladic managed to achieve Karadzic's aim rather than his own.