General Krstic Trial

Tribunal Update 182 Last Week in The Hague (June 26 - July 1, 2000)

General Krstic Trial

Tribunal Update 182 Last Week in The Hague (June 26 - July 1, 2000)

Saturday, 1 July, 2000

The reconstruction was the result of three years investigative work by Richard Butler, a United States army military intelligence analyst seconded to the Tribunal prosecution office in April 1997.


According to Butler, Operation Krivija 95's original objective was to concentrate the protected area's population into Srebrenica's urban core, but not to capture the town itself. When the VRS units encountered unexpectedly weak resistance from Muslim forces in the area, the Dutch 'blue helmets' (United Nation's Protection Force, UNProFor) protecting the enclave and NATO air forces, the supreme command issued new orders on July 9 to seize the town.


Srebrenica fell on July 11. Over the next two days some 25,000 women and children were deported from the UN base in Potocari and thousands of men trying to make their way on foot to territory controlled by the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina, BiH, were detained and executed.


Krstic, who according to the indictment was commander of the Drina corps, is accused of genocide for his alleged role in the crimes which followed the capture of Srebrenica.


During his investigation, Butler examined the legal regulations underpinning the VRS, the army's command structure, particularly at corps level, and the role, authority and responsibilities of a corps commander.


Butler also focused on the connections between individual units and officers from the Drina corps and known crime scenes - locations where mass executions of Muslim prisoners took place.


Bosnian Serb army documents, intercepted radio communications, witness statements, aerial footage, video footage and information from open sources, such as the media, were all examined during Butler's inquiry.


The bulk of the documents used had been seized in early 1998 when Stabilisation Force, SFOR, troops raided several VRS headquarters. Butler said these searches had unearthed over 30,000 military documents. Additional documents had been handed over by the Republika Srpska government in response to a binding order from the Tribunal.


Intercepted radio communications, recorded by the Bosnian army and public security services, provided another significant resource for Butler's team. Last week the prosecution had focused solely on the handwritten notebooks and typed transcripts of intercepted radio communications (See Tribunal Update No. 181)


At the conclusion of this evidence, the defence team lodged a general objection, requesting the judges to reject as inadmissible all the notebooks and transcripts, in their entirety and individually.


Krstic's lead counsel, Nenad Petrusic, stressed the handwritten notebooks used by the wire-tappers were not organised according to any uniform rules, pages were not clearly marked in many instances and that dates were often missing.


Petrusic said the books resembled "private notebooks" and the contents often differed from the related typed transcripts. Finally the defence queried the ability of the wire-tappers to identify the participants in intercepted conversations, where the speakers were not been clearly named.


Prosecutor, Mark Harmon, said the documents' authenticity had been verified by the original authors during their appearances before the court. Harmon pointed out that the notebooks and transcripts had not been written in July 1995 as future evidence for The Hague Tribunal but as part of the Bosnian army's military operations at the time.


The information collected and collated by the intelligence units was of vital importance to the Bosnian army, Harmon said. Tactical planning and lives depended on the accuracy and reliability of that information.


After a short deliberation, the judges overruled the defence objections and admitted the notebooks and transcripts as "relevant documents, identified by the participants."


Video footage shot by Belgrade journalist Zoran Petrovic during the Srebrenica offensive was also a valuable source of information for Butler's investigation. The analyst said the video footage had enabled investigators to identify a large number of "interesting people", VRS officers and soldiers, Drina corps units and Ministry of Interior special forces involved in the Srebrenica operation.


The Republika Srpska army was a "very well organised army", said Butler. The legal basis of the VRS was built on the regulations governing the former Yugoslav Peoples Army and a number of 'presidential decrees' instituted by the then Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. One such order, for example, required the VRS to abide by international laws and customs of war and clearly stated a commander's duty to prevent crimes and punish perpetrators.


When asked by the prosecutor what Krstic's duty would be if ordered by a commander, for example, General Ratko Mladic, to commit a war crime, Butler said VRS rules were "perfectly clear" - he would be obliged to refuse to carry out the order and, if unable to arrest Mladic, then he should inform a superior command or the president of Republika Srpska.


Having analysed the orders before, during and after the Srebrenica offensive, Butler concluded Krstic was included in the planning and tactical implementation of the operation, initially as Drina corps chief-of-staff and later as commander.


Butler said written orders and intercepted radio communications revealed Krstic had been personally involved in efforts to mobilise large numbers of trucks and buses, as well as fuel - a commodity in short supply at the time.


During the two days immediately after the capture of Srebrenica, the buses and trucks were used to deport women and children from the enclave. After that the vehicles were used to ferry detained men to temporary holding centres and then onto execution sites.


Using orders and intercepted communications between Drina corps units, Butler reconstructed in great detail the operation to encircle and detain a long line of Muslim men trying to escape Srebrenica on foot. The line included around 1,000 lightly armed soldiers from the Bosnian army's 28th infantry division.


A small number managed to make it through, but the majority were stopped and are now listed as missing, presumed dead.


An interview with Karadzic appeared to confirm Krstic's key role in the Srebrenica operation. The prosecutor read an extract from the interview in court:


"They wish to turn Mladic into a legend and we have done that because we know that our people want legends. But we have failed somewhat in presenting the successes of certain corps commanders. Say, now Krstic, who planned, and I approved it for him, the task of Srebrenica - he did that superbly. Of course, the chief headquarters and Mladic and all the others helped, but that Krstic is a great military leader."


The Krstic trial will resume on July 17, when Butler is expected to continue giving evidence for the prosecution.


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