General Krstic Trial

Tribunal Update No. 177 (Last Week in The Hague, May 22-27, 2000)

General Krstic Trial

Tribunal Update No. 177 (Last Week in The Hague, May 22-27, 2000)

Saturday, 27 May, 2000

Two survivors of the massacre and a Bosnian Serb Army soldier, who took part in the massacre, testified for the prosecution.

Protected witnesses R and S said they had tried to escape the enclave after its fall on July 11 1995. Like thousands of other Muslim men, they had fled into the surrounding forests and mountains in the hope of reaching territory under the control of the Bosnian army. They were both captured by Serb forces.

Both witnesses said they were interrogated and beaten before being taken away to be executed.

Witness R said he was taken along with nine other detainees to a site near the Konjevic Polje - Nova Kasaba road. One by one, the witness said, the prisoners were shot once in the back. Witness R said he survived because the bullet struck him in the left shoulder. He fell to the ground, feigned death and waited for the soldiers to leave. In the evening, witness R said he fled into the forest.

Witness S said he was in a group of 16 men taken to the river Jadar. Bosnian Serb forces lined the men up along the riverbank, the witness claimed, and opened fire. The witness said bullets struck his hip and back but that he managed to jump into the river. After feigning death for a few moments, witness S said he lifted his head out of the water for air. At that moment the soldiers opened fire on him again but the river currents carried him out of range.

The two witnesses are among eight survivors to appear so far for the prosecution.

One of the main tasks facing the prosecution is to prove that regular units from the Republika Srpska, RS, army participated in the massacre. The evidence offered by Drazen ErdEmovic last week was therefore of particular importance.

In an interview with the American television network ABC News and the French Le Figaro newspaper in February 1996, Erdemovic, a former soldier in the RS army, confessed to taking part in the execution of between 1,000 and 1,200 Muslim men on July 16, 1995, at the Branjevo farm.

Erdemovic was subsequently arrested by the Yugoslav authorities. Intense international pressure forced his transfer to The Hague where he pleaded guilty before the Tribunal and offered to co-operate with the prosecution. The Tribunal sentenced Erdemovic to ten years imprisonment reduced to five on appeal (See Tribunal Updates Nos. 4, 5 and 66.)

Erdemovic has since been released and appeared last week as a protected witness.

During his day long appearance, Erdemovic told the court how on July 16, 1995 he and seven other soldiers from the 10th Sabotage Unit of the RS army were sent to Branjevo farm and ordered to shoot men who would be delivered by bus. Erdemovic said he and other soldiers in the unit protested at the orders but were told to get on with it or face execution themselves.

Erdemovic went on to describe how bus after bus began to arrive, how groups of ten men at a time were led away and shot. Between ten in the morning to three o'clock in the afternoon, Erdemovic said, some 20 buses arrived at the farm carrying over 1,000 civilians aged between 17 and 70. Only one man, Erdemovic said, wore military trousers - all the others were in civilian clothing.

Using an aerial photograph of the farm taken on July 17, 1995, Erdemovic pointed out where the buses were parked, where the detainees were taken and where they were shot. A pile of bodies could be seen in the photograph, as well as a freshly dug mass grave.

Erdemovic then identified the other participants in the massacre. One soldier, Stanko Savanovic, had according to Erdemovic boasted about killing 250 to 300 Muslims that day. A still taken from video footage shot on July 12, 1995 in Srebrenica shows Savanovic standing beside Krstic and two other members of the 10th Sabotage Unit.

According to Erdemovic, group commander Brano Gojkovic said he had received an order from the commander of the unit, Lieutenant Milorad Pelemis, to take an eight man squad to the farm. From their base at Vlasenica, the group had set off for the Drina Corp's Zvornik Brigade headquarters.

An unidentified lieutenant colonel and two military policemen from the Drina Corps joined the group at the Zvornik HQ and escorted them to the farm. Once at the farm, Erdemovic said, Gojkovic said he received the order from the lieutenant colonel to shoot the detainees, which he passed on to the other members of the unit. The lieutenant colonel and the military police officers then left but returned to the farm as the last busload of detainees was being led away and shot.

Erdemovic said the lieutenant colonel then tried to send the group to the near-by village of Pilica where 500 Muslims were being held at the House of Culture. Erdemovic and three other soldiers refused to go, protesting that they were not "killing machines". According to Erdemovic, Pelemis had asked a group of soldiers from Bratunac, who had "helped" during the last hours of killing at the farm, to go to Pilica - a task they willingly accepted.

Erdemovic said gun and shellfire could be heard from Pilica several minutes later.

During cross examination Krstic's defence counsel asked Erdemovic if he knew who was in command of the military police he saw at the Drina Corps Zvornik HQ and whether he knew if, on July 16, 1995, units from the Drina Corps were involved in military operations in the vicinity of Zepa. Erdemovic said he did not know the answer to either question.

Much of the defence case hinges on proving the military police were not under Krstic's command and that the accused was involved in military operations around Zepa at the time of the Branjevo massacre.

The latter part of last week's evidence came from the forensic investigations carried out around Srebrenica. Jean-Rene Ruez, leader of the forensic team, told the court that the RS army had gone to great lengths to cover up traces of the Srebrenica crimes during the autumn of 1995.

Aerial photographs supplied to the Tribunal by the US government had been crucial in thwarting those efforts, Ruez said. Ruez said that as evidence of the killings started to leak out in the autumn of 1995, the RS army began to exhume the mass graves and rebury the remains in dozens of smaller, so-called secondary graves.

Spy planes and aerial photographs, taken between July and October 1995, recorded the changes in terrain caused by the reburial. Several dozen pairs of photographs, illustrating the landscape before and after the digging activity, were shown in court. The prosecution also presented video footage and photographs taken by the forensic teams.

Ruez listed five locations - Glagova, Orahovac, Petkovci dam, Kozluk and Branjevo farm - where the Srebrenica victims were initially buried. Aerial photos from July 1995 show freshly dug ground and, in some places, unburied bodies. Photos from September and October 1995 show evidence of heavy construction machinery at the same locations as well as traces of lorries the prosecution allege were used to remove the exhumed remains to new sites.

Ruez said his forensic teams had discovered evidence at the five mass grave locations pointing to the removal of bodies.

Locating the secondary grave sites proved much more difficult, Ruez said. But again aerial photography had helped the forensic teams uncover dozens of these sites. Ruez said the majority of secondary grave sites had been found in the areas around Zeleni Jadar, 6 sites, Hodzici, 7, Liplje, 4, and Cancari, 12.

Exhumations to date had uncovered the remains of 1,866 victims, Ruez said. The prosecution has estimated that the remains of 2,571 victims have been located so far but not completely exhumed. According to the prosecution at least 7,574 persons disappeared from Srebrenica in July 1995 and are now presumed dead.

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