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Gvero Trial to Probe Zepa Fate

Indictment against Milan Gvero examines the Bosnian Serb offensives that emptied two Muslim enclaves under United Nations protection.

Former Bosnian Serb officer Milan Gvero arrived in The Hague this week charged with the murder, persecution and deportation of Bosnian Muslims from the enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa in July 1995.

The indictment against him is one of the final six submitted to tribunal judges for confirmation by the Office of The Prosecutor, OTP, at the end of last year.

It is expected to be the last indictment to deal with the events that led to the fall of the UN “safe haven” of Srebrenica and the mass executions of Bosnian Muslims that followed it.

Gvero agreed to surrender to the UN court on February 21, and the details of the charges against him were made public three days later.

The 68-year-old indictee is accused together with former high-ranking Bosnian Serb army member Radivoje Miletic – who surrendered to the Belgrade authorities on February 25 – and Zdravko Tolimir, former Assistant Commander for Intelligence and Security of VRS main staff.

The trio were members of the Bosnian Serb army’s general staff, and close associates of its commander Ratko Mladic, who has been on the run since he was indicted on genocide charges nearly a decade ago.

The indictment released this week covers the fall of Srebrenica and Zepa - two UN-protected Muslim enclaves in eastern Bosnia that were cleansed of their inhabitants in a coordinated military operation that the Bosnian Serb army conducted at the end of the Bosnian war.

Some 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica were summarily executed after the fall of the enclave, in the only case of legally proven genocide in Europe after the Second World War.

But this indictment is the first one issued by the Hague tribunal to cover in detail the fall of the smaller enclave of Zepa, which lies some distance south of Srebrenica and was overrun just a few days later.

The population of Zepa was expelled by Bosnian Serb forces, and hundreds of Muslim men were forced to flee across the border to neighbouring Serbia, fearing that they too would be summarily executed by the Bosnian Serb army if captured. Once in Serbia, they were registered by the Red Cross and subsequently released.

The Hague tribunal has indicted eleven more Bosnian Serb officials for the Srebrenica massacre, including political and military leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, and former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic is also charged with this crime.

But the focus of this most recent indictment is not the killings but rather the massive operation to deport all the surviving inhabitants from the two enclaves after they fell. Some 40,000 Bosnian Muslims were deported from Srebrenica and another estimated 17,000 from Zepa.

The three indictees are accused of being members of a joint criminal enterprise with responsibility for these expulsions, but are charged only with random murders of Muslim refugees from Srebrenica that sought shelter in the UN base in Potocari in the first day after the town fell.

There is no mention of the genocide which took place in Srebrenica as this has already been established by the UN court.

Miletic, the indictment alleges, drafted the political directive issued on March 11, 1995 by the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, marking the beginning of the operation.

The OTP claims that in this document known as Directive No 7, Karadzic ordered that “by planned and well thought out combat operations”, the Bosnian Serb troops should “create an unbearable situation of total insecurity, with no hope of further survival or life for the inhabitants of Srebrenica or Zepa”.

The prosecutors accuse Miletic of criminal responsibility because he “monitored and kept his superiors, including Karadzic, informed” of the military operation, the progress of the explusions, and Muslim men’s path from Zepa to Serbia.

The alleged responsibility of Gvero arises from his duties as Mladic’s personal press officer during these times. Prosecutors claim he played a major role in preparing the ground for the attack using propaganda and lying to the UN forces that protected the enclaves about the Serb army’s real plans for the area.

During the operation, Gvero is said to have threatened and pressured the Dutch UN commander in charge of the Srebrenica enclave in an attempt to stop the NATO air strikes that were at the time attempting to halt the Bosnian Serb offensive.

After the fall of the Srebrenica enclave, prosecutors allege, he also lied to the representatives of the international community in order to block UN access to the town.

Prosecutors claim Gvero also helped keep the lines of communication open between the main actors of the story - Karadzic, Mladic and General Radislav Krstic, former commander of Drina Corps and the first Bosnian Serb officer to be found guilty of genocide in the Srebrenica case.

At the time of going to press, it was not yet clear when was Gvero expected to make his first appearance in front of the tribunal’s judges. It is likely that the court may decide to wait a few days for the arrival of his co-accused, Miletic, before scheduling a joint appearance.

Ana Uzelac is IWPR’s programme manager in The Hague.

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