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

Journalist Recalls Siege of Sarajevo

He told judges Ratko Mladic later attacked him because of his reports from Bosnian capital.
By Goran Jungvirth
A former war correspondent testified this week at the trial of ex-Yugoslav army chief Momcilo Perisic about the destruction of Sarajevo from where he reported during 1992.



Ex-Sky News journalist Aernout Van Lynden, the first prosecution witness to testify in the Perisic trial at the Hague tribunal, described conditions in Sarajevo during the first year of the siege, which began in 1992 and lasted until 1995.



He also told judges that he was later physically attacked by Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic as a result of his broadcasts.



Perisic is one of the highest-ranking Serbs to face justice at the Hague tribunal.



He is also accused of responsibility for crimes committed by his subordinates – the massacre of some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995, as well as attacks on the Croatian capital Zagreb in the same year.



The Perisic trial will be closely observed to see if prosecutors prove a connection between the Serbian state and the military action and atrocities committed beyond its borders.



The opportunity to establish such a link was lost during the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav and then Serb president, who died in 2006 before proceedings against him finished.



Perisic’s indictment states that he gave military support to Bosnian Serb and Croatian Serb separatist forces during the conflicts of the early Nineties.



It also alleges that between August 1993 and November 1995, Perisic helped plan, prepare and execute attacks on civilian parts of Sarajevo which resulted in death and injury to thousands.



At the start of Van Lynden’s testimony, the court was shown recordings of the witness’s television reports on the siege of Sarajevo, which showed burning buildings and civilians fleeing during attacks by Serb forces.



Van Lynden said that although he saw many Bosniak troops in the city, the Serb forces targeted civilian buildings and houses where there were no soldiers.



The witness, who has already testified at several other Hague tribunal trials, said he first interviewed Mladic in September 1992. The commander was reportedly in a good mood then, saying he held Sarajevo “in the palm of his hand”.



He said he met Mladic again two years later in Pale – the home of the Bosnian Serb government – when he went there to report on the war. Mladic, he said, was furious that Van Lynden had reported that Serbs were violating international laws related to the protection of civilians during conflict.



The general was apparently unhappy about reports he had produced on the Bosnian army, ABiH, takeover of Zuc Hill near Sarajevo and the Serb siege of the eastern Bosnian town of Gorazde.



“He grabbed my face with one of his hands and then mentioned Zuc Hill and Gorazde… I didn’t understand more because my producer [who acted as a translator] wasn’t present… but it was obvious the general didn’t like what I had reported,” said the witness.



Van Lynden added that Radovan Karadzic, the former president of Republika Srpska, RS, who was arrested in July after years on the run, was also displeased when he saw him in Pale, because of a report he produced about the killing of more than 60 people at the Sarajevo Markale market in February 1994.



During his testimony, Van Lynden also confirmed that his reports about war crimes were broadcast in Belgrade, which, according to the prosecution, shows that Perisic must have known what the Bosnian Serb army, VRS, was doing but nevertheless gave it logistical support.



However, defence lawyer Gregory Guy Smith raised objections about the relevance of the journalist’s testimony, saying that as it mainly referred to events in 1992, it fell outside the period covered by the indictment.



This week, the prosecution also called two witnesses to testify about sniper attacks on trams full of civilians in Sarajevo.



Alma Mulaosmanovic described how she and others were wounded on a tram in February 1995, when she was 18. The gunfire came from the Serb-controlled areas of Grbavica and Vraca, she said.



According to the witness, incidents like this happened on a daily basis in Sarajevo in 1994 and 1995, terrorising the city’s population.



Her friend, she said, was hit by shrapnel while cooking lunch on her balcony. Her uncle was killed by shrapnel in 1992 and his son wounded, she added.



During cross-examination, defence lawyer Novak Lukic tried to show that Mulaosmanovic was hit by accident during an exchange of fire between the VRS and the ABiH. According to a United Nations peacekeepers’ report, this happened on the same day.



Lukic also showed the witness a statement she made to the Bosnian police just after the tram was attacked, in which she didn’t mention where the shots came from.



The third witness, testifying under the pseudonym MP 229, drove the tram in which Mulaosmanovic was shot. He said that the tram station next to the Marshal Tito military barracks – where the tram was hit – was a dangerous place “where passengers often got hurt from sniper fire” coming from Grbavica.



Both MP 229 and Mulaosmanovic have already testified in other trials at the tribunal related to the 1992-95 siege of Sarajevo.



The trial continues next week.



Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR-trained reporter in Zagreb.