Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
A police investigator this week sought to refute Radovan Karadzic’s claims that two major mortar attacks in Sarajevo were staged by Bosnian government forces and that most of the bodies found there were actually old corpses or dummies.
Prosecution witness Sead Besic, a criminal technician who works for the Sarajevo police department, was involved in investigating the scene of both attacks, which occurred in and around the city’s busy Markale market on February 5, 1994 and August 28, 1995. The first Markale massacre, as it is now known, killed more than 60 people and injured over 140. The second one killed some 40 people and injured around 75.
In graphic video footage of the aftermath of the second attack, people are heard screaming and numerous bloodied bodies are seen splayed on the pavement. The top of one victim’s head appears blown open and blood gushes out of it. Others are missing limbs. People are seen carrying or dragging away the dead and injured away from the scene.
“We saw a horrifying incident,” Besic told prosecuting lawyer Fergal Gaynor, after the footage had played. “You could see how many people fell victim…people were running to each other’s aid. What can you say?”
Gaynor then asked about Karadzic’s assertion that the “bodies were already dead”.
“It’s difficult to comment,” Besic, who testified with facial distortion, said. “We can see with our own eyes what happened. There were all sorts of stories…but we can see what’s going on. If dead people were brought here, then the wounded people would not be acting this way, [like] the man without his lower leg. [There were] all sorts of stories and guesses but the facts are here.”
Besic noted that his department often worked in the mortuary of the city’s Kosevo hospital examining bodies received from exchanges with the Bosnian Serb side.
He said the bodies he encountered in the morgue were “very, very different” from those depicted in the video footage, which he described as “fresh bodies” with skin that had not begun to pucker. In contrast, the bodies in the morgue were often covered in “mud and soil” with skin that was “puckered up”.
“Did you at any stage encounter any information to suggest that soldiers had been placed at the site [of the attack]?” Gaynor asked.
“In that part of town, in the market, there is no single location holding members of the armed forces…further away there is an army hall but it is some 500 metres away,” Besic said.
In regards to the first Markale massacre, on February 5, 1994, Besic said he was involved in cleaning the crater at centre of the mortar shell explosion, which he said is standard procedure in order to see it more clearly.
Gaynor showed another video clip, which this time included the witness himself talking to the investigating judge who was in charge of the investigation.
“I was addressing the judge to permit us to begin the cleaning and freeing up of material from the centre of the explosion so we could have a better view of the point of impact,” Besic said.
“So you did not begin cleaning the location until the judge gave you permission to do so?” Gaynor asked.
“All of the actions performed…have to be done pursuant to the agreement and permission of the investigating judge,” Besic replied. “No act can be done without that.”
Gaynor showed footage of the Markale market after the February 5, 1994 explosion, and the stalls appeared to be completely empty of goods and surrounding by all sorts of debris. The witness noted that, as shown in the footage, people used the iron stall roofs as stretchers for the dead and wounded.
Gaynor then showed footage of bodies in the Kosevo hospital morgue, which were brought there from the scene of the explosion.
“Yes, you can see the corpses … that are laid on the roofing from the [market] stalls,” Besic said. “People used all kinds of things to transport the dead to hospitals and some to the morgue.”
When it was Karadzic’s turn to question the witness, he asked about the circumstances under which the investigation of “Markale One” was conducted.
“When you came to Markale, was the evacuation of those wounded or killed already completed?” Karadzic asked.
“There were no bodies … only tissue and blood,” Besic said, noting that he arrived there about 40 minutes after the explosion occurred.
Karadzic played a sound recording, which he said was of someone calling into Bosnian station Radio Hajat shortly after the attack. This person had apparently been at the scene and said he had assisted in “carrying people” from it. The recording was played aloud and translated into English by the court interpreters. Prosecutors subsequently challenged its authenticity.
“I saw 25 dead…I am speaking the truth,” the person in the recording says. “[We should] organise an extreme party that would kill Serbs for each of ours [killed], regardless of whether they are guilty or innocent.”
After listening to the recording, Besic said this person was “bitter”.
“Let us focus on what he said, that he was an eyewitness and saw 25 bodies,” Karadzic said. “They told you after you arrived… that there were 68 bodies. Did you believe what you were told or [was there] a basis for doubt?”
Besic responded that it wasn’t his job to count the bodies and that the number of dead was registered at Kosevo hospital.
“That number is 68 bodies,” Besic said. “Later some other people succumbed to their injuries. This person [in the recording] was not able to speak directly to the police…I would not really take into account his figure of 25 bodies.”
Karadzic contended that “they were hiding something from you and you didn’t get the complete information”.
“It’s the defence case that the debris on Markale One was brought in artificially and used to artificially cover the scene after the impact,” Karadzic said.
“I cannot comment on that,” the witness said, adding that he knew what the “facts” were.
Karadzic then showed footage of the empty, debris-strewn market. In one clip, someone is shown carrying a prosthetic leg.
“How come the artificial leg from the sidewalk is being taken back to the market?” Karadzic asked.
“I really don’t know why they did that,” Besic said. “I don’t know.”
At the end of the cross-examination, Karadzic thanked the witness for giving testimony.
“I hope you’ll have no hard feelings,” he said. “I’m only after the truth and nothing else.”
Prosecuting lawyer Gaynor then had the opportunity to ask a few follow-up questions, and he produced more video footage featuring the prosthetic leg. The leg is shown amid the debris in the market, and then in the possession of a person who flings it through the air.
“Were you able to hear the voices in that clip?” Gaynor asked.
“People were very bitter over what had happened,” Besic said. “This is a spoken revolt by people who happened to be there, insulting words. One of these people threw the prosthesis into air and said, ‘Take this to Karadzic.’ I really wouldn’t like to repeat the rest.”
Karadzic chimed in at that point, claiming that man in the video says “take this to Karadzic to see how we are staging things”.
“No, no,” Besic countered. “[He said] ‘take this to Karadzic because they think we are orchestrating things.’”
The court interpreters then offered their version of the man’s words as, “Fuck Karadzic, they say we are staging things. Fuck his mother.”
Gaynor then asked if Besic found out any information about the prosthetic leg after the explosion.
“I think this belongs to a man, and I’m sorry that our colleagues at the mortuary didn’t fit the leg back to a body,” he said. “It belonged to a person who was actually injured.”
Also testifying this week was Dutch lieutenant Colonel Harry Konings and former Sarajevo police officer Nedzib Dozo. Both testified regarding shelling incidents in the city.
The trial continues next week.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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