Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic last week claimed that he ordered his police force to prevent the forced resettlement of non-Serb civilians during the Bosnian war.
Karadzic’s remarks came after prosecution witness Colonel Colm Doyle mentioned the issue of “people being forced to sign away their homes”.
Doyle was head of the European Commission Monitoring Mission, ECMM, in Bosnia from October 1991 to March 1992. From March until August 1992, he was the personal representative for Lord Peter Carrington, who tried to broker a peace agreement between the warring parties.
Karadzic said he twice issued an order to his police to prevent forced resettlement – first in June 1992 and then again in August of that same year. Reading aloud from the order, Karadzic stated that the contracts Doyle referred to “do not have any legal validity and can be declared null and void”.
Doyle responded that he was “pleased to see you took some action on it”.
“It’s an indication that the practice was common knowledge and being done up until this point which, as you rightly point out, was illegal,” Doyle continued.
Karadzic bristled at the suggestion that it was “common knowledge”.
“It wasn’t,” Karadzic said, adding that the practice occurred in only two municipalities.
This issue surfaced previously during the testimony of Sulejman Crncalo, the second witness to testify in Karadzic’s trial. Crncalo, who lived in Pale, said he was forced to trade houses with a Bosnian Serb in Sarajevo.
During that cross-examination, Karadzic maintained that Crncalo left willingly and that the house exchange was not forced.
Last week, Doyle said he was pleased Karadzic had tried to deal with the issue, but he had “no knowledge on the consequences of this directive”.
“Do you know that we didn’t keep our promises?” Karadzic asked.
“I have no knowledge of that,” Doyle responded. “I simply don’t know.”
Earlier, Karadzic asked Doyle about the various ceasefire agreements that were signed during the war.
“Do you accept that we kept offering a demilitarisation of Sarajevo while the Muslims refused that?” he asked.
Doyle responded that “there were a considerable amount of ceasefire agreements and nothing was done about them”.
“There was a feeling that some of the people in the peace talks wanted to be seen to be cooperating with the international community.” Doyle continued. “The principle of ceasefire didn’t measure up to actions subsequently taken.”
Doyle also said that the Bosnian Serb army began to take shape well before it was officially formed in May 1992. “You don’t create an army overnight,” he said.
Doyle added that he and other ECMM monitors saw “massive evidence of armaments and tanks” going to Bosnian Serb headquarters in Pale. “It was beyond dispute this was happening,” he said.
“There is a lot that is disputable,” Karadzic retorted.
Doyle also said that after the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, began withdrawing from Croatia, the “overwhelming bulk” of equipment was given to the Bosnian Serbs. The JNA was officially disbanded in May 1992.
There was thus an “easy transition” whereby the JNA units became Bosnian Serb, Doyle said. Karadzic, however, asserted that Bosniaks began forming a “secret army” in 1991. This army received weapons from “all over”, he said, including Iran.
He further claimed that in 1991, former Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic made a “secret alliance” against Yugoslavia and the JNA and intended to “wage war” on both.
“I have no knowledge of that,” Doyle replied.
Karadzic subsequently described several acts he said were committed by Bosnian government troops and the allegedly affiliated “Green Beret” paramilitary unit.
He spoke at length about a May 3, 1992 incident where JNA soldiers - given permission to withdraw from the Marshall Tito barracks in Sarajevo - were fired on by Bosnian troops, leading to the deaths of some JNA soldiers.
The withdrawal was part of a deal to secure the release of Izetbegovic, who was kidnapped by the JNA on May 2 at Sarajevo airport when he returned from peace negotiations in Lisbon.
This incident is the subject of Serbia’s recent attempt to extradite former Bosnian presidency member Ejup Ganic, who was effectively in charge while Izetbegovic was being detained. Belgrade is seeking to prosecute Ganic for the deaths of the JNA soldiers.
Ganic was arrested at Heathrow airport on March 1 and will have an extradition hearing in London this summer.
Doyle said last week he took part in the negotiations to free Izetbegovic, and was concerned that it was “not a viable option” to withdraw the JNA troops from Sarajevo.
“We were aware that the military headquarters were surrounded by armed Bosnian Muslims,” he said. However, he said that Izetbegovic “guaranteed the safety” of the convoy.
“It was a very dangerous situation,” Doyle said. “I do know and accept that the convoy was attacked and members of the JNA were killed.”
After citing several more examples of alleged actions taken by the Bosnian army, Karadzic asked Doyle “what else is necessary to show who is for war and who isn’t?”
“These actions by the Muslims were of combative nature,” he continued.
“I don’t agree with your assessment,” Doyle responded. “We had a huge amount of ethnic cleansing [and] this didn’t give [a] picture that Bosnian Serbs were tolerant of other societies.”
The trial continues this week.
Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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