Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Australian general John Wilson, who took on a number of roles with the UN in Bosnia from the start of the conflict, also spoke about the Serb government’s expressed desire at the time to carve out ethnically pure tracts of territory.
Former Republika Srpska, RS, parliamentary speaker Krajisnik faces eight counts of crimes against humanity, violations of the laws and customs of war and genocide for his alleged role in a plan to drive thousands of Muslims and Croats from territory earmarked for a future Serb state.
Prosecutors allege that the methods employed to achieve this end included the widespread killing and detention of thousands of non-Serbs in brutal detention camps across the region.
Wilson told judges that he first arrived in Bosnia in January 1992 to take up a role as a senior UN military liaison officer. After two months, he said, he was sent to Sarajevo to establish a headquarters for the United Nations Protection Force, UNPROFOR.
He subsequently took part in a series of crucial negotiations between representatives of the Bosnian Serb and Muslim leaderships, before being sent in December 1992 to act as a military advisor at the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia in Geneva.
Wilson said Bosnian Serb leaders at the time repeatedly insisted that “they couldn’t live with other nationalities any longer and that the Serb people had to be protected from the aggressiveness of the Muslims, or the Turks as they were called”.
Their aim, he said, was “to carve out a republic for the Serb people within Bosnia”.
According to the witness, the position of the Bosnian Serb leadership during the war stood in contrast to that put forward by Muslim representatives, who insisted on retaining “a fully integrated, ethnically intertwined Bosnia”.
Wilson also rejected claims that have been put forward by Krajisnik’s defence counsel that the Bosnian Serb military – implicated in crimes which prosecutors claim formed part of the plan to “ethnically cleanse” large parts of eastern Bosnia – acted independently of the political leadership.
“In my discussions with [Bosnian Serb army chief] General [Ratko] Mladic he said he, as the military commander, was subject to political control,” Wilson told judges.
Wilson also drew clear conclusions about who wielded influence within the Bosnian Serb government at the time. “On the real issues, on the important issues,” he told judges, “it was Krajisnik and [RS president Radovan] Karadzic who had the significant say.”
By way of example, the witness discussed negotiations in which he took part near the start of the war over the question of reopening Sarajevo airport to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to the besieged population.
Wilson reported that Mladic was extremely reluctant to open the airport, which was in Serb hands, and it was not until Krajisnik appeared that the talks finally began to get somewhere.
“Quite clearly, he was closely consulted,” Wilson said of Krajisnik’s role in the negotiations. “In my view, he was central to the final agreement that the airport could be handed over to the UN.”
Wilson also testified about Krajisnik’s participation in the Geneva talks, which the accused attended as a member of the Serb delegation in January 1993.
“Krajisnik did not have a lot to say, I assume because he didn’t speak English,” said Wilson said. “But he was very carefully consulted by Karadzic.”
He added that the accused “sat at a central part of the table” and “seemed to be a very important member of the delegation”.
Wilson told the judges that throughout the talks, the Serb delegation maintained their position that “it was no longer possible for the three nations [Muslims, Serbs and Croats] to continue to live together in harmony in Bosnia, and it was necessary to physically and politically separate the nations”.
In the event, the discussions in Geneva failed to bring about an end to the conflict, which continued until the end of 1995.
The trial is expected to continue next week.
Merdijana Sadovic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight