Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Judges in the trial of former Bosnian Serb parliamentary speaker Momcilo Krajisnik heard evidence this week that prosecutors have overplayed his role in the Bosnian war of the early Nineties.
The indictment against Krajisnik alleges that he held a “prominent position” in the Bosnian Serb leadership during the war and that he had de facto control over its military and police.
He is accused of using this authority to preside over a violent campaign aimed at “cleansing” Serb-dominated territories of their Muslim and Croat populations.
But defence witness Bozidar Antic, who was Bosnian Serb minister of economy at the time, supported Krajisnik’s defence case by telling judges that the accused played only a peripheral role in politics.
Also this week, judges heard evidence of Krajisnik’s involvement in the practice of using captured United Nations peacekeepers as human shields.
And the accused announced his desire to sue a former colleague, ex-Bosnian Serb politician Biljana Plavsic, over her unflattering portrayal of him in a recently published set of memoirs.
Testifying at the start of this week, Antic told judges that the wartime government body of which Krajisnik was a member – known as the “extended presidency” – held only an advisory role and had no real political power.
The witness said he had met with Krajisnik on a number of occasions but only because, as a successful businessman, the accused was well placed to give advice on economic matters. He had never required Krajisnik’s approval in any political matter, added Antic.
His testimony supports a key line or argument put forward by defence lawyers, who say Krajisnik never had enough authority to be held responsible for events on the ground in Bosnia during the war there.
Later in the week, Krajisnik’s defence counsel called Milos Milincic, who was wartime president of the Serb-run Srbac municipality.
Milincic said Srbac – whose population was 90 per cent Serb prior to the war – was a relatively peaceful part of the country and that ethnic tensions there were low. Towards the end of the conflict, he said, the municipality became a safe-haven for refugees of all ethnicities.
As evidence of the tolerance that prevailed in Srbac, the witness pointed to a decision by the International Red Cross in the early Nineties to designate the municipality a “safe area”.
Milincic said he had certainly never received any kind of order from Krajisnik, either oral or written, pertaining to ethnic cleansing.
Srbac is not mentioned anywhere in the indictment against Krajisnik, which includes the names of dozens of municipalities where war crimes are alleged to have taken place.
Given a chance to cross-examine Milincic, prosecutor Mark Tieger was keen to find out more about a UN peacekeeper who was taken hostage in Srbac in early 1995. He confronted the witness with a record of one of his speeches from the time, in which he declared, “We have something to blackmail them with.”
“Amongst the public... it seemed to be a wise act,” said Milincic, conceding that, “later on it turned out to be unwise.”
Tieger seized the chance to play a recording of an intercepted conversation from the time, in which one person – allegedly Krajisnik – is heard speaking with an unidentified man about what ought to be done with hostages.
“We regret that they are innocent guys but we have to treat the United Nations the way it deserves,” Krajisnik is heard to say, adding that the UN had sided with the enemies of Serbs. The recorded conversation included references to the use of hostages as human shields in order to prevent attacks on key targets.
Also this week, Krajisnik addressed the court in person to complain that restrictions on his contact with the media mean he has had little opportunity to reply to allegations made against him by former Bosnian Serb president Plavsic in her recent book “I Testify”.
Plavsic, who pleaded guilty to war crimes before the tribunal and was given an 11-year jail sentence in 2003, wrote the book in prison. In it, she says that Krajisnik and wartime Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic became wealthy during the conflict in Bosnia as a result of looting.
Krajisnik said he was especially concerned that his friends and family in the Balkans would read the book and would have no way of knowing that the accusations made in it are false. He claimed Plavsic was using him as a scapegoat and insisted that he could prove the claims made about him are lies.
Krajisnik added that he would like the Hague tribunal’s registry to help him organise legal counsel in order to sue Plavsic for libel. Presiding Judge Alphons Orie showed little enthusiasm for the proposal, noting that it would create a kind of “shadow trial” while war crimes proceedings against Krajisnik are still ongoing.
Judge Orie also warned the accused that by raising the subject of the book in court, he risked seeing it being entered into evidence against him. “I’m not scared of a single thing that may come to the attention of this court,” replied Krajisnik.
Adrienne N Kitchen is an IWPR intern in The Hague.
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