Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Milan Trbojevic, who was deputy prime minister in Republika Srpska, RS, during the war, discussed the accused’s role in government at the time and prosecution allegations that thousands of Muslim civilians were persecuted in a network of detention camps in the region.
Krajisnik is charged with genocide, as well as a series of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war, for his alleged part in a campaign to drive the non-Serb population from large parts of Bosnia in 1991 and 1992.
The indictment against him lists dozens of facilities where Bosnian Muslim and Croat detainees were apparently tortured, beaten and often killed.
Krajisnik’s defence lawyers have argued that their client had little knowledge of or direct control over events on the ground, which were mainly in the hands of highly independent local authorities.
In court this week, Trbojevic told judges that Krajisnik and Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic between them maintained a tight control over the government.
But the witness – whose cautious demeanour in court seemed to stem from the fact that his first contact with prosecutors was as a war crimes suspect – insisted he knew nothing about the camps at the time.
At the start of his testimony, Presiding Judge Alphons Orie reminded Trbojevic that nothing he said in court could be used against him at a later stage. Judge Orie also used the same opportunity to underline the possible consequences the witness might face if he were to give false testimony.
Trbojevic told judges that he first entered the Bosnian Serb parliament in 1990 as a deputy representing the nationalist Serb Democratic Party, SDS – of which Karadzic was president and Krajisnik was a leading member – before being made deputy prime minister in 1992.
“Without question, Karadzic was supreme chief,” the witness told the court. But he added that Krajisnik and the president held the same political views and acted “as two men in one body”.
He said the influence wielded by the two over the RS government was so great that it had contributed to the resignation in 1992 of the entity’s prime minister, who was fed up with the president’s direct supervision of ministers and of the ministers’ habit of consulting with both Karadzic and Krajisnik on crucial matters.
He also confirmed that the two men shared between them almost absolute power over the police, army and judiciary.
Moving on to the subject of the detention camps allegedly operated by the Bosnian Serb authorities at the time, prosecutor Alan Tieger presented the witness with a series of documents evidencing their existence, including a record of a meeting of ministers in June 1992 when Trbojevic himself was recorded as discussing the “serious and urgent” matter of prisoner exchange.
Tieger also presented him with a document from August that year, signed by the then deputy interior minister Toma Kovac, which included a discussion of the “problems caused by detaining other nationalities”. The prosecutor followed up with evidence that the document had been read out at a government session presided over by Trbojevic himself.
But the witness said he had no recollection of that session and denied having known anything about the camps or the mass executions of Muslim citizens at the time. He claimed he only learned about them years later.
“If we had known what was going on in the camps, we would have surely had a government session in Omarska,” he said, in reference to the site of one of the most notorious facilities.
Pushed by prosecutors to give his opinion about how such camps were operated, the witness said that, looking back, he assumed they were run by the local authorities, that the army would have been involved in supplying provisions and that the secret service would have been responsible for classifying prisoners.
The witness claimed “the theory that the state should be [ethnically] pure had never been spoken about” in government.
As an example of official policy at the time, he described a speech given by Karadzic to parliament in July 1992 in which the president claimed there was no intention to “defeat” the Muslims, but that the priority was to prevent a “Muslim conquest of Europe”.
But the witness also acknowledged that at the same meeting, Karadzic had expressed concern about the large numbers of Muslims living in areas under Serb control.
During cross-examination by Krajisnik’s defence counsel Nicholas Stewart, Trbojevic said the accused had played an important role during the war in talks with the international community aimed at bringing peace to the region.
And he confirmed Stewart’s suggestion that Krajisnik had a difficult task in trying to maintain order in the RS parliament, whose members held diverse opinions.
“There were some stormy sessions,” Trbojevic told the court.
Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR contributor in Zagreb.
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