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Krajisnik Admits Mladic Ordered Ethnic Cleansing

Genocide indictee acknowledges that Serb officials were responsible for ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, but says he was not involved.
Nobody has the right to force one ethnic community to leave… I see this order for the first time here, and I don’t know why he did that.”

The document that so shocked the former Bosnian Serb politician and genocide indictee Momcilo Krajisnik was a November 1992 order to the Drina Corps of the Army of the Republika Srpska, VRS, to take territory in the Drina Valley.

“Cause as many losses as possible to the enemy,” reads the directive, which bears the name of the man who is now the Hague tribunal’s top fugitive, VRS chief General Ratko Mladic.

“Force them to surrender and force the Muslim population to leave the area of Cerska, Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde,” it goes on.

Having chosen to speak as a witness in his own war crimes trial, Krajisnik is currently being cross-examined by Hague prosecutors. It was them who showed him the order, which he acknowledged was evidence that Mladic illegally “ordered ethnic cleansing”.

But Krajisnik continued to argue this week that he personally played no role whatsoever in such crimes, claiming that the VRS acted largely independently of the Bosnian Serb political authorities during the war.

Prosecutor Mark Harmon sought to illustrate a link between VRS operations and an infamous set of strategic objectives proclaimed by the Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic at a May 1992 session of the Bosnian Serb assembly. Krajisnik presided over the assembly as parliamentary speaker.

The objectives laid out by Karadzic – who is also currently on the run from the tribunal – included separating Serbs from Bosnia’s Muslim and Croat communities, dissolving the border between Serbia and Serb-held territory in Bosnia along the Drina river, establishing new Serb borders along the Una and Neretva rivers and setting up a corridor between the Krajina and Serb-held territory elsewhere in Bosnia.

The prosecution presented the court with a series of VRS documents suggesting that the army’s own “war objectives” included eliminating the border along the Drina, establishing a new border on the Una, taking control of the Neretva river valley and establishing a corridor in the Sava valley, which would link the Krajina with other Serb-held territories.

But Krajisnik insisted that the VRS acted independently and set its own goals, and that any parallels between those aims and the objectives set out by Karadzic – including even the use of the same vocabulary to describe them – were “just a coincidence”.

Asked whether the November 1992 order pertaining to the Drina Valley was also consistent with the strategic goal of separating Serbs from other ethnic communities, Krajisnik protested, “No! That is not true!”

“Driving out of population, resettlement of population cannot be connected with any of the strategic goals,” he added.

He told the court that the army set itself objectives that were to be secured by force. But the aims laid out by Karadzic before the assembly, he said, were “totally different and clearly strictly political, and meant to be achieved through negotiations”.

While Karadzic was the supreme commander of the VRS, he added, the president never signed an order setting out his strategic goals as war objectives, which would have been necessary for them to be considered as such.

Harmon sought to suggest a rather different relationship between the Bosnian Serb political and military authorities by presenting the accused with a wartime document from the main staff of the VRS, concerning the army’s combat readiness and discussing the “strategic objectives of our war”.

The document makes reference to “general guidelines which were set to the VRS and defined by the president, the assembly and the government”. It also says that Karadzic, as the army’s supreme commander, “orally assigned numerous tasks to the VRS which are of significant importance for the protection of Serb people".

The two main tasks discussed in this context are “to defend Serb people from Muslim and Croat genocidal forces” and to “liberate territories which historically belong to Serbs”.

Krajisnik replied that this was “military terminology” and had nothing in common with the strategic goals presented before the Serb assembly.

Harmon also presented the court with a speech given by Karadzic in 1992, in which the president said that every single member of the supreme command – described by him as a collective body – was informed frequently and in detail about military objectives and about the results of military operations.

Karadzic stated at the time that “every battle is politically endorsed on the basis of the interests of the Serb people and approved by the highest authorities of the Republika Srpska”.

In light of this speech and the prosecution contention that Krajisnik himself was a member of the collective supreme command referred to by Karadzic, Harmon said it was clear that the accused was well informed about ongoing and future operations of the VRS during the war.

But Krajisnik said the assembly he presided over was not told about such things and insisted that he was not a member of any collective supreme command, or “war presidency”, as this kind of body has been referred to at other times in the trial. In fact, Krajisnik has denied the existence of any such war presidency and he told the court this week that the supreme command was perceived at the time as consisting of Karadzic alone.

Krajisnik added that his own wartime role in relation to the army was limited to attending a few consultative meetings, where Mladic and other senior commanders were mainly interested in talking about logistical support.

Asked several times if the civilian authorities ever questioned the goals for which they were expending large amounts of money and human potential, Krajisnik claimed, “I never heard discussion of military strategic issues, just requests for total mobilisation, for food, fuel and ammunition.”

Presiding Judge Alphons Orie appeared unimpressed with such explanations. “I cannot accept that the civilian authorities did not mind whether their army will end up in northern Italy, central Bosnia or in the middle of Kosovo,” he said. “It is hard for me to understand that political leaders just sit there and watch.”

Krajisnik also sought to distance himself from the brutal Serb-run detention camps that existed in Bosnia during the war and which feature heavily in the indictment against him.

Prosecutor Alan Tieger put it to Krajisnik that the whole world was aware of the existence of these detention centres in 1992, following footage broadcast by a British television news organisation ITN of emaciated prisoners at the notorious Omarska facility. He used numerous contemporaneous documents to argue that senior Serb politicians, local officials and military figures organised the camps as a tool for ethnic cleansing, to help create an ethnically homogeneous Republika Srpska.

“I did not know about the existence of concentration camps, and as an assembly speaker I was not responsible for them,” Krajisnik replied.

He added that a deputy had asked for the issue to be put on the assembly agenda following the release of the ITN footage and claimed that he personally had demanded an official report about the alleged existence of such camps. But the report, he said, did not arrive in time for the next assembly session.

“Whoever was not interested in this, he committed a crime, for sure,” said Krajisnik, insisting that the responsibility was not his.

Elsewhere in his testimony this week, he declared proudly, “I was the only Bosnian politician who publicly opposed the ethnic cleansing.”

Prosecutors were also keen this week to discuss the Bosnian Serbs’ stated strategic objective of dividing Sarajevo along ethnic lines.

To this end, Tieger quoted from Origins of a Catastrophe, a book by the former United States ambassador to Yugoslavia, Warren Zimmerman. Zimmerman writes that the Bosnian Serbs’ wartime strategy was to establish new frontiers by force and then to ratify those borders through negotiations.

He recalls Karadzic saying that the Bosnian capital was to be split into Serb, Croat and Muslim parts so that the ethnic groups would not have to live or work together. He also writes that the Bosnian Serb president described a vision of Sarajevo similar to Cold War Berlin, with walls dividing its various sectors.

But Krajisnik insisted that to impute such aims to the Bosnian Serb leadership was just plain wrong. “This is false!” he protested, “this is a lie!”

He argued that the only division of Sarajevo he himself had ever spoken about was to have been a purely administrative – not physical – divide.

Tieger also presented Krajisnik with an interview that he gave to the Srpsko Oslobodjenje newspaper during the war, in which he spoke of a future in which “united Serb states” would have Belgrade as their capital.

“I have to be honest and say what I think for the first time publicly,” Krajisnik apparently added in the interview. “Sarajevo should be a Serb town completely, and Muslims should find a new capital for themselves.”

Krajisnik accused Tieger of taking his words out of context and said that he didn’t even recall having made such statements. “Even if I said that, it was not clever,” he said.

Adin Sadic is an IWPR intern in The Hague.