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Krajisnik Confronted by Wartime Ally

Witness speaks of defendant’s role in Bosnian Serb power structure.
By Merdijana Sadović

The trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Momcilo Krajisnik heard another high-ranking wartime politician, Momcilo Mandic, who appeared in court to testify on behalf of the prosecution.


Mandic, who held the posts of justice minister and deputy minister of the interior of Republika Srpska, RS, in 1992, has been publicly accused by the United States of directing ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian war and of funding fugitive war crimes indictee Radovan Karadzic.


Mandic’s lawyer was allowed to be present in courtroom during the testimony and acknowledged his client is aware that he is a potential Hague indictee.


In a press release issued on March 7 last year, the US Treasury Department accused Mandic of “commanding and giving orders to special police units and other forces involved in ethnic cleansing operations against non-Serbs” during the Bosnian war. He was also described as “a major funding source for Radovan Karadzic” in the years afterwards.


On the same day, his assets in Bosnia were frozen on the orders of the international community’s High Representative Paddy Ashdown, who described him as “a well known war profiteer”.


Mandic, who now resides in Serbia, has also been banned from entering America and the European Union. The tribunal would not comment on how he was able to visit The Hague to testify.


Dusko Tomic, his Bosnian lawyer, attempted to play down the reasons for his own presence in the courtroom. “My client wanted me to be his psychological support in court,” he told judges. “He said he would feel more relaxed knowing that I am here.”


Presiding Judge Alphons Orie allowed Tomic to stay for his client’s testimony, on the condition that he sat behind the witness to prevent any eye contact.


Mandic, a 50-year old former judo champion who is reputed to be one of the richest men the region, appeared somewhat timid as he arrived in the courtroom to speak about events in Bosnia in 1992.


The witness discussed the role played by Krajisnik, who prosecutors claim was a chief policy maker in the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, which aimed to bring large swathes of Bosnia under Serb control by forcibly expelling the area’s Muslims and Croats.


Krajisnik was the second most influential Bosnian Serb leader in 1992, second only to Karadzic himself, the witness said, explaining that while Karadzic was in charge of the army and police, Krajisnik controlled the individual local politicians who were responsible for the municipalities under Serb control.


Mandic also discussed the division of the Bosnian police, MUP, along ethnic lines in 1992. He confirmed that on March 31of that year, when he was still assistant to the Bosnian minister of interior, he himself had signed a dispatch containing orders for the split to go ahead.


The document, which was produced in court, read, “It is necessary that the joint Bosnian MUP be divided and that Serbian MUP be created in all the territories where Serbs are in the majority.”


When prosecutor Alan Tieger asked Mandic if he was aware the move had begun the Bosnian war, the witness sat in silence for a long time before answering, “No”.


Tieger immediately produced an excerpt from an interview Mandic gave to a Serb magazine during the war, in which he bragged that he and RS’s then-interior minister Mico Stanisic “started the war in Bosnia by segregating the Serb part of the MUP”.


“This was the journalist’s free interpretation of what I said,” said Mandic.


The prosecution also inquired about Mandic’s role in organising detention facilities for civilians and prisoners of war in RS in the first months of the conflict.


Mandic confirmed that as justice minister he had kept offices in the Serb-run Kula prison near Sarajevo. Previous witnesses have spoken about appalling conditions at the facility, where they said Muslim and Croat detainees, including civilians, were tortured, starved and subject to daily humiliation.


“Mr. Mandic, were civilians detained in Kula?” the prosecutor asked.


“I don’t know,” the witness replied.


Tieger then read from a memo which had been sent in October 1994 to the RS commission in charge of monitoring the exchange of civilian prisoners during the war. The memo said some 10,000 civilians had passed through the Kula prison by that.


With Mandic’s memory refreshed, Judge Orie asked him to explain the legal basis for detaining so many civilians without suspicion of involvement in any criminal activity.


”Some of them were brought from the territory where the war was going on. They were provided with shelter in Kula,” Mandic said.


Judges are yet to decide whether to grant Krajisnik’s request to participate in the cross-examination of this “important witness”.


The trial continues.


Merdijana Sadovic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.