Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Krajisnik - “Most Trusted Ally” of Karadzic
The trial of the former top Bosnian Serb politician Momcilo Krajisnik continued this week in The Hague with the defence cross-examining his one-time ally Momcilo Mandic.
Mandic, the wartime Bosnian Serb justice minister and an important insider witness, testified in front of Hague judges for the third week in a row. His testimony is the most detailed firsthand account so far of the internal workings of the Bosnian Serb authorities in the first months of the war there.
Krajsinik, the chairman of the Bosnian Serb assembly during the war and the member of the extended Bosnian Serb presidency, is accused of masterminding the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia in the first year of the war – including mass expulsions and detaining of Muslim and Croat civilians in detention camps throughout the country.
During the cross-examination, Krajisnik’s defence lawyer Nicholas Stewart tried to show that his client had very limited information on what was going on in Serb-run camps at the beginning of the war and had no power over the military that ran them.
But despite his efforts, Krajisnik still came across as one of the most influential wartime Serb politicians whose ties with the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic guaranteed him an upper hand in the constant power struggle at the top.
Karadzic, who was indicted by the Hague tribunal ten years ago for his role in the Bosnian war, is still at large and the United States and European Union have publicly accused Mandic of providing him with financial aid.
Earlier evidence shown in court suggested that power and decision making within the four-man Bosnian Serb leadership seemed to be exercised in a collegial manner and that despite some personality differences there was substantial consensus on the ultimate goals - such as ethnic cleansing of Muslim and Croat population from the Serb-held territories.
When asked by the defence, Mandic told the court that the relationship between some members of the Bosnian Serb leadership was far from idyllic. He recalled a seemingly constant power struggle between Krajisnik on one side and two other Karadzic associates, Biljana Plavsic and Nikola Koljevic, on the other.
“There was a sort of dead heat between [the three] about the number two position in the leadership,” the witness said. He added the three leaders disagreed on a number of issues, but in the end Karadzic would, as a rule, take Krajisnik’s side.
Apparently aware that this testimony could ultimately harm his client, Krajisnik’s lawyer was quick to react.
“You mean Mr Karadzic supported Mr Krajisnik only as his trusting president of the assembly?” he asked.
But the answer was unambiguous.
“I believe he trusted Mr Krajisnik more than anyone else,” the witness said. “He was the most mature in the political sense, while others were more vain.”
But when counsel tried to explore that issue more deeply, Mandic admitted that even the relationship between the two wasn’t always trouble-free.
Mandic told the court that the rivalry between the Bosnian Serb leaders was created by their immediate entourage, who would automatically side with Karadzic in any conflict, and try to isolate the accused – especially in the conflicts regarding lucrative commercial or ministerial posts.
“Whenever it came to appointments in public companies or ministerial positions, Plavsic and Koljevic would take Karadzic’s side,” Mandic said.
He also added that Karadzic was greatly influenced by Slobodan Milosevic, president of neighbouring Serbia, while the same could not be said for Krajisnik.
“Dr Karadzic relied very much on Milosevic’s policies, while Mr Krajisnik was in favour of a more autonomous approach,” he said.
Over the last two weeks, when he testified as a prosecution witness, Mandic was asked a series of questions regarding appalling conditions in the Serb-run prison camps.
The Krajisnik indictment alleges that thousands of Muslim and Croat civilians were detained at these facilities, where they were subjected to beatings, sexual assaults and murder – and that he was both aware and approved of these practices.
But the former Bosnian Serb justice minister said this week that the vast majority of these camps were run by the military, and civilian authorities were kept at bay. Mandic also claimed his efforts to unify civilian and military judiciary was supported by Krajisnik himself - but it had failed, allegedly because the army didn’t want to yield its power to civilian authorities.
“We received reports of a number of instances of abuse in those facilities, but we didn’t have any access to them,” he said, adding that military refused to hand over detention camps to civilian authorities. “There was a lot of conflict over the jurisdiction.”
When Stewart asked the witness what kind of abuse was taking place in those camps at that time, Mandic again became evasive. “I think [the prisoners] were not treated in accordance with Geneva conventions,” he admitted.
Mandic then told the court he had only informed Krajisnik about the situation in the detention facilities “in the very broad sense” without ever going into details.
He claimed that nobody from the government was fully informed about what was going on in detention facilities in the first few months of the war, due to “very poor flow of information” at the time.
However, the witness did say that he had personally informed Krajisnik about the situation in the Serb-run Kula prison near Sarajevo.
Previous witnesses have testified about appalling conditions at the facility, where they said Muslim and Croat detainees were regularly tortured, starved and humiliated. But, according to Mandic, there was nothing alarming he could inform Krajisnik about, other than “the facility’s urgent need for food and clothing” due to “high fluctuation of people”.
“I never saw any mistreatment in Kula – as far as I know, there was nothing inhumane taking place there,” the witness said.
The trial continues.
Merdijana Sadovic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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