Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

"Loyal" Muslims Allowed to Remain in Sanski Most

Doctor claims that those who voted against the division of Yugoslavia were protected.
By Daniella Peled

Bosnian Muslims who were “loyal” to Serb local authorities were allowed to stay in Sanski Most during the war, a defence witness at the Hague trial of Ratko Mladic told judges in testimony he gave last week.

Dr Nenad Davidovic served as a member of the Sanski Most Crisis Staff and was chief medical officer in the Bosnian Serb army’s Sana Brigade from June 1992.

Sanski Most is one of the municipalities in which Mladic, as wartime commander of the Bosnian Serb army, is charged with acts of persecution committed in pursuit of the “objective to permanently remove Bosnian Muslims and/or Bosnian Croats” living there.

Defence lawyer Dragan Ivetic read out a summary of Davidovic’s evidence.

“In Sanski Most the Muslim SDA [Party of Democratic Action] was arming the Muslims and established Green Beret units. One was active in the town itself; other units were formed in Vrhpolje, Trnovo, Hrustovo and Kamengrad. Serbs believed the genocide that had been perpetrated against them in World War II was going to be repeated,” he read. “There was almost no family in that area who had not [had] members killed by the Ustashe [Croatian fascists] in World War II. The members of the Sana Brigade were often engaged in combat and suffered the most losses in the Gradacac area.”

The statement said that “as regards medical treatment in Sanski Most, no one ever differentiated between patients based on their ethnicity”.

In his statement, Davidovic referred to two incidents where Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) were killed in the villages of Vrhpolje and Skrljevita. In Vrhpolje, the witness said, these crimes were committed by locals in retaliation for the killing of 13 soldiers from the area killed by a Muslim.

“The military commanders were trying to prevent revenge killings, but it was difficult to control the armed men whose children, relatives and friends had perished,” he told the tribunal.

As for Skrljevita, the witness said that the killings there were carried out by a man called Danilusko Kajtez, who was not a member of the Sana Brigade. When pressed by the judges as to how he knew this, he replied, “The town was rife with rumours about that; everybody spoke about that.”

He later said he had heard that Kajtez had been found guilty by a Bosnian court and was serving a prison sentence in Foca.

Kajtez, who subsequently changed his name to Nikola Kovacevic, was sentenced to 12 years of prison in 2007 for these crimes.

Turning to the witness’s own work, Ivetic asked whether medical staff differentiated between wounded Bosnian Serb and enemy soldiers.

“No. Differentiation on the basis of ethnic background, no. Health workers provided medical treatment to everyone regardless of who had been injured or had a health problem in any other way,” the witness said.

“Were there any non-Serbs who remained to work in Sanski Most throughout the war?” the defence asked.

Davidovic replied that there were, naming two Muslim doctors who worked “with us” throughout the war. One was a Bosniak neighbour of his, the other a Palestinian married to a nurse from Sanski Most.

The witness later stated that “in my assessment. about 3,000 loyal Muslims remained in Sanski Most throughout the war”.

“Did the VRS [Bosnian Serb army] or the Sanski Most authorities undertake any hostile actions against these 3,000 loyal Muslims who remained in Sanski Most?” Ivetic asked.

“I think the answer is no,” Davidovic replied, adding that “they protected the population as much as they could”.

“Did there come a time when someone else undertook hostile action?” asked the defence.

“Yes, in 1995 when Arkan [paramilitary commander Zeljko Ražnatovic and his units arrived in Sanski Most, he mistreated the Muslims and the Serbian population,” the witness replied. “He carried out lootings in town, he tied people to trees in parks, he shaved the hair off their heads, he sent people to the frontline whimsically, he went to these Muslim settlements looting. He could do this because our units were all out defending the town, so no Serb Croat or Muslim was protected from Arkan.”

In his cross-examination, prosecuting counsel Edward Jeremy asked the witness to clarify which Muslims were allowed to remain in the municipality.

“The basic position of the Serb authorities in Sanski Most at this time was that those persons who were considered not loyal to the Serbian authorities were to be expelled together with their families – right?” he asked.

The witness replied that disloyal Muslims had to leave, but that “the loyal ones should be left and protected”.

Asked what he meant by “disloyal”, the witness said, “During the referendum [on] leaving Yugoslavia [held in Serb-held parts of Bosnia in 1991], there was a split among the people, the Serbs, Croats and Muslims and that’s where it all started from there. There were people – Muslims who voted in our referendum, the Serb referendum – for staying in Yugoslavia. They came dressed in their best clothes… and they voted publicly to stay on in Yugoslavia. However, we were outvoted.”

Jeremy asked what happened to those Bosnian Muslims who were considered disloyal.

“Some left on their own and some left, sort of out of fear from fighting. People who had relatives went out voluntarily, and already in the very beginning the place got pretty empty,” Davidovic replied.

The prosecution went on to look at Davidovic’s wartime diary. An undated entry made at some point between May 21 and 25, 1992 described a meeting that discussed “disarming the population”. It included a comment that “everyone resisting the Serbian authorities will be expelled together with their families”.

In response, Davidovic said, “For the most part, it was the loyal part of the population that was given protection. As for extremists – no guarantees to them. Extremists were the ones who were organising, arming the Muslim people.”

Jeremy asked, “And it’s correct, is it not, that regardless of your definition of extremist, then their families were no longer welcome in Sanski Most and were also to be expelled?”

“For the most part,” the witness replied.

Presiding Judge Alphons Orie asked the witness whether it was not a democratic right to campaign to change laws.

“Well, it was almost a state of war and one could not really speak about a democracy, one could not,” the witness said. “For the most part, I think people who put up armed resistance were the ones that were targeted.”

He added that he personally would not have expelled Muslims who simply did not agree with the authorities.

Later, Jeremy referred to decisions taken at an August 1992 session of the executive committee of the Sanski Most municipal assembly relating to the “voluntary departure of population”.

“The reality is that they were not moving out voluntarily, they were being expelled as indicated in your own diary entry three months earlier,” he said.

“I can’t say that [they] moved out voluntarily or under duress,” the witness replied. “I believe that there were both kinds of people and both cases.”

“Well, sir, in the two hours we’ve been talking, we’ve seen that Muslim and Croat leaders were arrested, their neighbourhoods attacked, their homes destroyed; members of these groups killed or imprisoned, separated from their families, buried without their families,” Jeremy said. “And your position is that their departure was voluntary – correct?”

“Well, maybe. [I] couldn’t rule it out, because everybody’s afraid of the war,” Davidovic replied.

Prosecutors allege that Mladic was responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible population transfer which “contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory”. He is accused of the massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995, and of planning and overseeing the siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead.

Daniella Peled is an IWPR editor in London.