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Milosevic Shifts Position on Srebrenica

Cracks appear in Milosevic's refusal to acknowledge Bosnian war atrocity.
By Chris Stephen

Slobodan Milosevic this week went half way to admitting what the rest of the world already seems to know - that a massacre of Muslims took place in Srebrenica in July 1995.


Milosevic has to date refused to acknowledge the mass killings on the outskirts of the eastern Bosnian town.


"In Serb military tradition, to kill prisoners of war is the most inexcusable act," Milosevic told the court on November 13. "If it happened then I say that could only have been done to someone who was an enemy to the Serbs, the Muslims, and mad to boot."


The semi-admission came as he cross-examined Lieutenant Colonel Robert Franken, who was a senior officer with the Dutch UN peacekeeping battalion at the time of the Bosnian Serb assault on the enclave.


Milosevic asked the colonel about the breakout of the Bosnian government 28th division from Srebrenica at the time it fell.


The breakout saw fierce fighting as the Bosnian government units battered their way through a Serb ring around the town.


"Did you know that on the Muslim side there were very many casualties?" said Milosevic.


Judge May interjected, "This is your account is it? That the people in the mass graves were the people who were breaking out? Is that the story so that we know what your case is about?"


"Mr May," replied Milosevic. "I do not have my version of events. I am endeavoring to establish the truth."


Milosevic later returned to the subject, asking the colonel about the casualty levels in the breakout attacks. The colonel said he had not seen the breakout and his only information came from newspapers once he had returned to Holland.


"We in general had a massive lack of intelligence," said the witness, who gave evidence in a previous Bosnia war crimes trial. "We were enormously isolated. Not only geographically but with information as well. We were more or less on an island in there."


"There's no doubt that there were very heavy casualties in the combat operations?" said Milosevic.


"I'm going to stop this," said Judge May. "There's no point asking the witness something that he correctly pointed out he merely followed later on. You really must concentrate on the matters he dealt with, not something he read in the newspaper. It's not worth the time - something somebody has read in a newspaper."


"This provocation with massive death of the 28th division is beyond doubt," said Milosevic.


"No, it's all in dispute. You can make your speech in due course," said Judge May.


Franken showed the court video footage where the Bosnian Serb commander, General Ratko Mladic, tells Muslim representatives, shortly after the fall of the enclave, that they could be executed.


In an excerpt already used as evidence in previous trials, Mladic tells a Muslim man that he must meet with other leaders and decide by 10 am the next day whether his people should "stay or vanish".


In another clip, Mladic says, "Have I made myself clear, Nesib? The future of your people is in your hands. As I told the gentleman last night, you can either survive or disappear."


Later, Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice asked Franken, who appeared in court in full green uniform with red epaulettes, about the fate of the Muslim men.


"Did those who stay behind survive?" said Nice.


"As far as I know, they did not survive," said the colonel.


Chris Stephen is IWPR tribunal programme manager in The Hague.