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

Milosevic's Army in Bosnian Attack

Forces from Serbia implicated in Bosnian ethnic cleansing.
By Emir Suljagic

A Muslim witness who testified this week in Slobodan Milosevic's trial accused the Yugoslav National Army, JNA, of attacking his village and interning all men and boys from the village.


With this anonymous testimony, heard on October 15, prosecutors hope to prove that the JNA, working hand in hand with Bosnian Serb forces and paramilitary groups from Serbia, cleansed large swathes of territory in central Bosnia of Muslims.


The witness, referred to in court as B-1115, was a retired police officer living in Gornja Grapska, a village outside Doboj, when the village was shelled on May 10, 1992.


Thirty-four civilians, men, women and children were killed in the bombardment.


In the aftermath, JNA troops and local Serb forces moved into the village, rounding up its residents.


"That night, when they took me out of my house, I saw the body of a five-year-old whose eyes were still open," said the witness.


Twenty-four people - mainly the elderly - who stayed behind in the village were rounded up and shot one month after the attack, the witness said.


"I saw a JNA major, Milovan Stankovic, standing in front of a tank. I saw him later, when I was forced to dig trenches on Mount Ozren and he told me that he had been responsible for that attack," said B-1115.


The witness was first taken to a prison in Bare, where some 1,200 Muslims were held in hangars. Prisoners slept lying or sitting on the concrete floor, were fed once a day, and had one bucket in the corner that served as a toilet.


The warden of the prison was Milan Tepic, a member of the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS - the Bosnian Serb party led by Radovan Karadzic.


The witness said that Serbian paramilitaries were often let into the camp, where they mistreated inmates.


In mid-May, B-1115 was moved to a new camp, in Spreca, where he stayed until February 1993. He told the court that prisoners here were treated "like cattle", beaten, forced to work, and sometimes taken away by guards, never to return. Five thousand prisoners passed through the camp between May 1992 and February 1993.


Although Spreca was a former JNA barracks, the witness said that he saw paramilitary units from Republika Srpska Krajina in Croatia, and the "White Eagles" associated with Serbian radical warlord Vojislav Seselj.


After eighteen months in prison, B-1115 was exchanged in October 1993.


In cross-examination, Milosevic asked,"Don't you know that the JNA withdrew from Bosnia in May 1992?"


"I know they were there," insisted the witness.


The prisoners were forced to collect loot from Muslim and Croat villages immediately following Serb attacks. "Once we were working in the Croat village of Garevac. I entered a house and saw an old man with a grey beard sitting in a chair. I thought he was drunk. When I came closer, I saw that his throat was slit," the witness said in his written statement.


On February 9, 1992, B-1115 and 40 other prisoners were taken to Banja Luka "to be tried". In Banja Luka prisoners were interrogated and beaten. "We were forced to sit in a chair from seven o'clock in the morning to seven o'clock in the evening without moving," the witness said.


On October 1, 1993 B-1115 was freed in a prisoner exchange. He had lost 25 kilograms.


Another witness from Doboj took the stand after him. B-1445 told the court that as early as October 1991, parts of the town where Serbs formed a majority issued declarations that only Yugoslav laws applied in their communities. In January and February 1992, Serbs in Doboj were issued with arms, and in February 1992, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic visited the town to attend a secret meeting with local SDS officials.


In early May, the town filled with Serbian paramilitaries. "I drove past the Orthodox Church in town and saw a group of them standing at the entrance," said the witness.


The town fell to the Serb forces on May 3, 1992, and most of the Muslim population fled to neighbouring Tesanj.


Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.