Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Prosecution witness Manojlo Milovanovic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
Ratko Mladic’s former chief-of-staff testified this week about his relationship with the accused, and on the command structure of the Bosnian Serb army.
Prosecution witness Manojlo Milovanovic has testified in several other trials at the tribunal, but according to the prosecution, he had to be subpoenaed to testify against his former boss Mladic.
At the beginning of the lengthy examination, prosecuting lawyer Dermot Groome asked the witness to describe Mladic’s “command style” as head of the army.
“His command style is best explained if I quote his own words,” Milovanovic replied. “On one occasion I asked him, ‘Why did you choose me to be your deputy?’ He said, ‘I am quick-tempered and you are somewhat slower, and as a tank man, you know that’s the best way to drive.’”
Milovanovic said Mladic once described the two of them as “two bodies and one soul”.
In the courtroom, Mladic grinned at this.
Prosecutors allege that Mladic, as commander of the Bosnian Serb army from 1992 to 1996, is responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer which “contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory”.
The two genocide charges relates to the massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995, and to the ethnic cleansing of several Bosnian municipalities in 1992.
Mladic is also accused of planning and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead.
The witness said that before war broke out in Bosnia, he and Mladic were “friends, comrades”, whereas during the conflict their relationship was one of “very strict military subordination”.
“Before the war we were on a first-name basis and then I started… addressing him in a more respectful form,” Milovanovic said.
As tensions grew in Bosnia during the spring of 1992, “General Mladic’s conclusion was that war was inevitable and would follow the same [path] as the war in Croatia,” he continued.
“Did Mladic have the authority to give a direct order to anyone in the army?” Groome asked.
“Yes. The commander has the right to issue orders to anyone in the armed forces,” Milovanovic said. “General Mladic abided by that rule. If he wanted to issue an order to someone in the brigade, he went through the corps commander.”
The witness noted that Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic – whose trial continues in The Hague – was supreme commander of the army. He had the right to give orders “two levels down”, but the recipient of such an order was “duty-bound to inform General Mladic at the earliest opportunity”.
Milovanovic said that he himself functioned as both chief-of-staff and deputy commander, which meant that he “managed the staff sector first and foremost, and then the staff as a whole”.
“I organised its work, submitting reports to the commander… and as deputy commander, I stood in for the commander when he was not in the Serbian republic of Bosnia Herzegovina,” Milovanovic said.
“As deputy commander, did you have the capacity to issue orders to anyone in the [army]?” Groome asked.
“Yes, but I had to inform General Mladic about everything that I undertook, that I ordered, or anything that happened during his absence,” the witness said.
He said that if Mladic was present, he could not issue an order without the latter’s consent.
“[If] General Mladic left the country on a particular day and you became deputy commander, would you have changed or withdrawn orders that Mladic had issued just prior to leaving the country?” Groome asked.
“No, not even on the condition that something happened to Mladic. For as long as his decision was in effect, it would have been fully implemented,” Milovanovic said.
Groome also asked the witness about Directive 7, issued by Karadzic on March 8, 1995. The directive states, “By planned and well thought-out combat operations, create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival or life for inhabitants of [the eastern Bosnian enclaves] of Srebrenica and Zepa.”
“Would you agree that a plain reading of this would lead the reader to conclude that civilians were intended to be focus of well thought-out combat operations?” Groome asked.
Milovanovic said that in the directive, “activity is aimed at worsening conditions of life for the populations of Srebrenica and Zepa, and as a result of those adverse conditions, they are forced to leave”.
“Based on your military training and experience as a senior commander, do you have a view on whether this is a lawful military objective?” Groome asked.
“According to the Geneva conventions, the civilian population is not a legitimate military target or objective,” the witness said.
“Is it your opinion that this is an unlawful or lawful order?” Groome asked.
Milovanovic said it would be unlawful if it was indeed an order, but it was instead “a political decision”.
“So you are saying that the text as we read it, you would consider it unlawful if formulated into an order, do I understand you correctly?” Groome asked.
“Yes, if it is formulated into a combat order,” Milovanovic said, repeating that it was “a political decision because it’s issued by the supreme commander. It cannot be applied to military documents. Because as I’ve already told you, the civilian population is an unlawful target or objective.”
He added that Directive 7 was sent to all the corps commands, which was a “mistake on the part of the supreme command”, which should have sent it directly to Mladic.
Groome then produced the military order that followed Directive 7, known as Directive 7-1 and signed by Mladic on March 31, 1995.
Milovanovic said that in terms of the relationship between the two documents, “one does not replace the other”.
“In his directive [7-1], General Mladic omitted the sentence we just discussed – that life should be rendered unbearable….General Mladic assumed responsibility when he decided not to put pressure on the population and not to adopt every single element from Karadzic’s directive,” the witness said.
“Is it your evidence that Mladic’s failure to include that phrase was an intentional act by him not to advance that particular part of Directive 7?” Groome asked.
“It is my assessment that General Mladic took over responsibility for not implementing that part of the supreme commander’s directive, since he deemed it was unlawful,” Milovanovic said.
Groome asked if there was anything in Directive 7-1 that “explicitly rescinds” what was stated in the original document. The witness said there was not; the sentence in question was “simply omitted”.
The prosecutor then pointed out that Directive 7 states that “the complete physical separation of Srebrenica and Zepa should be completed as soon as possible”, but that this point too was omitted from Directive 7-1, despite it being an important military objective at the time.
“How would a subordinate commander have been able to tell that the order to separate [the enclaves] had not been rescinded but the order to target civilians had?” Groome asked.
Milovanovic said the aim of separating Srebrenica and Zepa “had been a standing idea since the enclaves were formed” and it was thus “unnecessary to reiterate” it.
Presiding Judge Alphons Orie interjected at this point to ask why – since it was known that Directive 7 had been distributed to lower tiers of the army – a “strong line” was not inserted into Directive 7-1 instructing corps commanders to “ignore that bit, because it was against the laws of warfare”.
Milovanovic said that Mladic’s subordinates were “duty-bound to implement Mladic’s directive, not Karadzic’s”, and that it was Karadzic’s mistake to send it to all of the corps.
During the cross-examination, Mladic’s lawyer Branko Lukic followed up on the issue of Directive 7, asking the witness to confirm that “Directive 7-1 doesn’t reference Directive 7 anywhere”.
“You are right - in Directive 7-1, Mladic does not invoke or refer to the directive issued by the supreme commander,” Milovanovic said.
“Is it true that the task assigned to Drina Corps in Directive 7-1 was not taken over from Directive 7?” Lukic asked.
“Yes, two things were left out in Directive 7-1. The first thing is the controversial sentence that unbearable conditions should be created for the population, and what was also left out was the sentence referring to separation of Srebrenica and Zepa by force,” Milovanovic said.
Lukic asked whether the witness was aware that “humanitarian organisations violated the embargo and brought weapons into [enclaves]”.
Milovanovic said that he was not sure who brought in weapons, but that they “did arrive”.
Lukic later asked him whether life in Srebrenica was militarised, despite the enclave having been declared a demilitarised United Nations “safe area” in 1993.
“Whatever social life existed [in Srebrenica], it was controlled by the 28th Division [of the Bosnian government army], and that included humanitarian aid and other such things?” the lawyer asked.
“I did not hear that from anybody – I could actually experience it,” Milovanovic said. “I realised that [local Bosnian army commander] Naser Oric had all the power in his hands… when convoys arrived, it was the military who distributed aid.”
He added that there was a “surplus of food, clothing and footwear”, and all of it was for the “purpose” of the Bosnian government army.
The trial continues next week.
Rachel Irwin is IWPR’s Senior Reporter in The Hague.
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