Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Ratko Mladic in the ICTY cortroom. (Photo: ICTY)
A man who hid beneath dead bodies to escape execution during the Srebrenica massacre told his story this week in the trial of former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic.
The prosecution witness, who had protected status and was referred to as RM-253, said he decided to surrender after the fall of the eastern enclave of Srebrenica on July 11, 1995, because Bosnian Serb forces had invited people to do so and had promised to treat them in accordance with the Geneva conventions.
The witness said he and other prisoners were taken to a football field in Nova Kasaba, where Mladic himself spoke to the group. After the general left the field, the witness said his group were forced to spend the night locked inside a truck, listening to the “screaming and shouting” of people outside.
After this, the witness said his group was taken to Petkovci, first to a school, and then to a field located near a dam. According to his witness statement, the field was "already covered in bodies" by the time they got there.
The witness said he dropped to the ground as soon as soldiers opened fire on his group. He then hid his head underneath the legs of some prisoners who were already dead, hoping to survive.
When the soldiers left, he and the only other survivor hid for a while, and then headed towards Bosnian government-held territory in Tuzla, which they reached two days later.
The witness said that while he and the other man were hiding, they saw “a truck which was collecting bodies and loading them onto a tractor, which then transported them away from the killing field and towards the dam”.
RM-253 said none of his relatives who left Srebrenica survived the journey to Tuzla. He lost “at least 20 family members in the genocide”.
Mladic, the commander of the Bosnian Serb army from 1992 to 1996, is accused of planning and overseeing the massacre of more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys after his army captured Srebrenica in July 1995.
The indictment further alleges that he was 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”.
Mladic was arrested in May 2011 after 16 years on the run.
During the cross-examination, Mladic's lawyer Dragan Ivetic asked the witness about a statement he attributed to Mladic, in which the accused allegedly accused the Bosniaks of “sending their women into the caring hands of the UNPROFOR [peacekeepers] while they [Bosnian Muslim soldiers] were killing Serbs”.
Ivetic asked why the witness mentioned this in only one statement he gave to the prosecution, and not in any others.
The witness maintained that that he had mentioned these particular remarks "every single time” he had given a statement, from 1995 to the present.
He confirmed that at the time of his capture, he was serving with the Bosnian government army. He had been mobilised shortly before the Bosnian Serb army began attacking Srebrenica.
Ivetic noted that the witness had quoted Mladic as promising the prisoners that they would be taken to Bratunac and Kravica “to sleep and get some food”.
The witness answered that while he could not remember whether Mladic mentioned particular localities during his speech, he did promise the prisoners that they would be transported elsewhere.
Ivetic asked whether it was true that many Bosnian Muslims tried to commit suicide while attempting to flee. The witness said that “some obviously did” but he would not say it was “many”.
The trial continues next week.
Velma Saric is an IWPR contributor in Sarajevo.
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