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

Mladic Witness Denies Ethnic Cleansing Policy Existed

Wartime official from northwest Bosnia says there was no strategy of removing non-Serbs.
By Daniella Peled

A defence witness in the trial of former army chief Ratko Mladic told judges last week that the Bosnian Serb leadership had no intention of expelling Bosniaks or Croats from territory it controlled.

Milorad Sajic, an economist and a professor of defence studies, was a member of the Crisis Staff in the Autonomous Region of Krajiina (ARK), the title given to an area of northwest Bosnia claimed by Serb political forces in 1991.

Sajic has previously testified in the trials of former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic and of Radislav Brdjanin, who was head of the ARK Crisis Staff. Brdjanin is serving a 30-year sentence imposed by the Hague tribunal.

The prosecution argues that the Bosnian Serb leadership used the ARK Crisis Staff to implement a policy of removing non-Serbs from northwestern Bosnia.

In a statement which Sajic gave for Karadzic’s defence case, and which is now being used in the Mladic case, he denied that the Crisis Staff had any part in such a policy.

Mladic’s defence lawyer, Miodrag Stojanovic, highlighted part of the statement which said that communications between the ARK and the Bosnian Serb leadership in Pale had been interrupted. He also argued that the Krajina civil authorities had no control over Serb military structures.

In his cross-examination, prosecutor Arthur Traldi cited Crisis Staff decisions from summer 1992 which stated that only individuals “loyal to the Serb nation and republic’ could hold senior positions in publicly-owned enterprises. There were also decisions that Serbs should be resettled in Krajina while non-Serbs should be prevented from returning there.

The witness said that he had not implemented these decisions, nor had he faced repercussions for failing to do so.

“The Crisis Staff didn’t have the instruments to apply any sanctions – none, apart from the fact that Brdjanin signed a decision,” he said.

Moving on to the issue of contact between Pale and the ARK leadership, Traldi turned to the transcript of an intercepted telephone conversation between Karadzic and Brdjanin in November 1991.

Traldi quoted Karadzic as telling Brdjanin,“‘Come on man, do your job. Don’t call me about every minor problem. I’m not your nanny. You have power in your hands and you have presidents of municipalities through which you can exercise this power.’

“He is speaking directly to Mr Brdjanin there, right?” Traldi asked. “President Karadzic is recognising Mr Brdjanin’s authority in the ARK, right?”

Sajic replied that this did not indicate Brdjanin had “all the power” in the area.

The prosecution moved on to discuss a speech made by Brdnjanin at a rally in Banja Luka in northwest Bosnia in 1994.

According to Traldi, Brdjanin told the assembled crowds, “It’s the obligation of Serbs for the next 100 years to wipe their feet from the foul non-Christians who have befouled this soul of ours”

Traldi asked whether this was a “derogatory” speech.

“I don’t see from the context,” replied the witness. “He’s not denying it, he’s just saying if you don’t win you will be cleaning the shoes of those who did such and such a thing in World War II to us. It’s a bit nationalist. These are rallies that were held frequently in our part of the world.”

The prosecutor put the question again – “Calling them foul, that’s derogatory, right?”

“For us it is, yes,” Sajic replied.

“When he suggests that their presence has befouled the soul of RS [Republika Srpska], that’s derogatory too, right?” Traldi continued.

“These are authorities that he’s talking about, not the people,” Sajic replied, adding, “He meant the authorities – those in power – not the people.”

“‘The foul-non Christians,’ not ‘the foul members of the patriotic league’,” Traldi said. “That means everybody, right?”

Sajic repeated that “these are still wartime speeches. It wasn’t just one sentence that he spoke”.

The prosecutor continued, “In another sentence in the speech, he suggests that the Serbs “put up a barbed wire and say that never again will our enemies spread’.”

The witness said the reference to barbed wire was used as “a concept, as a comparison” rather than a specific suggestion.

Daniella Peled is an IWPR editor in London.