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Mladic Witness Heard Only "Rumours" of Srebrenica Killings

Former military policeman tells tribunal that he was never given any official information about the fate of Bosniaks held at his barracks.
By Daniella Peled
  • Nebojsa Jeremic, defence witness in the Mladic trial at the ICTY. (Photo: ICTY)
    Nebojsa Jeremic, defence witness in the Mladic trial at the ICTY. (Photo: ICTY)

A former military police investigator told the trial of Ratko Mladic that he had never been asked to look into rumours of mass executions of Muslim prisoners following the fall of the Srebrenica enclave in 1995.

Nebojsa Jeremic, a lawyer by profession, served in the military police section of the Bosnian Serb army’s Zvornik Brigade during the war.

Defence counsel Miodrag Stojanovic asked the witness to describe what his duties were in this role.

Jeremic explained that he investigated the “misdoings of the soldiers who breached military discipline… took statements, wrote orders”.

“In Zvornik, in July 1995, did you receive information at any point in time about fighting around Srebrenica and what was happening there?” Stojanovic asked.

“I did not receive information from anyone – official information. I could just hear rumours, sort of, from the soldiers who were up there where the fighting was, around Srebrenica,” Jeremic replied.

The witness said military policemen on the ground had said that “there was this enormous column of Muslims from Srebrenica. Where they were moving, no one could say”. Concerned about the safety of his own family, Jeremic sent his wife and two young daughters away while he stayed in Zvornik.

The witness went on to describe an incident one afternoon when he himself had seen Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) being transported past the barracks where he was stationed.

“Inside [open trucks] there were women, children, and on the buses there were prisoners, men who were sitting there in the seats and between them there were soldiers of Republika Srpska armed, in camouflage uniforms. The buses went by quickly so I could not tell what unit they came from. They went by the barracks along the main road leading to Bijeljina. Now whether they turned off somewhere is something I don’t know,” he said.

Mladic stands accused of genocide and other crimes relating to the Srebrenica massacre of July 1995. The eastern Bosnian town was declared a “safe area” in 1993 and a United Nations peacekeeping battalion was assigned to protect it. Despite this special status, the Srebrenica enclave was seized by Bosnian Serb forces on July 11. In the days that followed, more than 7,000 Bosniak men and boys were murdered at a number of sites by Serb forces.

In her cross-examination, prosecutor Abeer Hasan began by questioning the witness about an incident several days after the fall of Srebrenica when two Bosnian Serb soldiers were arrested on charges of helping the enemy.

Nesko Djokic and his son Slobodan were brought to the barracks, where Jeremic questioned them in the presence of Drago Nikolic, security chief of the Zvornik Brigade.

“At first they denied that they had helped Muslims,” Jeremic said. “However, I believe that later Drago Nikolic hit the son, he slapped the son. And then the son cried and said, ‘Dad, they know everything, let’s tell them how it really was.’”

Jeremic said the two men told him that close to their house, they had found four Muslim men who asked for their help in crossing the front line and promised payment in return.

The Bosniaks were captured and they too were also brought into the barracks. Jeremic recalled that their clothes were ragged and torn and their faces bruised.

In 2006, Nikolic was given a 20-year sentence by the Hague tribunal for crimes in Srebrenica. Jeremic appeared as a prosecution witness at his trial.

In a number of cases relating to Srebrenica, Nikolic has testified that the takeover of the enclave was well-planned, and that it was made to clear to him beforehand that a massacre was planned.

Hasan then turned to previous testimony by a protected witness who survived mass executions at the Branjevo farm, where around 1,000 men were gunned down on July 16, 1995. This witness had described escaping with four other men, but because they were younger than him he could not keep up and was left behind.

The prosecution contends that these four were the same men whom Djokic encountered on July 18.

“After the investigation of this case involving the Djokic father and son, you noticed that the four Muslim prisoners were no longer there at the barracks, isn’t that correct?” Hasan asked.

“I didn’t see them after that,” the witness said.

Hasan then read out a statement which Jeremic gave the Office of the Prosecutor in January 2006.

“‘The prisoners were returned to the detention room at the brigade,’” she read. “‘I knew that the prisoners remained there for a time as I used to walk down that passage on occasion. Some days later, I noticed that the prisoners were no longer there. I do not know what happened to the prisoners and have never received any official information as to what became of them.’”

Hasan asked whether the witness stood by that statement, and he said he did.

“These prisoners are still missing today,” the prosecutor continued. “We have the record and the chamber has the record of the prisoners that were registered at the Batkovic collection centre and who were exchanged, and they were not amongst them.”

Hasan went on to name Almir Halilovic, who was 15 years old at the time of his disappearance.

“So I’m going to give you this opportunity to please tell us, for the sake of his mother, of his surviving relatives, what do you know about what happened to these prisoners and where can they be found?” she asked.

“I’ve already told you once that I did not make decisions and I have no idea whatsoever who it was who did make decisions. I mean, what kind of question is this?” Jeremic responded. “I don’t know, really I don’t know anything as you can see.... I was just taking statements so that Nesko and his son would be punished. I’m sorry if this happened, I really have no idea what happened to them. Can somebody here believe what I am saying?”

Hasan went on to ask about other injured Bosniak Muslim prisoners held at the barracks where Jeremic was stationed. Some 15 men were brought to the barracks infirmary from the Zvornik hospital.

“Now they were under the care of the chief of the medical centre of the Zvornik Brigade, Dr Zoran Begovic, and they were receiving treatment,” she said. “Do you recall these patients? One of them had an amputated lower leg.”

“I don’t remember if someone had an amputated leg but I think I saw wounded Muslim prisoners as I passed by the infirmary. It’s a hall that I had to go through in order to go [to the dormitory] upstairs,” the witness said.

Hasan noted that Dr Begovic testified in the case of Vujadin Popovic, the former chief of security of the Drina Corps who is serving a life sentence for his role in the Srebrenica killings.

Dr Begovic told that trial that the Bosniak prisoners were secured by military police, Hasan continued, asking whether Jeremic had seen these guards.

“Well, I don’t remember the details now. Possibly. I really do not remember who it was that guarded them,” he replied.

These prisoners were later put into a lorry and taken away. Jeremic said he was told “unofficially” that they were being taken to the Batkovic collection centre.

Hasan went on to allege that Jeremic knew that these and other prisoners were in fact later killed at a number of locations in the enclave.

“You were told that the Muslim prisoners were being shot at Orahovac, isn’t that the case?” she asked.

The witness disputed this, saying he heard of the killing later, although he could not say exactly when.

“You had also heard from Zvornik Brigade soldiers in the days after you saw the buses pass by the standard barracks… transporting Muslim men, that executions were also taking place in Pilica, isn’t that right?” she continued.

Jeremic again denied this, although he later agreed that there had “probably” been rumours of killings.

“At that time, not much was said about that, people kept quiet about it. Whether I heard something or not, or when I heard, I really don’t know,” he said.

 “Were you, or to your knowledge anyone in your unit, instructed to conduct any investigations into these executions that took place at Orahovac and Pilica?” Hasan asked.

“Nobody ever requested that,” Jeremic said. “None of the officers ever told me about that. Whatever I am telling you is based on hearsay, on what the soldiers were talking about, what I heard on the street, what rumours I heard. Nobody ever shared that information with me in any way.”

Daniella Peled is an IWPR editor in London.