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

Mladic Witness: Markale Investigations Were Inconclusive

UN engineer says it was impossible to establish location of mortar that fired lethal shell.
By Daniella Peled

A defence witness in the case of former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic said last week that investigators were unable to determine which army carried out a mortar attack on Sarajevo’s Markale market in 1994.

Prosecutors contend that the mortar shell which killed 66 civilians and wounded 140 on February 5, 1994 in the crowded market in central Sarajevo was fired from a Bosnian Serb army position in Mrkovici, outside the city. The incident is often called the first Markale attack, to distinguish it from a similar one in August 1995, which killed some 40 people and injured around 75.

Mladic’s defence team has called a series of witnesses to support its position that it is impossible to prove that the shell was fired by Bosnian Serb forces. (See for example Mladic Witness Casts Doubt on Markale Attack.)

Retired Canadian army officer Michel Gauthier gave his evidence by video link on September 21. He was accompanied by two Canadian government representatives whose role was to intervene if any state security issues arose, although they did not do so.

Gauthier was deployed to the former Yugoslavia as part of UNPROFOR, the United Nations protection force. From September 1993 to August 1994, he served as an engineer stationed at UNPROFOR headquarters in the Croatian capital Zagreb.

He previously provided a statement to Hague prosecutors in 2001 and testified in the case of former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic in 2012.

Defence lawyer Dragan Ivetic began by reading out a summary of the witness’s statement.

“After an explosion killed and wounded a large number of people at the Markale market on February 5, 1994, he was assigned to a UN investigation into the incident in question. He was the team leader of that investigation. They were told to confine their investigation to crater analysis and the related technical aspects of the explosion.”

Ivetic said that Gauthier’s team had disagreed with the methods used by the initial investigating team of French members of the UN.

“His investigating team found that the initial French team used an unconventional method to determine bearing and thus their results were suspect. The French had also chipped away at the hole to excavate the tail fin and thus enlarged the crater hole,” he read, adding that Gauthier’s team also found a mathematical error in that previous crater analysis. “Although they also tried to measure the angle of descent, due to the previous excavation of the crater and hole it was assessed that the results were not sufficiently accurate to be used as a basis for finding based on accepted crater analysis techniques. The ultimate conclusion reached was that the mortar bomb in question could have been fired by either side in the conflict.”

Describing how his team reached their conclusions, Gauthier said they had not asked for information from either the Bosnian government or Serb side as “hypothetically, if we had received reports from either side we, I believe, would have been leery of such reports, for fear that they would not be impartial and that they would need to be corroborated by other evidence”.

They had not questioned any Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) civilians either, as their evidence would have to be viewed “with some scepticism,” he continued.

"Again, given everything that the civilians had been through, there would be a question about their impartiality with respect to any specific incident, and again we would have had to corroborate this with independent evidence. That was our feeling at the time,” he said.

Gauthier also said it would not have helped the investigation to determine the source of manufacture for the mortar shells which fell on Markale. He said arms were so freely traded and captured by both sides that the origin of the bombs would not have proved anything.

In his cross-examination, prosecutor Adam Weber noted that the witness had had “little or no” experience of either ballistics or crater analysis at the time of the incident.

Gauthier agreed.

The witness also confirmed that neither he nor his team had visited Bosnian Serb army mortar positions in Mrkovici.

“You were aware that UN MOs [military observers] had been denied freedom of movement to Bosnian Serb army positions in the assessed direction of fire since October 1993, correct?” the defence asked.

“Correct,” Gauthier replied.

The 44-month siege of Sarajevo, which features prominently in the indictment against Mladic and includes the 1994 Markale attack, left nearly 12,000 people dead and many more injured. As wartime head of the Bosnian Serb army, Mladic is charged with crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible population transfer which “contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory”.

Daniella Peled is an IWPR editor in London.

More IWPR's Global Voices