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

Mladic Witness: Soldiers and POWs Treated Equally

Former quartermaster in Serb unit tells tribunal that everyone suffered from shortages but there was no discrimination.
By Daniella Peled

A defence witness in the trial of wartime Bosnian Serb army commander Ratko Mladic told judges this week that prisoners at the Manjaca detention camp received just the same rations as Bosnian Serb troops.

Bosko Amidzic’s testimony contradicts evidence previously heard at the Hague tribunals that detainees at Manjaca underwent starvation, forced labour and physical abuse.

During the war, Amidzic was the chief of quartermaster services in the Bosnian Serb Army’s 1st Krajina Corps.

“My duty was not only to provide food but also accommodation, change of clothing and bathing,” Amidzic said. “I can add another thing. The assortment of articles and needs that were provided according to these calculations did not differ at all from the rations I provided to others. Often this was not sufficient, but this was the case for all.”

Defence lawyer Dragan Ivetic asked the witness to explain who he was referring to when he talked about “others”.

“I mean other units that were there for security in the entire area, because the POW camp had to be supplied with food according to the norms and standards that are prescribed otherwise. I made no distinction between the members of the army and the persons who were in the camps. I did it in an equal way depending on the numbers involved,” the witness replied.

Presiding Judge Alphons Orie asked the witness whether he was present when food was distributed.

“Most often I was not, because the POWs organised this themselves... it was a rare occasion when I would be there when food was distributed,” Amidzic replied.

Judge Orie asked the witness to could explain what percentages of the required amounts of food were actually distributed to the prisoners.

“I cannot tell you about percentages,” Amidzic responded. “The assortment of articles differed. Sometimes there was a full assortment and sometimes articles were lacking. So when I didn’t have it for that [purpose], I didn’t have it for others either – when I had no way of getting hold of things like that. I’m saying that the pattern of supply was the same for officers and soldiers on the front and these persons who were in the POW camp.”

Shortfalls meant that “often the meals would simply be poorer. There simply wouldn’t be a full selection of articles.”

The witness emphasised that the military supply service distributed necessities “in a very professional and responsible way”.

Amidzic was then asked about humanitarian organisations which were allowed into the camp to assist prisoners. He explained that they helped fill “gaps” in what he could supply, most often food, cleaning materials and medical supplies.

He named the Muslim charity Merhamet and Catholic NGO Caritas, but went on to make it clear he believed their reports of ill-treatment at the detention camp were false.

“We looked at the same things, and then their stories ended up being different. They would end up saying a lot of irregular things were going on, including inhumane treatment, ill-treatment, torture,” Amidzic said.

He went on to deny evidence given by a prosecution witness in the Mladic case that charity workers from Merhamet took away the bodies of some 40 dead Bosnian Muslim prisoners from the camp for burial.

Amidzic described taking visitors from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to inspect the camp. “We showed everybody everything, we opened every room,” he said.

The witness also recalled his first meeting with Mladic on the day the general was appointed commander of the Bosnian Serb army. Amidzic said that at first sight, he knew Mladic was “very resolute, energetic, and above all he showed this decisiveness and this fairness by his own example... we did such a lot of work together and he never – really never – disappointed me. I had great confidence in him”.

Prosecutors allege that Mladic is responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible population transfer. He is also accused of the massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995, and of planning and overseeing the siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead.

During cross-examination, prosecuting lawyer Arthur Traldi began by asking about the structure of the 1st Krajina Corps and its chain of command.

The witness said the corps’s assistant commander of logistics, Colonel Vaso Tepsic, was his direct superior until he was killed. Then Amidzic took over that position.

Traldi produced a document from October 1992 detailing ammunition which the 1st Krajina Corps had used between May and September that year. It amounted to millions of small-arms rounds, tens of thousands of mortar shells and almost 2,000 rockets.

The lawyer said that although Amidzic had stressed the logistical difficulties facing the corps, this document indicated that it must have had “sufficient resources” to be able to expend so much ammunition.

The witness said he had not seen this document before.

The prosecution moved on to the destruction of the Ferhadija Mosque in Banja Luka, which the witness mentioned in his statement.

“That was not the only mosque destroyed in Banja Luka during the war, was it?” Traldi asked.

“I learned that it was not the only one. However, I can’t tell you how many such facilities were destroyed. I’m not in a position to know that so I can’t say anything for a fact,” Amidzic answered.

Traldi then referred to a report the witness sent to the Bosnian Serb army’s main staff and to the forward command post of the 1st Krajina Corps on May 7,1993, noting that two other mosques had been destroyed at about the same time as the Ferhadija Mosque.

“I can see that,” Amidzic said.

“The chamber has received evidence that there were 16 mosques in Banja Luka before the war and none of them survived undamaged. That’s true isn’t it?” Traldi asked.

The witness said he did not know.

Later, returning to the conditions that prisoners experienced in the Manjaca camp, the prosecution referred to reports from the Merhamet charity as well as from the ICRC that inmates were mistreated. Traldi noted a document produced by the ICRC in which detainees were said to have “fresh bruises” and “visible traces of recent beating”.

The witness said that he had not seen prisoners exhibiting signs of abuse, and that he had no knowledge of any inmates being killed.

“I was not aware of any murders of prisoners in Manjaca,” Amidzic said. 

The trial continues.

Daniella Peled is an IWPR editor in London.