Mladic Witness "Unaware" of Killings After Village Capture

Prosecutor probes former combatant’s knowledge of what happened to Bosniak captives.

Mladic Witness "Unaware" of Killings After Village Capture

Prosecutor probes former combatant’s knowledge of what happened to Bosniak captives.

Stojan Dzino, witness in the Mladic trial at the ICTY. (Photo: ICTY)
Stojan Dzino, witness in the Mladic trial at the ICTY. (Photo: ICTY)
Thursday, 18 September, 2014

Prosecutors questioning a defence witness in the trial of Ratko Mladic this week devoted much of their attention to events in just one Bosnian village, Ahatovici, and what happened to its Bosniak defenders after Serb forces captured it.

General Mladic was overall commander of the Bosnian Serb army from 1992 to 1996.

The witness was Stojan Dzino, who rose to become a battalion commander in the Bosnian Serb army in the course of the war, but who was a platoon commander in a local defence force in Bojnik in May 1992, the time of the events in question. Bojnik, Ahatovici and the then Serb garrison at Rajlovac are located near the Bosnian capital Sarajevo.

Defence lawyer Miodrag Stojanovic read out a summary of Dzino’s written statement giving an account of his role in a village defence force, his later career, and events in his area in 1991-92.

The statement said that conflict in the area broke out on May 1992 with a mortar attack launched by Bosnian government troops. Fighting spread to other villages including Bojnik and Ahatovici. Dzino’s unit took part, and after casualties on both sides, the Bosnian Serb side defeated the Bosnian government troops. His platoon captured 19 enemy soldiers, treated them humanely and handed them over to soldiers at the Rajlovac barracks, the statement said.

In his cross-examination, prosecutor Edward Jeremy asked about the attack on Ahatovici which occurred over May 29 to June 2. Bosnian Serb forces took control of the village on June 4.

The witness insisted that this was not an attack, but a counterattack against Bosnian government army operations in the area. Judge Alphons Orie intervened to say that “an attack includes a counterattack”, and asked the witness to follow this usage.

After the terminology was cleared up, Jeremy asked the witness, “You are aware that men from Ahatovici were detained following the takeover of Ahatovici by the Serbian army – yes?”

The witness assented,

“And you’re also aware that many of those persons were beaten, some of them to death?”

“I don’t know,” the witness replied.

After Dzino tried to make a separate point, Judge Orie instructed him to answer the questions put to him.

Jeremy then asked Dzino whether he had never been aware of these beatings and killings, or whether he was not aware at the time.

The witness said he went to the Rajlovic barracks – the scene of the alleged abuses – only later, on June 28, 1992.

He continued, “If you are asking me about prisoners of war, my unit killed 13 Muslim soldiers and captured 19. Of those 19, none of them, absolutely not a single one, was mistreated.”

Directed by the judge to answer the prosecutor’s question, the witness said that when he came to the barracks “a month or two” later, “I found out that there were such things.”

“Were you aware that some of those same persons who were taken from Ahatovici were subsequently loaded onto a bus and told that they would exchanged, and at one point this bus was stopped and Serb forces got out and the bus was attacked with small arms and rocket launchers? Were you aware of this particular event?” the lawyer asked.

“No,” Dzino replied.

Pressed on exactly when he did hear of this incident, Dzina said it was some time during the Bosnian war, and before 1995.

The prosecution then turned to the destruction of Ahatovici’s mosque on June 4, an incident that appears on the Mladic indictment.

Asked twice to confirm whether this happened while the Serb military was in the village, he said, “The mosque was destroyed at a point in time when the Serbian army entered Ahatovici.”

From a distance of between 500 metres and a kilometre, Dzino saw how the mosque’s minaret “flew up like a spaceship”.

“Combat was under way… and there was fierce firing at the time, mortars and other types of fire,” he said.

Asked whether it was Serb forces who destroyed the mosque, Dzino confirmed that it was.

Jeremy referred the court to an AFP news agency account, filed two weeks later, quoting eyewitnesses from Ahatovici describing how Bosnian Serb forces shot at and shelled homes, and then separated the men from other residents. Dzino said he was unaware of these events since he was outside the village when they would have occurred.

Questioned by Jeremy, he also said he was unaware of meetings that Rajlovac municipal assembly chairman Jovo Bozic had with army chief Mladic, senior army officer Colonel Stanislav Galic, and Bosnian Serb Assembly chairman Momcilo Krajisnik.

Prosecutors allege that Mladic was responsible for 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”.

He is also accused of planning and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead, as well as the massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.

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