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

Mladic's Forces Deliberately Targeted Sarajevo Residents – Witness

Former UN peacekeeping officer says Bosnian Serb gunfire was “wanton and indiscriminate”.
By Velma Šarić
  • Retired Canadian general David Fraser, who appeared as a prosecution witness in the Mladic trial. (Photo: ICTY)
    Retired Canadian general David Fraser, who appeared as a prosecution witness in the Mladic trial. (Photo: ICTY)

The former deputy commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Sarajevo testified this week that Ratko Mladic was in “clear” command of his army, which deliberately targeted civilians in the city.

Retired Canadian general David Fraser, who appeared as a prosecution witness in the Mladic trial, is a familiar face at the Hague tribunal.

In March, he testified in the trial of wartime Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic. In addition, he appeared in the Hague trials of Bosnian Serb generals Stanislav Galic and Dragomir Milosevic, both of whom have been sentenced for crimes committed in and around the Bosnian capital during the 1992-95 war.

Mladic, who commanded the Bosnian Serb army, VRS, between 1992 and 1996, is accused of planning and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo, which left nearly 12,000 people dead. He is indicted for genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer, which "contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory".

General Fraser was deputy commander of the UN peacekeeping force UNPROFOR in Sarajevo between April 1994 and May 1995.

He told the court that during his deployment in Sarajevo, he observed that the Bosnian Serb army commanded by Mladic "deliberately” used heavy artillery and sniper fire against the population of Sarajevo.

"The [VRS] did react to fire and provocations by the Bosnian [government] army", Fraser said, adding that the Serb response was "clearly exaggerated".

"When the VRS would fire, they would fire wantonly and indiscriminately. For every time that the Muslim [Bosnian] Army fired [at them], they would fire ten times as much," he explained.

He added that as a form of warfare, "shelling a city as densely populated as Sarajevo was clearly not an adequate measure, as it was basically impossible to know where the shells would impact".

This is particularly true of “modified air bombs", Fraser explained. He said that he had heard "reliable reports" that the VRS was firing these munitions at Sarajevo.

The term refers to aircraft bombs which were refitted so that they could be fired from a launcher on the ground.

"In my personal view, there was no sense in using them, no military reason for doing so," the witness stated.

Fraser said that during his assignment in Sarajevo, he met Mladic on several occasions.

"He was clearly in command, the top of the command structure within the VRS," the witness said, adding that this was visible from the behaviour of generals Galic and Milosevic, who were "clearly subordinate to Mladic in their decision-making".

"Mladic seemed to have a particular personal disliking for UNPROFOR and seemed very suspicious of our activity," Fraser said. "I felt that in the RS [Republika Srpska], our troops were under intense scrutiny and did not have freedom to operate within their mandate."

During cross-examination of the witness, Mladic's defence lawyer Dan Ivetic questioned Fraser's objectivity, saying it had been a feature of UNPROFOR “to act disproportionately in relation to attacks by Serb forces and those by Muslim forces."

Ivetic asked Fraser whether he knew that Michael Rose, former commander of UNPROFOR, had previously testified at the tribunal that Bosnian government forces had hired "snipers to shoot civilians from such angles so that they could blame Serbs”.

Fraser said he knew nothing about this claim, but he did confirm that there was fire from either side and that "in both cases, civilians were victims".

"In one case, an area [of Sarajevo] was bombed twice, once by Serb forces and then immediately after by Muslim forces, and both cases of shelling resulted in victims. This could have quite well happened so that the Bosnian Army could have a pretext to blame the Serb side for this shelling,” the witness continued.

Ivetic also made reference to the fact that in November 1994, UNPROFOR asked NATO to bomb Bosnian Serb army positions from the air. The witness said he was aware of this.

"But did you ever ask for the Muslim forces to be bombed too?" the defence lawyer asked.

"No, we did not, because while there were indeed incidents caused by the Bosnian [government] Army, they never reached such a level of intensity as if to require a third-party intervention, which was the case with [Bosnian Serb army] incidents, however," Fraser replied.

Ivetic also asked the witness whether he was familiar with an incident in September 1994 in which a convoy of cars carrying the UNPROFOR commander was "hit by Muslim forces”.

Fraser answered that he was, but that he "considered this a singular incident, as the convoy had found itself unexpectedly in a cross-fire exchange" between Muslim and Serb forces.

Mladic was arrested in Serbia in May 2011, after evading arrest for 16 years. The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.

More IWPR's Global Voices