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Relation Between VJ and VRS Probed

Witness denies that Bosnian Serb military depended on senior Yugoslav army officers.
A witness in the Hague trial of a former commander of the Yugoslav army, VJ, this week told the court that he believed this force and that of the Bosnian Serbs, the VRS, were separate at the time of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

Prosecution witness Miodrag Simic was giving evidence in the trial of Momcilo Perisic, former chief of general staff of the VJ, who has pleaded not guilty to 13 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Bosnia and Croatia.

Perisic served as the most senior officer in the VJ from 1993 to 1998, which under Yugoslav law made him subordinate only to the president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, FRY, and the FRY Supreme Defence Council, SDC.

According to the indictment, Perisic aided and abetted the massacre of some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995. Perisic also provided and paid for the senior officers responsible for the forcible transfers, inhumane treatment and killings at Srebrenica, the indictment continues.

Perisic’s authority, the indictment states, allowed the general to implement decisions of the VJ general staff and its subordinate units, as well as to transfer VJ personnel to the VRS and the Serbian Krajina army, SVK, for temporary assignments or indefinite periods.

Prosecutor Dan Saxon used a series of documents and maps to demonstrate what he believed to be coordination between the VJ and the VRS.

Simic, former chief of the general staff of the VJ, responded to questions on the chain of command in the VJ and the army’s relationship to the VRS. However, Simic denied that the VRS commanders were reliant on the VJ for senior command.

On March 1, Saxon questioned Simic about a series of documents related to directives on the use of the VRS army that were found in possession of the Drina Corps. According to the indictment, massacres of Muslim men and boys in the area in and around Srebrenica in July 1995 were in part planned, instigated and committed by leading commanders of the Drina Corps.

Simic was presented with an excerpt from the plan of radio communications by the VRS main staff, as directed to the Drina Corps command in December 1993, that showed secret call signs for command staff units and institutions.

Simic identified a series of the call signs, including those referring to the second and third armies of the VJ; the VJ air force, anti-aircraft defence and navy; the Pristina corps of the VJ; the main staff of the SVK; and the government of the Serbian Krajina.

Saxon read from a document on December 13, 1993 stating that “most of the senior officers have various problems” and that the VRS had requested “another senior [officer]” to be deployed.

“Did the VRS have a certain dependence on the VJ for senior officers?” Saxon asked, adding that the document suggested a strong connection between the senior officers of the VJ and the VRS.

“That would not be my conclusion,” Simic responded.

A document from October 19, 1993 showed Mladic’s decision to allow compensation for military service in difficult or special conditions, Saxon pointed out. He added that this related to a document from the VJ army personnel centre issued on February 3, 1994, which identified territories where service was carried out under aggravated conditions, and thus merited increased compensation.

“What General Mladic is saying is that he adopted a decision as commander of the main staff of the army of RS, based on rules of the army of VJ and decisions of the general staff of the army of Yugoslavia,” Saxon said, adding that the VJ decision about compensation to be paid seemed to be “partly based on [the] VRS decision issued by Mladic”.

Saxon wondered if this did not contradict Simic’s proposition that the VRS and VJ were two separate armies.

On March 2, Saxon questioned Simic about the Kozluk massacre on July 16, 1995, when, according to the indictment, “VRS and/or MUP (interior ministry) soldiers” worked together to transport 500 Bosniak males from the Srebrenica enclave to an isolated area near Kozluk, where they were executed with automatic weapons. On July 16, the indictment states, VRS soldiers buried the victims of the executions in a nearby mass grave.

During Simic’s testimony on February 25, Saxon said, the witness referred to the heightened security procedures of the VJ border patrols when testifying about the events surrounding the Srebrenica massacre.

“It was important to take measures of heightened security along the state border so armed persons would not cross the border, or… if they were to cross the border, would act in accordance with border service rules,” Saxon recalled Simic describing in his testimony.

Saxon showed Simic a daily operations report dated July 16, 1995 from the former VJ administration, saying that a civilian reported that a wounded Muslim soldier from Srebrenica was staying at his house and told him that 20 to 30 Muslim men and women were waiting in Kozluk, on the RS side of the Drina river, to cross over the border.

“This information provided by a captured Muslim man was important enough to send from the VJ border unit up the VJ chain of command, and be included in a daily operations report of the first administration of the VJ general staff,” Saxon noted.

“The fact that the operations centre falls with the first administration… it is in the service of the general staff to gather and assess information,” Simic responded.

Saxon asked whether, due to this report, the VJ border units in the Drina river valley focused more attention on the Kozluk village on the other side of the river.

“No,” Simic told the judges. “Heightened security along the length of the border with RS was in place, however, there was no special attention being paid to the individuals crossing the border. There were certain places where people were expected to cross the border.”

“The VRS members buried victims of the [Kozluk] execution in a mass grave nearby,” Saxon said. “Do you know if and when VJ units reported this massacre of 500 Muslim males?”

“I can confirm that I learned about it,” Simic said, without specifying when. “The staff was officially told about it.”

“Automatic weapons fired used to shoot 500 individuals – that makes a lot of noise, doesn’t it, General?” Saxon asked.

“There was combat in that area and a breakthrough was attempted,” Simic responded. “Who among the border guards could have known what was happening there? They probably did hear – they had to have heard – but a soldier on the border in the forest, on guard, is unable to conclude what is happening.”

Saxon asked whether the soldiers who heard such firing would be required to file a report, given the heightened level of security at the border.

“They were entrenched in the forest, watching, observing, they possibly had binoculars,” Simic said. “The border had just been established, not the border posts. It was not defined. It was an improvised thing still. Whatever they heard would be something they report.

“There was shooting on a daily basis. They could not determine what was going on.”

The trial continues next week.

Julia Hawes is an IWPR contributor.

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