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Role of Bosnian Serb Military Police Examined

Witness gives evidence in trial of Tolomir who’s charged with crimes relating to the Srebrenica killings.
By Velma Šarić

The trial of Zdravko Tolimir at the Hague tribunal continued this week with a testimony from Dragomir Keserovic, a retired general of the Bosnian Serb Army, VRS, who described the role of the military police.

Tolimir, who was the assistant commander for intelligence and security of the main staff of the VRS during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, is charged with genocide and other crimes in relation to the execution of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys from Srebrenica in July 1995.

Keserovic now works as a professor of security studies at the University of Banja Luka. Until 2004, he was an assistant minister of defence, serving at the same time as the chief of the VRS security department. He was removed from office by the then high representative of the international community in Bosnia.

“What were the reasons given by the High Representative for such a decision?” prosecutor Peter McCloskey asked.

“It was mentioned that ..I hadn’t done enough to contribute to the finding and arrest of persons indicted for war crimes at the Hague tribunal, and it was deemed as a sign of non-cooperation with the tribunal,” Keserovic answered.

This was not Keserovic’s first appearance at The Hague. He testified before the tribunal in June of 2004, following a request from the defence of the former commander of the VRS Bratunac brigade, Vidoje Blagojevic.

Blagojevic was sentenced to 15 years by the appeals chamber for aiding and abetting murder, persecutions and forcible transfer of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica and Bratunac, and is now serving his sentence in Norway. Prior to his testimony in the Blagojevic case, Keserovic also confirmed having spoken to Jean Rene Ruez, a tribunal investigator, in 2000.

He began his testimony explaining the structure of command of security forces in RS, underlining that it was ultimately the commanders of individual units who were the ones authorised to, and responsible for, “commanding the units on the ground”.

He also explained that, up to February 1995, he was commander of military police of the First Krajina Batallion of the VRS.

“The condition of most military police units was poor,” Keserovic explained, “since most of them had simply grown out of the war and few had any pre-war experience.”

“The military police had a unit which was in charge of transferring people, all kinds of individuals who were supposed to be transferred from one place to another, including prisoners of war,” the witness stated, explaining his scope of work.

Then McCloskey asked whether, for example, whether on July 13, 1995, the security officer of the Bratunac Brigade could have ordered that ten buses full of Muslim men go to Bratunac, without informing the commander of the brigade about this?

“No, by no means, the security officer could not order or determine such a thing; it could possibly only have been the commander who could organise everything, including the necessary transport means. The military police or the security officer would only have been in charge with implementing such a task, ie acting as an escort,” the witness said.

Keserovic’s rank grew with time, and he ultimately retired from the army as a general- major.

In July 1995, during the Srebrenica and Zepa campaigns, he was in Srebrenica as a lieutenant-colonel, in charge of the military police within the sector for military intelligence and security affairs within the VRS main staff, which was then headed by Tolimir.

Apart from military police, the sector consisted of various other units, which were all headed by officers subordinate to Tolimir, Keserovic explained.

Referring to an event on July 15, 1995, Keserovic said that it was VRS commander and Hague fugitive Ratko Mladic who ordered the witness “to go to the command of the Bratunac Brigade, take over the command over all the military police units which were carrying out the ‘canvassing and interception’ operations in the wider area of Srebrenica, and ‘speed things up’.

“I tried to tell Mladic that it was impossible for a lieutenant colonel to do a task like that, but it was to no avail. Mladic said that he would ask General Miletic to write down such an order and deliver it to all the units taking part in the operations.”

Mladic then said that “he would talk to Tolimir about this”.

Prosecutor McCloskey asked why Mladic said he would talk to Tolimir, and why Mladic was dealing with an operation carried out by military police.

“Well, Mladic as a staff general, was a general to everyone, including the military police. And he said he would talk to Tolimir because Tolimir was his assistant in such questions,” the witness answered, adding that “such actions were always supposed to be operationalised through Tolimir and then through Keserovic.

“However, it was not Tolimir’s competence to issue a command or orders – Mladic was the only one who could have commanded such a thing.”

Asked by the prosecutor whether Tolimir would have been obliged to act as Mladic ordered, Keserovic said, “Yes, as long as he didn’t order something illegal.”

“And if he got an illegal order?”

“Then he should have refused to act accordingly”, the witness replied.

Tolimir, who represents himself, was arrested on May 31, 2007 and brought to the tribunal. At the outset of the trial in December 2009, he pleaded not guilty to all counts.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist.

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