Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
A prosecution witness in the trial of former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic told Hague tribunal judges this week that the troops besieging Sarajevo did not seem to adhere to any “ethical principles”.
The witness was a French officer serving with the United Nations Protection Force, UNPROFOR, in Sarajevo in 1995, the final year of the siege.
The witness testified under the pseudonym RM-55, with image and voice distortion to protect his identity.
Mladic is standing trial 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". He is also accused of organising and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo.
RM-55 has already testified in a number of Hague trials of Serb military and political leaders accused of crimes committed during the siege of Sarajevo, including Bosnian Serb general Dragomir Milosevic, ex-Yugoslav Army chief Momcilo Perisic, and former Bosnian Serb president Radovan Karadzic.
Milosevic and Perisic have been sentenced to 29 and 27 years in prison, respectively, while Karadzic's trial is ongoing.
This week, a summary of RM-55’s written statement based on testimony he gave in those other trials was submitted into evidence.
The witness said he was an UNPROFOR official based in Sarajevo during 1995. He told judges he was "frequently outside of the [UNPROFOR] camp and spent a significant period of time in the city" while serving there.
He was asked to explain his understanding of Bosnian Serb sniper activity.
"The shooting was very random and the Serb forces seemingly did not have any ethical principles they adhered to", RM-55 explained. "They basically wanted to crush the city, its inhabitants and their morale, and the sniper shootings seemed very logical in that regard – they were a means to achieve that goal."
RM-55 said he witnessed several incidents involving Serb artillery and sniper fire.
Since UNPROFOR headquarters was located near the main television station in Sarajevo, he described a 1995 attack on this building which he observed personally.
"In June 1995, I believe it was the 28th, I [saw] a modified air bomb, which was called 'the sow', hit the building of the television station in Sarajevo," he said. He added that the explosion was extremely loud and that it resembled a train crushing into a building. He also said that the bomb flew so slowly that it could be seen with a naked eye.
The Bosnian Serb army is alleged to have targeted Sarajevo with aircraft bombs modified into self-propelled projectiles launched from the ground.
The witness also spoke about the August 1995 attack on the Markale market which left 43 people dead and 75 injured. This incident is listed in the indictment against Mladic.
RM-55 said that at the time of the attack, he was standing in front of the French embassy, which was within walking distance from the Markale market.
He said he heard the explosion clearly and was in "no doubt it was caused by a mortar shell fired from sufficient distance."
After the witness’s brief remarks, Mladic's defence lawyer Branko Lukic put it to him that his testimony was "largely based on personal statements and not on fact or objective observation".
He showed the witness a photo of the body of a man called Vehid Komar taken at a morgue. According to Lukic, Komar is "on the list of the victims of the  Markale incident".
"Do the wounds on the body look like wounds from a grenade [mortar bomb]?" Lukic asked.
"They don't; they rather resemble bullet wounds", the RM-55 answered.
"And you are still claiming that you heard a mortar grenade explosion?"
"Yes, in fact several of them," the witness replied, adding that "there were some grenades that apparently had hit some of the areas around the market and some of the side streets" as well.
RM-55 told the court that it had seemed logical to him to go and view the site where the largest number of people had been killed.
The defence claims that the Bosnian government side brought the bodies of people killed elsewhere to the Markale market, in order to increase the number of apparent casualties and provoke NATO into striking at Serb positions around Sarajevo.
Lukic also implied that the argument that Bosnian Serb forces were responsible for the Markale attack was the personal opinion of the UNPROFOR commander at the time, General Rupert Smith, "and apparently of the witness".
To this, RM-55 replied, "I did in fact take part in the creating of the report [on the Markale attack] and was very well aware that there were many possible options. But they were all considered by experts, and only after careful consideration did we come to a final conclusion."
The trial will continue with testimony from General Smith; this is expected to take several days.
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.
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