Sniper Fire Victims Testify in Perisic Trial

Lawyers for the accused argue Sarajevo sniper fire victim could have been hit by soldiers on either side of the conflict.

Sniper Fire Victims Testify in Perisic Trial

Lawyers for the accused argue Sarajevo sniper fire victim could have been hit by soldiers on either side of the conflict.

Defence counsel for Momcilo Perisic, the former chief of staff of the Yugoslav army, VJ, this week sought to question claims by a Sarajevo resident that she was hit by Serb sniper fire during the 44-month siege of the city.

Sabina Sabanic, a prosecution witness in the Perisic trial, told judges this week that she was injured by Serb sniper fire while riding a tram. She said Serb forces opened fire on civilians during the siege, which began in April 1992. However, the defence argued that the shots could have been fired from troops on either side in the conflict.

Perisic – who commanded the VJ at the time of the Sarajevo siege, as well as the Srebrenica genocide in July 1995 – is standing trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including persecution, murder and extermination of civilians in Bosnia and Croatia between 1993 and 1995. He is accused of aiding and abetting the deliberate killing and wounding of thousands of Sarajevo civilians in sniper attacks, artillery and mortar shelling.

The prosecution is trying to prove that the accused was aware of war crimes committed during the siege by troops under the command of then Bosnian Serb army, VRS, chief Ratko Mladic and Sarajevo Romanija Corps commanders Stanislav Galic and Dragomir Milosevic. Galic was sentenced by the tribunal’s appeal chamber to life imprisonment for his role in these crimes, while Milosevic received a 33-year sentence, which is now under appeal.

The indictment alleges that Perisic, as head of the Belgrade-controlled VJ, provided substantial personnel, military and logistic assistance to the VRS during the conflict.

Sabanic, who lived in Sarajevo throughout the siege, said she had been riding on a crowded tram in the city on November 23, 1994, when it came under fire. She was shot in the right shoulder, she said.

Before the witness began her testimony, the prosecution said in an introductory statement that the sniper fire which hit her had come from skyscrapers in Serb-held territory and that the shooting occurred during a ceasefire – the only time when trams would have been running.

Sabanic said the tram had been filled with civilians, mostly women, and added that she saw no soldiers in the area at the time. The vehicle came under fire as it traveled along one of Sarajevo’s main streets, Zmaj od Bosne, on a stretch of road that Sabanic described as the most dangerous in the city at that time. She said the tram was particularly crowded because some people just got on for one stop to avoid having to walk along the hazardous stretch of road.

During cross examination, the defence tried to show that the gunfire could have come either from the VRS or Bosnian government forces, ABiH, by asking the witness if she was aware that both sides in the conflict had snipers stationed in Sarajevo at that time.

However, she remained adamant that the tram had been shot at by Serbs.

“I was a civilian and what I experienced on my own skin I know came from the Serbian side. They were shooting at our civilians,” she said.

Novak Lukic, the defence lawyer for Perisic, then asked her whether she herself knew that Serb snipers were shooting at civilians, or whether she had just heard that this was happening from neighbours or the media.

She said that she believed this to be the case because of the high numbers of incidents which took place along the road.

“That was the place where people were killed or wounded most often – on that stretch of road,” she replied.

When probed by the defence about whether she was aware that both sides in the conflict had violated ceasefires during in the course of the war – and that both sides were cautioned by the United Nations Protection Force, UNPROFOR, for doing so – she said that she knew only about one side – the Serb side – from her own experience.

Another prosecution witness, Alen Gicevic – a former medical crew driver for the ABiH – also told judges that he was shot by a sniper as he took a tram along Zmaj od Bosne. Gicevic said that in March 1995, he was hit in the leg at a point near the Holiday Inn hotel.

Like Sabanic, Gicevic said he believed the shots were fired from a building held by Serbs.

The witness, who previously testified in the trial of former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, was asked by Lukic if he had seen where the bullet that injured him had come from.

He said that he had not.

The defence then asked Gicevic if it was correct that he had said at an earlier stage that he could only assume the shots had come from the direction of certain buildings because these positions were easily seen from the tram.

Gicevic replied that it was.

Lukic then read out part of a statement that the witness had previously given to the Office of the Prosecutor, OTP, which said, “The Chetniks held these positions – when I say Chetniks, I mean the worst part of the Serb population.” Chetniks was a term used to describe World War Two-era royalist fighters – and in the Balkan conflict of the early Nineties, was also used to refer to Serbian fighters.

The witness confirmed that he had made the remark. He was then asked by Lukic if the buildings in question were located in territory held by the ABiH, and said he believed this to be the case. However, he added that as he had stopped working for the Bosnian army the year before the incident, he could not be certain where its positions were at that time.

The defence asked Gicevic to clarify how many shots he had heard.

“I kept saying that it seems to me that I heard two or three shots,” replied the witness. “Perhaps there were two shots and then the third sound was that of the window pane smashing. But it is very difficult to distinguish all these sounds when one is being shot at.”

The trial continues next week.
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