Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
The "strategic goals" of Serb nationalists and the "strategic mistakes" of Bosnian political and military leaders prepared the ground for the tragic fall of Srebrenica in July 1995, a former Bosnian army commander testified last week.
General Sefer Halilovic, the former chief of staff of the Bosnian army, told the court that Sarajevo's miscalculations made it easier for the Bosnian Serbs to achieve their stated goals of building a "Greater Serbia".
Halilovic and Enver Hadzihasanovic, commander of the Bosnian army at the time of Srebrenica's downfall in 1995, were summoned to testify in the trial of Radislav Krstic, a Bosnian Serb generalaccused of involvement in mass killings following the collapse of the enclave.
The judges sought their testimony to establish the truth about events related to the Srebrenica massacre and especially the presence and role of the 28th division of the Bosnian army in the Srebrenica enclave.
In Europe's worst war crime since World War Two, at least 7,000 Bosniak men and boys were killed after Bosnian Serb forces under General Ratko Mladic's command seized the town in July 1995.
Halilovic told the court that Bosnian authorities should have secured the besieged enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa before launching an offensive to break the encirclement of the capital Sarajevo.
Instead, Halilovic said, the isolated enclaves were abandoned and "left at the mercy of Mladic's forces".
Halilovic also said that once Bosnian Serb forces launched an offensive against Srebrenica and Zepa, the government army should have interrupted its operations in Sarajevo and diverted all available forces to defend the
The general said that in his opinion Srebrenica could have been defended by coordinated action of government forces in and outside the enclave.
But he said the enclave's defences were undermined earlier when the Sarajevo government withdrew the commander of the 28th division, Naser Oric, and 18 other officers in the spring of 1995. The officers were sent for training in the government-held town of Zenica in central Bosnia.
Bosnian Serb officials at the time tried to justify the attack on Srebrenica as a response to "terrorist attacks" by Bosnian troops stationed in the area.
Encircling Serb forces restricted delivery offood aid to the enclave, shelled it and cut off power and water. They demanded that government soldiers disarm under terms set out by the United Nations, which had designated Srebrenica a "safe area".
According to Halilovic and Hadzihasanovic, the 28th division in Srebrenicadid not represent "any threat" for surrounding Serb forces. The latter presented a series of tables about the strength, arms and equipment of the division, saying it had only 10 to 30 per cent ofthe arms and equipment it required.
In such a weak state, the unit could not resist the coordinated Bosnian Serb offensive, the general said.
After Serb forces entered Srebrenica, between 5,500 and 6,000 fighters and a large number of civilians tried to make their way to government-held territory, forming a 15-kilometer long column in the woods. Only some 3,000 soldiers and a small number of civilians reached safety in Tuzla.
According to data presented by General Hadzihasanovic, between 8,300 and 9,700 people were killed in ambushes in the area or detained and executed by Serb forces.
The generals' testimony concluded the evidentiary procedure in the Krstic trial.
Closing arguments for the defence and prosecution are scheduled for the beginning of May. The judgement is expected in the middle of July -- the six year anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre.
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