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Srebrenica Trial Told Of Branjevo Horrors

Witness played dead while those around him were executed.
By Merdijana Sadović
The trial of seven Bosnian Serb military and police officers continued this week with the testimony of a survivor of the Srebrenica massacre who described in gripping detail the horrors he suffered after the enclave was overrun by Serb forces in July 1995.

Ahmo Hasic – believed to be one of only 12 men who survived the slaughter of 8,000 Muslim men and boys – told the judges he stayed alive only by playing dead after Serb soldiers started shooting.

The trial chamber heard a similar testimony last week from Mevludin Oric who described how he lay under a pile of dead bodies for several hours.

On trial are Ljubisa Beara, Vujadin Popovic, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Vinko Pandurevic and Drago Nikolic, who face genocide and war crimes charges. Radivoj Miletic and Milan Gvero are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Hasic, 70, is not new to the court. In 2001, he testified at the trial of Bosnian Serb general Radislav Krstic, currently serving a 35-year prison sentence in Britain after being found guilty of aiding and abetting genocide.

In 2003, Hasic was also a prosecution witness at the trial of Bosnian Serb military officers Vidoje Blagojevic and Dragan Jokic. They were sentenced to 18 and 19 years respectively for their role in the massacre.

Last week, as he had done previously, Hasic told the judges that on July 13 he was separated from his family in Potocari and taken to the nearby Serb-held town of Bratunac, where he and hundreds of other Muslims were detained in the Vuk Karadzic elementary school.

But the true horror began on July 16, when the prisoners were taken to the nearby Branjevo farm. According to the indictment against the seven, it was at Branjevo that approximately 1,200 Bosnian Muslim males were summarily executed by automatic gunfire from members of the 10th Sabotage Detachment, the Bratunac Brigade and others.

Hasic’s two sons and two brothers died in Srebrenica. Last year he reburied one of his sons after his remains were excavated from a mass grave near Srebrenica. He still hasn’t found his other son.

As he got off the bus, Hasic saw an entire field covered with dead bodies. Serb soldiers then lined up the prisoners from Hasic’s group and the mass execution began.

“I fell down before I was shot,” he said. “The bullets whizzed past me.”

While lying on the ground he saw more buses filled with Muslim detainees arriving, most of whom suffered the same fate. “The buses were unloaded, and the prisoners were lined up and then executed,” said Hasic.

Hasic lay under a pile of dead bodies for hours as Bosnian Serb soldiers walked around the field looking for survivors. “One man who was lying not very far from me said, ‘I’m alive’. The other one said, ‘I’m wounded, come and finish me off’. Serb soldiers then shot them both dead,” he said.

He continued, “I knew I didn’t have much time, because the Serbs would come back with trucks and bulldozers to remove all those bodies. So I waited until dusk, and… crawled through the layers of dead bodies to the bushes at the edge of the field.”

There he found four other survivors. They all stayed hidden until dark, looking at the grisly scene in front of them. “There were between 1,000 and 1,500 bodies lying on the ground. They were all dead,” Hasic told the court.

The five slipped away into the forest after nightfall, but Hasic’s journey was far from over. The oldest man in the group, he was outpaced and soon got left behind and walked all night in the darkness, thirsty and exhausted.

In the morning, he found an asphalted road, but just as he began crossing, he saw a truck coming along it. “It was a Serb truck, full of dead bodies,” he said. He believes the bodies were being taken from the execution site to a mass grave.

“The driver told me to stop, but I kept on walking,” he said. “He probably thought I was a Serb too, so he let me go.”

Hasic spent another 10 days wandering the hills around Srebrenica, and was captured by the Bosnian Serb military again. He was transferred to the camp in Batkovic, under the watchful eye of the Red Cross, and released five months later.

Merdijana Sadovic is IWPR’s Hague project manager.

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