Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Top Serb Officer Saw Karadzic as Ultimate Authority

Prosecution witness was chief of staff in Bosnian Serb military.
By Velma Šarić
  • Prosecution witness Manojlo Milovanovic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
    Prosecution witness Manojlo Milovanovic in the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)

The former chief-of-staff of the Bosnian Serb Army, VRS, told the Hague tribunal this week that Radovan Karadzic was the ultimate wartime authority and that the military’s central command was under his personal control.

Former Bosnian Serb president Karadzic, who is representing himself in the courtroom, argued that during the war, the VRS was subordinate not only to him as head of state but also to its commander-in-chief General Ratko Mladic.

Mladic, who was arrested in May 2011 after 16 years as a fugitive, was "at least equally authoritative”, Karadzic claimed this week.

Prosecution witness Manojlo Milovanovic, who as chief of staff reported directly to Mladic, disagreed.

"You remember, Mr President, that we from the main staff were under your personal command continuously, and that you were the only member of the supreme command who could give us commands, no one else," he said to the defendant in court.

Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, who was president of Bosnia's self-declared Republika Srpska, RS, from 1992 to 1996, is responsible for crimes of 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 planning and overseeing the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead, as well as the massacre of some 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995.

Karadzic was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run. Witness testimony in his trial got under way in April 2010.

In court, he asked the witness whether he "remembered the whole conflict he [Karadzic] had with Mladic”. The witness said he recall this.

"It wasn't easy commanding with him around, he was a tough guy, a really strong-minded person,” Karadzic continued.

He went on to say he had offered Mladic’s job as VRS commander-in-chief to Milovanovic himself. The witness confirmed that this was true, but that he did not accept because Karadzic “only offered the position at a strategically disastrous time for the VRS when they were losing positions, and only a fool would accept to be commander at such a time”.

Earlier, Milovanovic – who has testified in other trials at the Hague tribunal – told prosecutors that he knew Karadzic “more or less from the very beginning”, but was an “even longer acquaintance of Ratko Mladic”.

He said he met Mladic in 1981, and that their relationship was “one of occasional conflict and competition”. This changed in early 1992 when the witness joined the central staff of the VRS.

“Due to my background within the Yugoslav People's Army as colonel, I was named head of the main staff, and I was second-in-command to Mladic within the VRS,” Milovanovic said. “It was thus that our relationship strengthened over time.”

The witness said he was promoted to general in 1996, before leaving the army in 1998 to serve as RS minister of defence.

Milanovic said that in the Bosnian war, there were “many crimes committed by all sorts of people”, including paramilitary leaders like Zeljko “Arkan” Raznatovic, commander of the Serb Voluntary Guard, also known as the Tigers, a unit known for its brutality against civilians.

Arkan was gunned down in a Belgrade hotel in 2000 before he could be transferred to The Hague on war crime charges.

"[Arkan’s] unit was involved in war crimes beyond the state’s scope of activity,” Milovanovic said. “But this is not to say that the state ignored the unit. In fact, Arkan personally met the entire state leadership of Republika Srpska in August 1995.”

The witness indicated that he personally attended this meeting.

“We were having a hard time with the discipline of his [Arkan’s] unit; they were almost impossible to integrate,” Milovanovic said. “I personally was trying to do my best to get rid of the troublemakers, but I remember Ratko Mladic personally telling me that it would be taken care of.”

The witness explained that he later found out that “taken care of” meant that “the unit was officially bade farewell by Karadzic himself, who gave them his thanks and called them true defenders of Serb homes and Serb land”.

Speaking about Karadzic's role in the command structure, he said the president and “the other people in the supreme command” were responsible for “tactical directives about the direction in which the war should develop”.

“Practically, any directive would go twice to the supreme commanders, ie Karadzic's desk, once for review and specification of the text, and a second time for signing and authorisation,” Milovanovic said.

This included the March 1995 “Directive Seven” containing instructions to create an “unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope for further survival or life” for residents of the eastern Bosnian enclaves of Srebrenica and Zepa.

Karadzic was, according to the witness, aware of population transfers conducted by so-called “travel agencies”, in reality local commanders who sold rights of “safe passage”. In one meeting held in March 1995, the witness quoted Karadzic as saying these activities were a “good thing and that it was actually his wish that there were as few Muslims in Republika Srpska as possible, without getting the state involved in the whole affair”.

During cross-examination, Karadzic said his 1995 remarks had been “misunderstood”; in fact, he had been trying to ensure that “the people are safe and sound and outside of the fighting area”.

Here the witness interrupted to say that while Karadzic “may try to interpret the facts, his sentences are very clearly stated in the protocol of the meeting”.

At the end of the cross-examination, Karadzic referred to a book written by the witness called "Truths and Lies about the War in Bosnia and Hercegovina", published in 2005. He pointed out claims made in the book that there was “no evidence that the VRS ever terrorised civilians in Sarajevo”, and that the “war was quite clearly started by the Muslim-Croat coalition and that Serbs only created an army as a defence reaction”.

The witness agreed with Karadzic that crimes in Sarajevo including the February 1994 bombardment of the Markale market which killed some 60 people were “staged” by the Bosnian govt army in order to damage the reputation of the VRS.

Karadzic asked the witness whether a project existed to expel Muslims and Croats from Bosnian Serb territory. Milovanovic answered “no”, and went on to say that “however, at the same time more than 150,000 Serbs were expelled and up to seven thousand were killed in Sarajevo under Muslim control”.

When presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon asked whether he had proof of this claim, the witness said that he “couldn't give a qualified answer” because it was not his area of expertise.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR contributor in Sarajevo.