Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
UK Reporter Recalls Visegrad Offensive
Journalist Ian Traynor of the British newspaper the Guardian told judges at the Hague tribunal last week about joint military operations by the Yugoslav Army, JNA, and irregular forces from Serbia in the Visegrad area of eastern Bosnia in April 1992.
Traynor used his wartime notes in evidence for the prosecution at the trial of two former senior officials of the Bosnian Serb police, Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin, who are charged with ten counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Their alleged crimes include persecution, extermination, murder, torture, inhumane acts and deportation as crimes against humanity, in addition to murder, torture and cruel treatment as violations of the laws or customs of war.
Zupljanin - the former head of the regional security services centre in Banja Luka and adviser to Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, who is on trial for genocide - is accused of the extermination, murder, persecution, and deportation of non-Serbs in north-western Bosnia between April and December, 1992.
Stanisic, a former minister of the Bosnian Serb ministry of internal affairs, is charged with murder, torture and cruel treatment of non-Serb civilians, as well as for his failure to prevent or punish crimes committed by his subordinates.
Stanisic and Zupljanin are alleged to have participated in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at the permanent removal of non-Serbs from the territory of an intended Serbian state. They are accused of crimes committed between April 1 and December 31, 1992, in 20 municipalities throughout Bosnia and Hercegovina, including Visegrad.
Traynor said he had arrived from Belgrade at Mali Zvornik, on the Serbian Serb of the Bosnian border on April 12. 1992.
"What brought you there?” asked Prosecutor Belinda Pidwell.
"Rumours of horrible things happening in eastern Bosnia, in Zvornik and Bijeljina," Traynor answered.
In her introductory statement on September 2009, Prosecutor Joanna Korner argued that evidence showed there was close cooperation between the JNA, the Bosnian Serb army, VRS, and the Bosnian Serb police as well as between various members of the Bosnian Serb and Yugoslav authorities.
Traynor said he then crossed into Bosnian territory.
"What did you see on the Serbian side of the border?” Pidwell asked.
“The JNA forces which were on the other side and preparing to cross the border,” Traynor said.
"We saw a large gathering of troops on the Serbian side, the Uzice corps of the JNA was there, lots of artillery, tanks, trains, trucks. There was a large mobilisation going on."
The prosecutor asked Traynor to explain the term "Serb irregular and paramilitary forces", which he used in his Guardian article on the attack on Visegrad in April 1992.
"This related to fighters who were not JNA members but were already in the region, while JNA troops were only just crossing the border. They had special uniforms and could be described as special forces. Well that's how they described themselves," Traynor said.
"You say that there is not much doubt that these paramilitary units came from Serbia and that you even wrote an article on how they cooperated together... how did you come to this position?" the prosecutor asked.
"I was with them as they moved toward Visegrad. They were all together and I was with them while they were firing their rockets toward the town. This wasn't the JNA. These were two different elements fighting in parallel and I was with them,” he said.
Judge Frederik Harhoff asked Traynor, "How did you realise what this cooperation was about, except for the fact that they had the same goals as JNA?"
"They used the same equipment, moved together in formation, spoke to each other, and attacked what they considered to be their mutual enemy. I couldn't see anything which wouldn't suggest that they weren't cooperating,” Traynor said.
"Did you see any meetings to coordinate this cooperation between the JNA and the special forces?” Judge Harhoff asked.
"Talks. They talked to each other, set up their equipment together, putting up their equipment alongside the road, mine throwers, a joint armed undertaking so to say," he replied.
At Prosecutor Pidwell's request, Traynor read the notes from September 1992 that he took during a two-hour interview in Banja Luka with Zupljanin, the then chief of the Banja Luka security services centre, CSB.
On September 16, 1991, the Serbian Democratic Party proclaimed an autonomous Serb entity in the Krajina region of north-western Bosnia.
According to the indictment, Zupljanin was a member of the Bosanska Krajina autonomous region’s crisis headquarters in Banja Luka.
In the interview with Traynor, Zupljanin said that the detention camp at Trnopolje, a municipality in Prijedor, Bosanska Krajina, was in fact a collection centre.
"The people in Trnopolje are not prisoners. They came of their own will, and could leave whenever they wanted to ... we feed the children even when our soldiers only receive two meals a day, and we provide them fuel for transport even when the supplies are very limited," Zupljanin had claimed.
According to the indictment against Stanisic and Zupljanin, between May and the end of September 1992, “detainees at Trnopolje camp were predominantly women, children and the elderly. However, younger men were also detained. Male detainees were interrogated and beaten. Detainees were beaten in front of other detainees. Female detainees were raped”.
In the same interview with Traynor, Zupljanin confirmed he knew of an incident at Koricanske Stijene on Mount Vlasic, which lies close to Travnik in central Bosnia.
According to the indictment against Stanisic and Zupljanin, in August 1992, more than 200 Bosniaks – Bosnian Muslims - were killed at Koricanske Stjene while being transferred from the Trnopolje camp.
Traynor also said he asked about the reported figure of 200 Bosniaks killed and told the court Zupljanin told him the police would look into the case, saying that the murders may have been carried out by Croatian Defence Council, HVO, or Muslim Green Beret troops.
"The justice department is carrying out an investigation and we will find the guilty ones, and take them to court. If it is proven that they killed innocent people, they will be held responsible and the number you mention is wrong. Our information says 50 or more," Zupljanin said in the interview.
Stanisic surrendered in March 2005, while Zupljanin was arrested by the Serbian authorities on June 10, 2008, after 13 years as a fugitive. Their indictments were joined together in September 2008 and both have pleaded not guilty to all counts.
The trial continues this week.
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.
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