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UN Officer Describes VRS Advance Into Srebrenica

Witness says Serbs obstructed peacekeeper patrols within the enclave prior to its fall.
A former United Nations observer in the Bosnian “safe area” of Srebrenica this week testified that Bosnian Serb forces, VRS, were already present in the enclave in the run-up to its takeover in July 1995.

He said that their presence hampered the movement of the UN peacekeeping forces.

“They prevented us going further towards the ceasefire line, meaning they were already inside the enclave,” Kenyan Colonel Joseph Kingori told the tribunal in The Hague.

Kingori served as a UN military observer during the fall of the demilitarised zone of Srebrenica during the summer of 1995.

More than 8,000 Bosniaks were killed after the town fell to the VRS in the largest act of mass murder in Europe since World War Two.

He was testifying at the trial of seven high-ranking Bosnian Serb military and police officials - Vujadin Popovic, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Ljubisa Beara, Vinko Pandurevic and Drago Nikolic - who face genocide and war crimes charges, and Radivoj Miletic and Milan Gvero, who are accused of blocking aid and supplies to Srebrenica.

Before the tribunal’s winter recess, Kingori described events in the UN-protected region before and after the advance of forces from Republica Srpska, the self-proclaimed Serb statelet in Bosnia.

Popovic’s defence counsel put it to Kingori that no member of “Dutchbat”, the UN peacekeeping force in Srebrenica, had reported that Serb forces had crossed into the enclave before it fell.

“The [VRS] were to the southern side. When we patrolled, we could talk to them. They were inside the enclave, but if you told them that they said, ‘No’,” said Kingori.

Kingori also told the court that members of the VRS told military observers they did not want Muslims in the enclave.

“They did not want Muslims supported by fundamentalists in their midst. They felt uncomfortable with Muslims there because they felt it belonged to the Serbs,” he said.

The prosecution alleges that the military and police officers on trial planned and undertook the “separation” and the “forced movement of the population” at Srebrenica. It also seeks to prove that they ordered the execution and burial of able-bodied Bosniak men and boys in the enclave after it fell to Serb forces in July 1995.

This week, the witness described to the court the way in which the Serb army seized the Dutch observation posts. He said the Dutch had refused to remove the observation posts when told to do so by members of the Bosnian Serb army.

Kingori also dismissed defence claims that artillery attacks were launched by the Bosnian army on Serb-held territory beyond the Srebrenica enclave.

He testified that he and his colleagues neither witnessed nor were informed about such attacks.

“We did not notice any heavy weapons firing shells over to the other side,” he told the tribunal.

The defence teams have also tried to show that Kingori and other UN observers did not fulfill their observation tasks inside the protected enclave, and have cited reports made by senior commanders from the Bosnian army saying that ammunition and weapons were transported into it.

The reports state that attacks were made on outlying Serb positions in order to occupy their forces, thus preventing them from launching attacks on Bosniaks elsewhere in central Bosnia.

However, under cross examination, Kingori denied that Bosnian army troops in the enclave had armed themselves significantly and therefore violated the demilitarisation agreement between the two sides.

“All the heavy weapons were in the custody of Dutchbat,” Kingori told the tribunal.

The counsel for the defence then informed the witness that a former deputy commander of Dutchbat had testified before the tribunal that he had heard that Bosniaks inside Srebrenica had between 4,000 and 4,500 items of light weaponry and mortars.

“I was not aware that they had these weapons. I was not aware,” replied Kingori.

“If all these facts are correct, I really don’t understand how we didn’t know about that,” he added, explaining that, in order to justify their failings, senior army officials may not have reported events exactly as they happened.

Kingori denied that Bosniaks who went to the nearby town of Tuzla to pick up supplies to sell in the market also brought back weapons and ammunition.

“No. Not as far as I am aware. It was food stuffs. But we never went anywhere to inspect what they were bringing back,” he said.

Kingori explained that he doubted the Bosniaks brought in weapons because they were inspected by Bosnian Serb soldiers as they returned from Tuzla.

Kingori told the tribunal that by June 1995, UN military observers were seeing soldiers walking around Srebrenica equipped with only light weapons.

“You cannot compare these weapons with the kind of weaponry that was with the [VRS] - artillery shells, rocket launchers and all that,” he said.

“I am not saying there were no military activities but it definitely could not have been a [government army] brigade in that particular area.”

Popovic’s defense counsel concluded cross examination by questioning the independence of Kingori’s reports.

The witness replied, “My reports were never biased at all… [They are] just based on the truth as I saw it on the ground.”

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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