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Weapons Expert Claims Serbs Hit Civilians

Witness says rockets were fired from Serb-controlled areas.
By Goran Jungvirth
A Bosnian ballistics expert this week told the war crimes trial of the former Belgrade army chief that Serb forces fired modified aircraft bombs at civilians and humanitarian convoys in Sarajevo.

Testifying at the Hague tribunal in the trial of General Momcilo Perisic, Vekaz Turkovic, a criminology technician with the Bosnian secret service, said that bombs were fired on civilians from areas controlled by the Bosnian Serb army, VRS.

“The position [from which plane bombs were fired] was held by the army of Republika Srpska,” he said, referring to the Bosnian Serb entity within Bosnia.

“Incidents, like firing on humanitarian convoys, for example, were the most common.”

Perisic, who was chief of staff of the Belgrade-controlled Yugoslav army, JNA, during the wars in Croatia and Bosnia, is accused of assisting with planning, preparing and executing the attacks on civilian parts of Sarajevo between August 1993 and November 1995, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries.

Perisic’s indictment states that the accused gave military support to Bosnian Serb and Croatian Serb separatist forces during the conflicts in the early 1990s, allegedly providing them with arms, personnel, equipment and funding.

This week, the witness said the Sarajevo Romanija Corps of the VRS – which Perisic is accused of supporting – fired many aircraft bombs from the Ilidza area.

During his testimony, Turkevic said that he inspected an incident at the beginning of July 1995, which resulted in 13 civilians being lightly injured, and another two receiving serious wounds.

On another occasion, the witness said that while he was speaking with a Bosnian military guard, he saw a missile being fired from the Ilidza area.

Chief prosecutor Mark Harmon asked who was responsible for firing the bombs into Sarajevo.

“The military of Republika Srpska,” replied Turkovic.

During cross-examination, the defence team tried to undermine the witness’ expertise.

Lawyer Gregor Guy Smith said Turkovic had calculated the position from which the rockets were fired based on his knowledge of enemy positions, rather than on “analysis [of] the place of impact”.

But the witness denied this.

“It was obvious from which direction the bomb was fired,” said Turkovic, adding that most of the investigators present in the field at that time agreed with him.

The witnessed explained that it was possible to work out where a bomb was fired from by examining the points of ricochet.

“From this, one can determine where it was fired from,” explained Turkovic.

The defence team also tried to undermine the witness’ reliability, by pointing out that he worked for three years for the United Nations’ International Police Task Force, IPTF – meaning he was once employed by the same organisation which ultimately employs the tribunal’s prosecutors.

Guy Smith then pointed out that the Hrasnica region where many of the bombs landed, had contained factories, and was close to points where both Serb and Bosniak forces were stationed, thus suggesting the missile attacks were justified.

But the witness replied that there had been no military targets there.

“Maybe, sometimes, I could have seen some soldiers, but there were no military objects there, like buildings – nothing. I saw UN soldiers there more often than Bosnian soldiers,” he said.

Prosecutors this week also presented two expert reports about the destruction of Sarajevo by Serb forces.

Dutch Colonel Patrick Van der Weijden’s report about sniper incidents in Sarajevo had already been presented in 2007 during the trial of Bosnian Serb general Dragomir Milosevic.

In the document, Van Der Weijden said that sniper fire had come from positions in areas controlled by the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps.

The second report submitted was by military expert Jozef Poje, a former officer in the JNA, who wrote that Serb rebels fired Orkan rockets with cluster munitions on Zagreb in May 1995.

In addition to the attacks on Sarajevo civilians, and the massacre of some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995, Perisic is accused of bearing responsibility for attacks on the Croatian capital.

Poje, who based his report for the most part on the JNA documents, wrote that Orkan rockets with cluster munitions were inaccurate, and as such were not intended for use in built-up areas.

The cluster warheads fired on Zagreb each contained 288 bomblets filled with 420 balls, said the report. A total of 120,000 balls were scattered on impact, causing casualties over a wide area.

Seven civilians were killed and about 200 people were wounded in the shelling of Zagreb.

Poje calculated that the rockets fired on Zagreb from a range of about 50 kilometres could have landed as much as 2 km off target.

He concluded that even if there had been military targets in Zagreb, the Serb rebels from the Krajina region should not have used them.

The trial continues.

Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR-trained journalist in Zagreb.

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