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Witness Claims Trbic Identified Death Sites

Accused maintains, though, that he was tricked into revealing evidence of war crimes to investigators.
By Brendan McKenna
A war crimes investigator told a Bosnian court this week that a former Bosnian Serb army officer accused of involvement in the massacre at Srebrenica showed him the sites of murders and pointed out where mass graves had been.

Alistair Graham, a former senior investigator with the Hague tribunal, told judges that Milorad Trbic led him and another tribunal investigator on a tour of sites in and around Srebrenica where some 8,000 Bosniak men were detained, killed and buried in mass graves.

However, the defence team argued that the conversations described by Graham were held after Trbic had been assured he was being treated only as a witness and would not face prosecution. They also said their client had been pressured into identifying the mass grave sites.

Trbic, a former captain in the security detachment of the Zvornik Brigade of the Bosnian Serb Army, VRS, is accused of conspiring with others, including top war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, to kill men from Srebrenica who had either surrendered or been captured.

He is also accused of trying to conceal the killings by reburying bodies exhumed from mass graves.

He was initially indicted by the Hague tribunal for genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, extermination, murder and persecution for his role in the ethnic cleansing of Srebrenica and the murder of the Bosniak men and boys.

The case was transferred from the Hague tribunal to the War Crimes Chamber of the Bosnian state court in April.

In his testimony this week, Graham denied making any promises that Trbic was safe from prosecution, and said he had advised the Bosnian Serb of his rights to have a lawyer present and to refuse to answer questions in relation to events at Srebrenica.

He said he warned Trbic many times that he could be treated as a suspect under the jurisdiction of the Hague tribunal.

“I believe he fully understood the questions and answered of his own free will,” said Graham.

As photographs from the trip were displayed on computer monitors in the court, Graham said that Trbic had identified a stadium wall bearing bullet marks, in front of which he said Bosniak prisoners had been shot.

The accused had also identified several mass grave sites, he said, although these locations were already known to the tribunal.

According to the witness, Trbic also identified mass grave sites which were not known to the court. But subsequent forensic testing turned up no evidence to verify his claims.

While Graham insisted that Trbic led the investigators to the sites, the accused’s lawyer Milan Mladojevic said his client insisted that it was them who had led him there.

During cross examination, Trbic tried to show the court that he had been pressured by Graham.

He alleged that the former investigator told him he could continue to live peacefully after telling the investigators what he knew.

Judge Patricia Whalen asked Graham if he had ever promised Trbic anything in return for his testimony.

The witness strenuously denied this.

“Absolutely not. I never gave guarantees such as that, which would have been way beyond any authority I had,” said Graham.

Miodrag Dragutinovic, former deputy chief of staff for operations and planning in the Zvornik brigade, also testified this week.

He told the court about the military structure of the brigade, its practices and military duties, as well as the reaction of its commander after the fall of Srebrenica.

Dragutinovic maintained that both he and the brigade commander were away from headquarters during the executions of Bosniak men and boys at Srebrenica.

He said they had arranged safe passage for civilians from areas controlled by the encircled Bosnian government’s 28th division to other government-controlled territory.

It was only after they returned to the brigade headquarters that they discovered there were 3,000 Bosniak prisoners and an additional 7,000 “in the woods”, and he and his commander sent off a communique of protest to their superiors, he said.

“The commander protested that with all of his other problems the Zvornik brigade was now burdened with the prisoners of war," said Dragutinovic.

Brendan McKenna is an IWPR reporter.

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