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

Witness Describes Serb Wartime Communications

Prosecution claims that Stanisic and Zupljanin had access to information relating to attacks on civilians.
By Velma Šarić

A protected prosecution witness testified this week at the trial of former Bosnian Serb police officials Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin about the Bosnian Serb communications systems which existed between April and December 1992.

Zupljanin, who became an adviser to the Bosnian Serb president and Hague indictee Radovan Karadzic in 1994, is accused of extermination, murder, persecution, and deportation of non-Serbs in northwestern Bosnia between April and December 1992.

Stanisic is charged with the murder, torture and cruel treatment of non-Serb civilians, as well as for his failure to prevent or punish crimes committed by his subordinates. The indictment against Stanisic states that he was appointed minister in charge of the newly-founded Bosnian Serb interior ministry, MUP, in April 1992 and was also a member of the Bosnian Serb government.

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.

According to the indictment, the two accused are held responsible for “imposing and maintaining restrictive measures against Bosnian Muslims and Croats”, having thereby perpetrated persecution on a political, racial or religious basis, which is qualified as a crime against humanity.

Both defendants - whose indictments were joined together in September 2008 - have pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The protected witness, testifying under the pseudonym ST-219, without measures to hide his face or voice, gave evidence via video link. He told the court at the beginning of his statement that he had not previously testified before the Hague tribunal or any other European or local court about the events of 1992.

The witness stated that, from April to December 1992, he was employed at the civilian authorities’ communications centre, adding that “the centre started working in April, and it was our obligation to follow the situation on the territory, in our waters and in the air, to be able to give early warning signs of dangers to civilians, to military units and institutions, to other structures of government.

“At the beginning of the unfortunate war, in April, there were many problems in the functioning of the system of communications and in the establishment of observation posts in the field. There was fighting and the people were few and therefore difficult to distribute.”

Describing the activities of the centre, he said, “We were employed in all sorts of communications related to the society in general, both to institutions stationed in Pale [close to Sarajevo], as well as other institutions. Because we lacked personnel, we also became a centre for encryption of communications, as well as for intelligence and observation services”.

Asked by prosecutor Thomas Hannis whether the Bosnian Serb army had its own system of communications, the witness said it had.

He said that the government of Republika Srpska, RS, and the army all had their own communication systems. The centre where ST-219 was employed was used by the assembly, by the government and other institutions, and was technically under the jurisdiction of the Bosnian Serb defence ministry.

According to the prosecution’s claims, Stanisic and Zupljanin had the opportunity to use this system of communications to gain information about events on the ground, including crimes committed against Bosnian Croats and Muslims between April and December 1992. The prosecution contends that they undertook nothing to prevent those crimes.

In order to prove the participation of Stanisic and Zupljanin in the joint criminal enterprise, the prosecution also claims that there was a communications system operating between the civilian authorities and the two accused.

Hannis went on to ask the witness who “was the main client or user of services” of the centre where he worked.

“Well, we were servicing organs of authority, in other words, civilian structures of government. From the highest level, meaning presidency, government, all ministries, up to municipalities,” the witness answered.

“Did that include the Assembly of the Serb People, or later, of Republika Srpska?” the prosecutor continued.

“Certainly, the assembly too was a civilian organ of authority,” ST-219 answered.

He explained that the centre had three separate departments: one each for radio and telephone communications and one for encryption. ST-219 also explained that their equipment included telephones, ultra-shortwave and shortwave equipment, telefaxes and teleprinters. He added that they could also utilise radio-relay and radio links, as well as access an elaborate system of “courier links”.

“How many regional secretariats were there in May 1992 in the Serb republic?” the prosecutor asked.

“I don’t know the exact number. As I said [earlier in testimony], I had a traffic accident and suffer from amnesia, perhaps I cannot remember some things,” answered the witness, adding that he did recall the existence of regional secretariats in Banja Luka, Bijeljina, Trebinje, Pale, Doboj and the then Serb part of Sarajevo.

“And the republic’s defence ministry was linked to all these centres, is that correct?” Hannis asked.

“At most times there was some kind of connection, which was often broken, so that contact could not be established [for instance] because there was no electricity, because of works or because of armed conflict, so it wasn’t always easy to establish communications in these conditions,” the witness explained, adding that “at times, other means had to be used, including open [non-encrypted] links such as radio”.

Continuing the testimony, the prosecutor pointed out a document from May 4, 1992, and asked the witness whether it was sent by teleprinter.

“Probably so, this imprint tells me it was done on a teleprinter made by Siemens, but it is the first time I see this document. The signature on it says Stojan Zupljanin,” the witness answered.

The prosecutor went on to point out another document, a protocol excerpt on record with the prosecutor’s office, which included the excerpt from a list of communications registered by the ministry of interior in May 1992 at the Vraca site in Sarajevo.

Hannis wanted to know whether the RS government and presidency were supposed to receive documents sent from the Sarajevo security services centre. ST-219 answered that they were, adding that if such documents were sent, they would have reached the office of the secretary in the government building.

Asked by the prosecutor whether he knew the telephone number 783460, the witness said he thought that that was the telephone or fax number for the government.

“Where was the telefax physically located in April and May?” the prosecutor asked.

“We had a telefax machine at the centre, and the government had one in its offices. Police stations also had them,” the witness answered.

In April and May of 1992, the Bosnian Serb presidency and government were located in Pale, “one part at the Panorama Hotel, and the other at the so-called Kikinda building”, the witness continued.

“Do you know if the security services centre Sarajevo had a direct link to the political offices and state officials in November 1992?” the prosecutor asked.

“I cannot answer that question since I don’t know, but they could certainly have sent some documents [for instance] by courier link, I think that would be quite logical, but I don’t know if they had any direct links,” ST-219 answered.

He added that in December 1992 there had been a telephone link between the Sarajevo security services centre and the ministry of defence, but added that “nevertheless all communication went through courier delivery mail”.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in The Hague.

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