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Witness Says Bosnians May Have Attacked Own Side

Former military observer spoke in trial of Radovan Karadzic, charged with orchestrating sniping and shelling campaign against Sarajevo.
By Rachel Irwin

A former United Nations military observer testified this week that there were “very strong suspicions” that Bosnian forces may have launched attacks on their own people during the 44-month sniping and shelling campaign on Sarajevo.

Prosecution witness Richard Mole, who served as a senior military observer for the United Nations Protection Force, UNPROFOR, in Sarajevo from September to December 1992, was giving evidence in the trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic.

Since his opening statements last March, Karadzic has repeatedly alleged that the “Muslim side” directed shells on their own civilian areas to elicit international sympathy and a military intervention.

Karadzic is charged with orchestrating the sniping and shelling campaign which killed some 12,000 people between 1992 and the end of 1995.

Prosecutors allege in their indictment that Karadzic’s army carried out the relentless attacks, the primary purpose of which was to “spread terror among the civilian population” of Sarajevo.

Two Bosnian Serb army generals – Stanislav Galic and Dragomir Milosevic - have already been convicted by the tribunal for their role in the sniping and shelling of Sarajevo. Galic was sentenced to life in prison, while Milosevic is serving a jail term of 29 years.

This week, Karadzic – who continues to represent himself - reiterated his claims regarding Sarajevo while cross-examining Mole, who previously testified in the Galic trial.

“Would you agree that the Muslim side targeted their own side of the city… [with] shells directed at their own neighbourhoods and own citizens? [And] that this allowed them to be perceived as victims?” Karadzic asked the witness.

“You raise a very good and controversial issue here,” responded Mole. “There was a suggestion and there were sufficient unknowns for members of UNPROFOR to be reasonably sure that what you have stated is true.”

Mole noted, however, he did not have any conclusive proof that this practice occurred, and for that reason could not cite any specific incidents.

“All I can suggest to you is that we as [UN military observers] were uncomfortable about that question because we sensed what you say may have been true,” continued Mole. “It can’t be determined that it’s a fact but there are very strong suspicions.”

Mole emphasised throughout his testimony that it was not for the military observers to “investigate all rounds that were fired” or to “assess rights or wrongs of the conflict on the front line”.

“You are making the assumption, I think, that the [military observers] or UNPROFOR had the capability to investigate every incident,” said Mole. “That was not the case. If people had lived in the city like I did…”

Appearing overcome with emotion, Mole did not finish his sentence.

“That will do,” responded Karadzic.

Earlier, when Mole was questioned by the prosecution, he had described what it was like to live in Sarajevo during the war.

“The noise never ceased, it was persistent,” he said.

“I haven’t even started to talk about direct fire weapons, small arms, mortars... heavy machine guns. That is the background noise that the city made every day. To concentrate purely on high explosives is to trivialise life in the city.”

He also described the “immense and protracted” fear that engulfed Sarajevo at that time.

“Wherever you went and whatever you did, [there was] incessant fear and concern [about whether or not] that journey was going to complete,” said Mole. “If it was like that for me, then within highly populated areas of the city, where people had no choice and had to live their lives - and didn’t have vehicles like I did - that fear was immense and protracted.”

In the cross-examination, Karadzic asked Mole about certain cases where “Muslims abused Serb prisoners” by having them handle the bodies of dead Bosnian Serb soldiers during an exchange between the two sides.

Mole said that he was in control of the body exchange at the UN headquarters in Sarajevo, and that “during the course of the exchange, [Bosnian Serb] prisoners were used to move bodies being returned to the Serb side.

“I watched the event and made observations and objections to it, to those on [the Bosnian] presidency side.”

Karadzic also questioned Mole about instances when “the Muslim army abused the proximity of UN forces” by taking up firing positions near UN headquarters “in order to act against the Serb side and attract Serb fire as a response”.

“[Did] you and other members of UNPROFOR ask the Muslim side to move…away from UN installations?” asked Karadzic.

“I had personal experience with the situation you described,” responded Mole. “We did on a number of occasions ask the [Bosnian] presidency side, should they wish to engage [the] Serb side, if they would be kind enough to do it further away from UN installations. Yes, I had personal experience with that.”

Karadzic contended that the Bosnian Serb army lacked a “single command” and that “the firing of rounds or even shells did not necessarily mean that the Serb authority, starting from a higher command, ordered or instigated certain incidents.

“Do you agree that it is quite…incomprehensible that the Serb side, with all of its trained officers, should go on shooting its own foot day after day?”asked Karadzic.

“You state that the Serb side had a complete lack of a single command,” said Mole. “Nothing could be further from truth. Any military formation which can bring a fire mission down on concentrated areas… throughout the city cannot possibly portray a lack of single command.”

“I agree with you as far as operations are concerned,” responded Karadzic. “I meant to ask about incidents… there were too many weapons in private hands available for purchase… [My question is] regarding incidents, not regarding well-planned operations.”

“War is a continuum,” said Mole. “All the incidents are joined up. They are not divisible so you could suggest that one incident is caused by a certain set of events. All of the incidents are joined together…You can’t apply blame to one as opposed to the other. As for your comment about privately-owned weapons, yes there were, but not privately owned heavy weapons.”

Karadzic also asked about the presence of foreign media outlets in Sarajevo during the war.

“I was always concerned that the evidence base used by certain agencies, in this regard news [agencies], was extremely weak,” said Mole. “In my own mind I was convinced there was a considerable anti-Serb approach to the conflict within the press, and indeed beyond to some quite senior politicians I met and talked with in Sarajevo.”

“Can you name today a politician whose attitude really grated on your ears?” Karadzic later asked.

“As a soldier, even as a retired soldier, I am not very comfortable answering that question,” responded Mole.

Mole was one of three witnesses to testify this week as the tribunal returned from a three-week summer recess. Also appearing for the prosecution was mortar expert Richard Higgs and Tomasz Blaszczyk, an investigator in the office of the prosecutor who was called to verify the authenticity of the so-called Mladic notebooks.

The diaries – totalling over 3,000 pages – are said to have been written by General Ratko Mladic, who was the highest authority in the Bosnian Serb army during the Bosnian war. The diaries were seized from Mladic’s wife’s Belgrade home last February and turned over to the tribunal in late March.

Thirteen out of the 15 notebooks were admitted in late July as exhibits in the Karadzic trial.

In addition to the notebooks, numerous compact discs, as well as audio and video tapes, were seized from Mladic’s wife’s home during additional searches last March.

On August 10, Karadzic requested that the trial be suspended for three weeks in order for him to review the audiovisual material, which he said was only disclosed to him on August 4.

This week, judges decided to partially grant his request and have suspended the trial for the next two weeks.

“The chamber is…not satisfied that continuing with the trial proceedings, and allowing the accused to later recall certain witnesses for further cross-examination following his review of the seized material, if necessary, is sufficient, in this instance, to ensure his fair trial rights,” Presiding Judge O-Gon Kwon wrote in the August 18 decision.

“Moreover, it will not be, in practical terms, conducive to the smooth conduct of the trial.”

The trial is expected to resume on the week of September 6.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.