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

Od suda zatrazeno da kanalise Milosevicevo ispitivanje svedoka

Day 256
Major Francis Roy Thomas, a professional officer in the Canadian Army, came to Sarajevo in October 1993 as Senior Military Observer (SMO) for the United Nations. The city, known for the multi-ethnic and cosmopolitan character of its populace, had been under siege by Bosnian Serb forces for 18 months. When Major Thomas left nine months later, it was still under siege and would remain so for another 16 months. Thousands of civilians died during the siege, and many more were injured. In Sarajevo today, gravesites resemble flower gardens in their ubiquity.

The UNMO's (UN Military Observers) were tasked with monitoring events in Sarajevo and reporting them to UN Sector Sarajevo and Zagreb, an unenviable role given to them by an 'international community' unwilling or unable to take more definitive action. [The 'international community' continued with various efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement among the parties.] Major Thomas commanded 233 UNMO's stationed at 12 observation posts, 6 on either side of the confrontation line. After the first Markale Marketplace massacre on February 5, 1994, the observation posts were increased on the Government side of the line. Bosnian Serb authorities restricted UN access to its territory, which inhibited its ability to gain a complete picture of events.

The VRS initiated its attack on the city of Sarajevo in April 1992, occupying positions in the surrounding hills. Since its tanks and heavy equipment were not useful in urban warfare, the VRS (Bosnian Serb Army) was content to shell the city and pick off individuals from sniper positions, using its large stores of ammunition and artillery. In his statement, summarized by the Prosecution, Major Thomas asserted that the VRS deliberately targeted pedestrian routes, causing significant casualties. A substantial number of Bosnian Government forces defended the city, though they were poorly armed and trained, a situation which improved somewhat over time despite the weapons embargo imposed on all parties by the United Nations.

Major Thomas testified that Bosniak forces also used snipers, controlled by the Ministry of the Interior. On the Serb side, sniping was also controlled by 'higher ups,' he asserted. The Major agreed with Milosevic that the media gave an unbalanced picture of Serb and Bosniak sniping, stating that both sides used it to influence the other side and get people to deviate from the cease fire. The witness's opinion reflects the differing views of media and UN personnel, which have been noted in various reports on the Bosnian war. In addition, he testified that the Bosnian Government overestimated civilian casualties, while the Bosnian Serbs denied responsibility entirely, a usual practice in all wars.

Given the UN's reputed irritation with the Bosnian Government and its forces, in this case in Sarajevo, Milosevic raised the allegation with this former UN observer that the Bosnian Muslims not only provoked attacks on their own people, but targeted them as well in an attempt to gain international sympathy and, ultimately, military intervention on their behalf.

When the Bosnian war began, the newly declared independent state of Bosnia-Herzegovina had no standing army beyond the territorial defense that all republics had under Tito. The Bosnian Serbs built their army from weapons, equipment and officers the JNA left behind and the considerable and continuing supplies Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia provided. When the UN imposed a weapons embargo, the Bosnian Government was left at a serious disadvantage. While it had more people willing to fight than the Bosnian Serbs, they lacked training, discipline, uniforms and weapons. It is not surprising that they sought military supplies and military intervention from the outside. The question remains whether they cynically risked the lives of their own people in the process.

One of the incidents for which the Bosniak forces have often been blamed is the February 5, 1994 shelling of the Markale Marketplace, in which 68 civilians were killed and nearly 200 more wounded. In response to a question from the Accused, Major Thomas gave the Court his professional opinion that 'it cannot be determined who fired it [the shell that exploded in the marketplace].' An official UN report reached a similar conclusion. However, in his written statement submitted to the Court, the Major noted there had been two incidents where the VRS had targeted and killed civilians shortly before the Markale Marketplace massacre. The first occurred January 24, when six children were killed. The source of fire was determined to be from VRS territory. The second happened February 4, the day before the Marketplace massacre, when a number of adults and children were killed by mortar fire from the Lukavica Barracks, also held by the VRS. It seems more than a little illogical to believe that the Bosniaks thought they needed more civilian casualties to draw media attention and international outrage.

Another notorious accusation against the Bosniak forces is that they moved a mobile mortar onto the grounds of the Kosevo Hospital, firing from there at VRS positions in order to provoke a response and international condemnation of it. Whether or not the Bosniak forces did this, the VRS fired at the hospital. Milosevic assumed that once fire came from the hospital grounds, it became a legitimate military target. Major Thomas corrected him, 'Only if you accept that one wrong justifies another. It is wrong to fire at a hospital. It is wrong to use a hospital as a base plate for firing.' He went on to state that while the Bosnian forces were suspected of firing from the hospital, it was never proven. 'But we know for sure that the Bosnian Serbs fired on the hospital.'

Under questioning from Milosevic, the former Canadian officer acknowledged that on occasion, but not frequently, the ABiH (Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina) forces used UNMOs as a shield, firing from nearby. 'I assume,' stated the Accused, 'the Serb artillery responded and tried to neutralize it.' 'Yes,' Major Thomas agreed, 'The Serbs could be counted on to retaliate no matter where the fire came from.' The witness went on to tell the Court that if the Bosnian Serbs had given the UN more time to get the ABiH forces to move their position, 'retaliatory fire that threatened our people wouldn't have been necessary.'

Milosevic tried to draw a picture of Bosnian Serbs as desiring peace, while the Bosnian Government desired war by asking the witness to confirm that the Serbs favored a cease fire while the Bosniaks opposed it. Major Thomas explained that the Bosnian Government did not favor a cease fire because the one offered would cement the existing frontline in Bosnia. At this time, the VRS controlled 70% of the territory of BiH, while the Government controlled less than 20% but had more than 50% of the population. Major Thomas added that Serb attacks continued while cease fire discussions were underway. Moreover, the Bosnian Serb position was that without a cease fire throughout Bosnia, there would be none at Gorazde. Gorazde was a UN designated safe haven which the Bosnian Serbs had attacked.

The Accused elicited Major Thomas's agreement that 'Muslims' burned Serb houses in several villages around Han Pijesak and killed all Serbs there regardless of age and sex. Later, the witness said the perpetrators of this crime could not be determined. Whoever the perpetrators were, it is undeniably a war crime. But, as the former UN official stated, it does not justify other war crimes. It is not an issue in this case.

Major Thomas agreed that both sides engaged in deceptive practices, such as wearing each other's uniforms or civilian clothes (the ABiH lacked sufficient uniforms for its troops who more often wore partial uniforms). He also said he assumed all able bodied men, if they could carry a weapon and were not too old, were fighters whether they were uniformed or not. He followed up by pointing out that 'unfortunately, many targets [of Serb snipers] were not men.' The nature of sniping allows the shooter to clearly identify his target -- whether male or female, old or young.

Despite allegations and suspicions that ABiH forces attempted to provoke fire or fired on their own people to generate international intervention on their behalf, Major Thomas's testimony did not supply any concrete proof of it. Nor would it have much relevance in the case against Milosevic, since it is not contended that the ABiH committed all the crimes alleged to have occurred in Sarajevo. The Bosnian Serbs attacked a civilian target -- a city of several hundred thousand people. They kept it under siege for 3 1/2 years, shelling and shooting at civilians and civilian structures, including historical and religious monuments. None of that is excused by defensive or non-defensive actions of Bosnian Government forces, even if some violated the laws of war.

Milosevic's connection with the crimes perpetrated by the Bosnian Serb forces, at a minimum, results from supplying the weapons, ammunition, uniforms and financing which enabled them to conduct the siege. That much has been established in the trial. It remains to be seen how closely he was involved with the planning and conduct of the campaign.