Defence witnesses testifying at former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic’s Hague trial said Bosniak forces started the conflict in the northern town of Bijeljina in 1992.
Four defence witnesses called by Karadzic at his Hague Tribunal trial this week accused Bosniaks of provoking the outbreak of fighting in Bijeljina by deploying paramilitary fighters and setting up roadblocks.
The former president of the Bijeljina municipal assembly Cvijetin Simic testified that in March 1992, Bosniak paramilitaries started an “armed riot” which caused the conflict.
He said that paramilitary units formed and armed by the Bosniak-led Party of Democratic Action, SDA, “blockaded” Bijeljina in late March 1992.
By April 1, street fights had escalated, Simic said, and at a crisis management meeting, the SDA refused to lift roadblocks and disarm the paramilitaries until United Nations observers arrived in the town.
Simic concluded that Bosniak leaders wanted the conflict to continue, adding that on April 2, Bosniak paramilitaries occupied the local hospital and prevented civilians from being treated.
Simic described reports about Serbs being the first to attack the town and kill thousands of Muslims as “the lies of the media”.
Karadzic was indicted for the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats in 20 of the country’s municipalities, including Bijeljina. He is also being tried for the Srebrenica genocide, terrorising Sarajevo and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.
According to the indictment, Serb paramilitaries killed 48 people in Bijeljina during a forced takeover of the town in late March and early April 1992.
Defence witness Svetozar Mihajlovic also blamed the SDA for the conflicts in Bijeljina in the spring of 1992.
Mihajlovic, the municipal government president, testified that in late March 1992, the town was attacked by Muslim forces organised and armed by the SDA.
He said that the SDA leadership set up roadblocks and positioned snipers on rooftops.
The witness stated that he never received or issued an order to deport the non-Serb population and that the local authorities did everything to prevent crimes.
He confirmed that in September 1992, three Muslim families were killed in Bijeljina, but said that this “gruesome event was condemned by everyone in Bijeljina” and denied that the murders by “paramilitary units” had been premeditated.
Two other witnesses, the deputy commander of the Bijeljina territorial defence force Zivan Filipovic and former police inspector Dusan Spasojevic, testified in Karadzic’s defence this week, also claiming that “Muslim extremists” blockaded Bijeljina on March 31, 1992, blocking roads and putting gunmen on rooftops.
Karadzic’s trial will resume next week.
To the media in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the arrest of Radovan Karadzic, indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, was a true sensation, and one to be exploited day after day.
In July 1995 Srebrenica was shelled and occupied by the Army of Republic of Srpska,VRS, despite being declared a protected area by the United Nations. More than 7,000 people were killed, the victims of genocide.