Testifying at the trial of the former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, a defence witness said that the Bosnian Serb army only fired at legitimate military targets in Sarajevo.
Blagoje Kovacevic, the former commander of the Infantry Battalion of the Army of Republika Srpska at Grbavica, said that neither he nor other Bosnian Serb officers had the intention or orders to terrorise the population of Sarajevo.
He said that the Bosnian Serb army only defended its positions and prevented the Bosnian Army from breaking through from the city, and that it opened fire only when the lives of soldiers and civilians were threatened.
On the other hand, he said, in order to bring about international intervention, the Bosnian army opened fire from the vicinity of the protected civilian facilities in Sarajevo, provoking the Serb side to respond and cause civilian casualties.
Kovacevic claimed that in his units he did not have trained snipers.
The Hague prosecution charges Karadzic with having terrorized civilians in Sarajevo through indiscriminate shelling and sniping. He is also charged with the genocide in Srebrenica, persecution of Bosniaks and Croats across Bosnia and Herzegovina and taking the UN peacekeepers as hostages.
During the cross-examination by the prosecutor, Caroline Edgerton, Kovacevic confirmed that there were civilian casualties in Sarajevo. He said that he did not have information about the effects of the Bosnian Serb army attacks on the targets in the city, except for what he was on television.
“Civilians lived near the demarcation lines and on the lines themselves. Each military action in the city would naturally cause civilians casualties. I cannot say precisely what was going on in Sarajevo, because I could not get through. I would see it on television – I could choose to believe it or not, and a lot of it was staged. What I saw on television I knew was exaggerated,” said the witness, after being presented with evidence of civilian casualties.
Having claimed that his battalion or brigade did not open fire on civilians, Kovacevic pointed out that he did not want to “comment on what others did”.
He insisted, however that “each facility from which fire was opened is a legitimate military target according to the international law, even if civilians lived inside.”
Giving an example that the Bosnian Army fired from portable mortars in the vicinity of a hospital and other civilian facilities in Sarajevo, the witness claimed that “it was done deliberately to cause the death of civilians and present it as terrorising of civilians.”
According to the witness, the Army of Republika Srpska – in order to avoid civilian casualties – responded to the fire from portable mortars only on orders from an officer and by “shooting at the specified target and not the whole area” and that “it was pointless responding if you did not respond immediately.“
When asked what, in his opinion, would be an “indiscriminate fire” Kovacevic replied that it would be “pointless shooting at people in order to terrorise them... without a clear goal, randomly.”
Another witness for Karadzic’s defence on Thursday was Dusan Skrba, former artillery commander of the Sarajevo Brigade of the Army of Republika Srpska.
Skrba said that in August 1995 his unit could not have fired a mortar grenade on the Markale market, which killed and wounded dozens of citizens, because at the time all 120 millimetre mortars were under the control of UNPROFOR.
Karadzic’s trial will resume on Monday, October 22.
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.