At the trial of the former Bosnian Serb army chief, Ratko Mladic, a witness described how in June 1992 he survived a massacre at Sokoline in which Bosnian Serb forces killed 47 Bosniaks.
The protected witness RM-145 said that the Bosnian Serb soldiers led by a man called Zuti [Yellow] on June 14, 1992, took 55 Bosniak prisoners from the prison in Rajlovac and put them on a bus, telling them that they were going to be exchanged. The witness said he was held in Rajlovac after being arrested in the village of Ahatovici.
“When we arrived to Sokoline, the guards went out and Zuti said that the engine overheated and that he had to bring water... As soon as they got out, a strong detonation was heard at the front of the bus, and firing from automatic weapons... It lasted for about 15 minutes,“ said RM-145.
After the shooting ended, the witness heard a car approach the bus.
“The car door opened and I heard someone say: ‘Go inside, see if anyone stayed alive.’ The other one cursed God and said: ‘You go and look.’ The car door slammed and they went away,“ said RM-145, adding that he lay flat on the floor of the bus underneath the dead bodies.
With another three survivors, he managed to flee through the woods and reach the village of Vukasovic, where he was given medical assistance.
Mladic, former commander of the Army of Republika Srpska, is charged with the expulsion of Bosniak and Croat civilians across Bosnia and Herzegovina, which, according to the indictment, in seven Bosnian municipalities reached a level of genocide. He is also charged with genocide in Srebrenica, terrorizing Sarajevo citizens, and taking international soldiers as hostages.
Mladic refused to attend the hearing because the witness RM-145 was giving his testimony via video-link from Sarajevo, while the defendant claimed that he had the right to face every witness in the courtroom.
After being warned, Mladic confirmed through his lawyer that he voluntarily gave up his right to attend the process by staying in the cell outside the courtroom. He returned to the courtroom when the witness RM-145 finished his testimony.
Photographs of the bus and bodies were shown in the courtroom. The witness RM-145 confirmed that the photos were taken on June 15, 1992, by the people from the village who came to the scene of the crime.
The photos also show dozens of villagers digging the mass grave in which the victims were buried.
“My uncle and I had to identify the dead – very few had an undamaged face so that we could recognise them easily, we had to do it by their clothes... They took our documents from us when we set off,” said witness RM-145.
The witness said that the Bosniaks arrested in the village of Ahatovici were beaten and killed while they were held prisoners in the abandoned fuel tank in Rajlovac, before the Sokoline massacre.
Mladic’s lawyer, Miodrag Stojanovic, asked the witness during cross-examination whether he saw who opened fire on the bus, and RM-145 replied: “No, I was covered with bodies.”
The trial will resume on Thursday, September 27.
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.
Key dates and events in the Bosnia war.
The Bosnian Serb commander’s role in the genocide committed in Srebrenica is described in detail in many indictments and verdicts pronounced before local and international judicial institutions.