Testifying at the trial of the former commander of Republika Srpska Army, Ratko Mladic, an ex Bosnian Serb army officer said that soldiers who committed war crimes were insufficiently punished by their commanders.
The protected witness, RM-802, whose testimony indicates that he was a commander of one of the brigades of the 1st Krajina Corps, said that soldiers and paramilitaries who committed crimes against Bosniaks in 1992 went unpunished.
“I personally feel responsible, because there was inappropriate behaviour by members of my army and paramilitary groups against whom measures should have been taken in 1992. Had we punished the individuals who did unseemly things more strictly, I think this here would not be happening,” said the witness.
The witness added that punitive measures against “individuals and smaller groups” who committed criminal acts should have gone “all the way to execution”.
“We should have cut that in the root and I feel responsible. I remember feeling powerless. A soldier went out of his tent and said: ‘I have nothing to do, I am going to set some Muslim houses on fire.’ I prevented that then, but an hour later he slipped out to do what he originally intended,” said the witness, adding that he had no authority to punish the soldier.
As an example of the crimes committed, RM-802 mentioned the murder of around 150 Bosniaks from the village of Vecici, who surrendered to the Army of Republika Srpska in the village of Grabovica near Kotor Varos, on November 3, 1992.
According to the indictment, which charges Ratko Mladic with expulsion of Muslims and Croats across Bosnia and Herzegovina, “a number of Muslims” were killed in Grabovica.
“A colleague of mine informed me over radio. He told me that a large group of Muslims from Vecici surrendered and laid down their weapons, and that they are currently in the village of Grabovica by the school... Two to three hours later I heard what had happened to them,” recalled the witness.
RM-802 testified that he informed the commander of the 1st Krajina Corps, General Momir Talic, first thing in the morning, who told him he had already been informed about the incident in Grabovica.
Talic, who was charged by the Hague Tribunal for crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, died in 2003, while on temporary release.
“As far as I know, no investigation was conducted,” said the witness and added that a civilian official told him that “municipal bodies will investigate Grabovica”, but that that did not happen.
“I asked my subordinate where the perpetrators are, why they haven’t been arrested, and he told me they already fled across river Drina into Yugoslavia... A month or two later, I learnt they are not alive any more,” said RM-802.
In the cross-examination, Mladic’s lawyer Miodrag Stojanovic presented to the witness two reports from the 1st Krajina Corps command about the events in Grabovica, sent to the Bosnian Serb army main headquarters, on November 4 and 5, 1992.
The reports state that “in the showdown between Muslim forces and our units, 40 Green Berets [Bosniak paramilitaries] were killed, and 200 captured,” and that “a fierce massacre was carried out against the captured Green Berets” as a retaliation for the brutal murder of Serb soldiers.
RM-802 said that that description of events does not correspond to information he had sent to the command.
Commenting on a part of the report which states that “measures were taken to prevent further massacre,” the witness said: “I haven’t received any order to do anything about it. This is just a formal statement.”
Reading from the report which the Krajina Corps command sent to the main headquarters on November 5, 1992, lawyer Stojanovic quoted the claim that “Muslims fighters tried to withdraw towards Travnik” and that “more than 150 extremists were killed in clashes with the Army of Republika Srpska.”
The witness replied that there were no clashes with large number of casualties and that that report did not reflect the real situation.
“How is it possible that the main headquarters of the Army of Republika Srpska were so misinformed?” asked Stojanovic.
The witness replied that he did not know, but added that in 1992 there was no clearly established chain of responsibility, from the lower to highest ranks in the army.
The witness said that he met General Mladic for the first time in 1994.
“I did not speak with Mladic about Grabovica,” said RM-802, adding that “each brigade commander loved when Mladic came to visit”, because it was “good for the moral.”
The trial resumes on November 7.
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.