News 12 Dec 14

Serbs ‘Wanted to Stop Bosnian Islamic State’

The Bosnian Serbs’ wartime goal was not to destroy the country, but to stop Bosniaks establishing an Islamic state, a former Serb official told Ratko Mladic’s trial.

Justice Report

Vojo Kupresanin, a former official of the Serb Democratic Party, told Mladic’s trial at the Hague Tribunal on Thursday that the Bosnian Serbs wanted to prevent Bosniak leader Alija Izetbegovic from setting up a Muslim republic.

Kupresanin, one of the Serb leaders in the Bosanska Krajina region, initially told the UN-backed court that he did not tell the Republika Srpska Parliament that “our clear objective is to destroy Alija’s state”.

The prosecutor then showed him a transcript of the parliament session, suggesting that he meant that he wanted to destroy “independent and unitary Bosnia and Herzegovina”.

But the witness responded: “When I speak about ‘Alija’s state’, I’m talking about an Islamic state, based on Izetbegovic’s Islamic declaration… I’m not talking about unitary Bosnia and Herzegovina … We wanted to destroy the concept of an Islamic state.”

Mladic, the wartime commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, is charged with, among other things, the persecution of Muslims and Croats across Bosnia and Herzegovina. The goal of that persecution, according to the indictment, was the creation of a Serb state in the country.

But Kupresanin said that the goal of the Serbs, on the eve of the war, was for Bosnia and Herzegovina to stay within Yugoslavia. He recalled that the vast majority of Bosnian Serbs voted in a plebiscite in late 1991 to remain part of Yugoslavia.

“I don’t think that was a step towards the break-up of Bosnia and Herzegovina… but the democratic will of the people… We wanted to stay in Bosnia and Herzegovina if Bosnia and Herzegovina remained within Yugoslavia. The constitution guaranteed us that,” Kupresanin said.

Asked by the chairman of the panel of judges, Alphons Orie, whether he advocated “the creation of an independent Serb state”, Kupresanin responded: “At that time, no.”

The prosecutor quoted from the record of paarliamentary session in February 1992, during which Kupresanin called Muslims and Croats “our natural enemies” and said that Serbs shouldn’t have anything with them.

“I don’t remember that… These are harsh words,” the witness responded.

Mladic is also on trial for genocide in Srebrenica, terrorising the population of Sarajevo and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.

The trial continues on Monday.

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