Analysis 13 Jul 12

Srebrenica - 10th Sabotage Unit: ‘Taking Breaks Amid Cold-blooded Murder’

Six members of unit believed to have killed around 800 people from Srebrenica in 1995 have been jailed so far to 157 years.

Justice Report

Six former members of the 10th Sabotage Unit of the Army of Republika Srpska, VRS, have been convicted so far to a total of 157 years for the mass execution of men from Srebrenica at Branjevo farm near Zvornik on July 16, 1995.

On suspicion of having committed the crime of genocide because of his involvement in the shootings, the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina this year issued an international red warrant for Brano Gojkovic, a former soldier of the unit.

Milorad Pelemis, former commander of the unit, is listed on the same warrant on suspicion of genocide. According to available information, both men are in Serbia.

Members of the former military police of the Drina Corps of the VRS claims that several 10th Sabotage Unit soldiers, also killed detainees from Srebrenica in the village of Bisina, near Sekovici, seven days after the mass execution at Branjevo.

No one has yet been prosecuted for this crime, however.

Established as a unit to perform demanding military tasks, it is now infamous for having killed at least 800 men, both young and old.

Victims were transported by bus from a school in the village of Pilica, near Zvornik, to Branjevo, and taken out in smaller groups and executed.

“When we came down in a column, the men were lying dead,” a survivor, Ahmo Hasic, told the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY, in September 2006 at the trial of Vujadin Popovic et al.

“When we approached those who had been killed, they [the Serb soldiers] ordered us: ‘Turn your backs!’ We did so.

“Instead of [hearing] the order to shoot, they then ordered: ‘Lie down!’. Before anyone had even said these words, the first bursts [of gunfire] were fired.”

Bound and blindfolded:

The firing squad was made up of eight soldiers from the unit, six of whom have been convicted and did not dispute their role in the killings.

Drazen Erdemovic was the first to speak about these murders before the Hague Tribunal, when he admitted his guilt in 1996.

“Persons from the first bus were blindfolded and their hands were tied behind their backs,” Erdemovic said, adding that they were taking people off the bus in groups and then shooting them.

“We took these persons, I can’t exactly say, but I think it was 100 to 200 metres from the bus, and then we were ordered to shoot them”, added Erdemovic, who as a member of the firing squad was sentenced to five years in prison in 1998.

Franc Kos, former commander of the 1st Platoon, said while testifying in his defence in November last year before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina that the victims went quietly from the bus to their place of execution with their hands tied behind their backs, while some were blindfolded.

“I put up a machine gun, and Zoran Goronja stood beside me,” said Kos.

“He fired ten bullets and then he fell down. I know that Z1 told him: ‘What are you waiting for, kid? Come on, do it’.

“Z1 [then] fired bursts at the second group of prisoners and there were many wounded there. Then, Stanko Kojic said: ‘Don’t shoot like that’, so it was agreed that short bursts would be fired at groups of ten men,” Kos continued.

In mid-June 2012, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina sentenced Kos by first-instance verdict to 40 years, Kojic to 43 years, Goronja to 40 years and Vlastimir Golijan to 19 years in prison for crimes against humanity.

Although indicted for genocide, the verdict stated that they were unaware of the existence of any genocidal intent as well as of other mass murders of Srebrenica men in July 1995.

Marko Boskic confessed participation in the killings in 2010, when he was sentenced to ten years in prison.

“Once we arrived at Branjevo, Kos told us that prisoners would be lined up in columns and one bullet would be shot in [each] nape,” he said at his trial.

“When the first bus came, I saw 40 to 50 prisoners. Military police officers were taking out eight to 10 prisoners from the buses, and Kos and Brano Gojkovic took them to the place where they were shot,” he added.

Beside those six convicted persons, the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina considers that Brano Gojkovic and Aleksandar Cvetkovic - who was arrested by Israeli police in early 2011 - were members of the same firing squad.

The process of Cvetkovic’s extradition from Israel to Bosnia and Herzegovina is ongoing.

At the disposal of Mladic:

The 10th Sabotage Unit was formed in October 1994, and, according to past verdicts, the soldiers who formed it were carefully selected.

It was placed at the disposal of VRS chief, Ratko Mladic, with whom the soldiers signed a contract for their professional engagement and for which they were paid.

Mladic is now on trial before the ICTY for genocide in Srebrenica, among other grave crimes.

The Unit consisted of two platoons, one in Bijeljina, and another in the village of Dragasevac, near Vlasenica.

The main tasks of the Unit were collecting intelligence information, insertion behind enemy lines and performing commando-style actions.

The VRS’s final attack on Srebrenica started on July 10, 1995, in the scope of “Operation Krivaja 95”.

The next day Mladic’s forces entered the town in the morning hours and encountered the civilians, who made no resistance.

In his testimony, Erdemovic stated that Commander Pelemis ordered a soldier to kill a 30-year-old civilian, which he did.

“The commander ordered him to slaughter, kill, him,” Erdemovic said. Zoran Obrenovic, alias “Maljic”, is under an international warrant for this crime.

After the VRS took over Srebrenica, about 20,000 civilians left for Potocari, and among them elderly men, women and children.

At least 10,000 militarily able men sought to escape by heading through the forests towards Tuzla, which was under the control of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ABiH.

But back in Potocari, the remaining men were separated from the women and children and the male detainees soon killed.

As the column of other men went through a forest near Bratunac and Konjevic Polje, meanwhile, the VRS ambushed and bombarded them, and then delivered an ultimatum for them to surrender.

Several thousand of the men duly surrendered and were held captive until their execution.

They were kept captive in a variety of facilities, some of them in the Vuk Karadzic primary school and in town stadium in Bratunac.

Loaded into at least 10 buses, the men from Bratunac were then transported to the school in Pilice on July 14.

Ten were killed there. The others were transported by bus to the execution site at Branjevo, where there were eight soldiers from the 10th Sabotage Unit from Dragasevac.

While being driven in one of the buses, Hasic said that he heard bursts of gunfire coming from the direction of the farm.

He said that half of the men from the bus were then taken to the field, which was by then “black with the dead”.

After the soldiers had killed them, they returned for the rest. One of the prisoners, recalled Hasic, vainly begged his captors: “Give us water, and then you can kill us.”

As they brought the men for execution, Hasic pretended to be dead.

When the bursts of gunfire stopped, he recalled, one of the soldiers asked whether there were any survivors, and two men answered.

“The soldiers shot them ... only one shot in the head. Everything was done,” said Hasic.

After he escaped, Hasic was left wandering for days in the surrounding forests.

He was quickly re-captured and taken to the Batkovic detention camp from where he was released late in 1995.

During the trial, Kos, Kojic, Golijan and Goronja claimed that they had no option but to kill the victims at Branjevo because if they had not killed them, they would have been killed themselves.

The Trial Chamber ruled that they did not substantiate such claims with evidence.

“They liquidated [the men] cold-bloodedly, and they took breaks during executions to eat and drink beer in a meadow full of corpses, while the other waited to be executed,” the Chamber ruled in the verdict of Kos at al.

Executions also in Bisina:

Protected witness PW-172, at the trial of Vujadin Popovic, a former Assistant Commander for security of the Drina Corps of the VRS, said that members of the 10th Sabotage Unit also shot men from Srebrenica on July 23, 1995, in the village of Bisina, near Sekovici,

Popovic was sentenced in June 2010 to life imprisonment for genocide in relation to Srebrenica. His case in now on appeal.

According to the verdict, PW-172, a former member of the military police of the Drina Corps of the VRS and two other men went to the prison in Susica, near Vlasenica, for prisoners, after which they loaded them in a truck and drove to Bisina.

On their way, they were joined by another truck and a minibus, which was driven by a soldier of the Drina Corps, which had orders to pick up five to six soldiers on the main road to the village of Dragasevac, where there was a command of a platoon of the 10th Sabotage Unit.

The column stopped near a restaurant along the main road where they were some soldiers. PW-172 said that on the uniforms of some of these armed soldiers, who entered the minibus, the symbols of the 10th Sabotage Unit were visible.

Several prisoners were loaded on the trucks and were headed towards Bisina. Popovic, who was driving, joined the column along the way.

According to PW-172, after they arrived in Bisina, not far from the local battalion command, the soldiers of the 10th Sabotage Unit, after a brief conversation with Popovic, opened the back door of the truck and took out five prisoners, walked with them for about 30 meters and then killed them.

“This procedure was continued at the same pace – they took out prisoners in groups of five from the truck and quickly shot them,” Popovic’s verdict stated.

During the exhumation in Bisina in 2009, the Institute for Missing Persons of Bosnia and Herzegovina found more than 30 skeletal remains of people who had been blindfolded and who had had their hands tied with wire, just like those killed at Branjevo farm.

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