news 11 Jul 12

Zvornik Brigade, Guilty For 2,500-Plus Deaths

Verdicts on seven members say VRS brigade played key role in slaughter after fall of Srebrenica - executing victims and transporting the bodies to mass graves.

By Selma Ucanbarlic
BIRN Justice

Up till now, seven members of the Zvornik Brigade of the Army of Republika Srpska, VRS, have been found guilty and sentenced to a total of 139 years in prison for killing more than 2,500 men and boys from the Srebrenica area in July 1995.

The majority of locations where the victims were executed were under the responsibility of the Zvornik Brigade.

Verdicts of The Hague Tribunal and the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina established that in the areas of Orahovac, Rocevic, Kozluk, Petkovci, Kula Grad, Branjevo Military Economy and Pilice, more than 2,500 males from Srebrenica were killed.

Members of the Zvornik Brigade participated in both the mass executions and helped transport the corpses to mass graves.

Verdicts found that the establishment of collection centres for detainees and then the mass murders “occurred exclusively in the zone of responsibility of the Zvornik Brigade”. Killings started on July 14, 1995.
“Thousands of innocent victims were killed. All that is left are graves and refugees, everything was destroyed and it was general disaster,” Dragan Obrenovic told The Hague Tribunal in 2003.

“I bear part of the responsibility, too. The disaster remains as a warning to all sides that this should never happen again anywhere,” he said.

Genocide verdict:

The Zvornik Brigade of the VRS was formed in June 1992, and in November 1992 became part of the Drina Corps. About 5,000 people were part of the Zvornik Brigade in July 1995, under Vinko Pandurevic as Commander.

Dragan Obrenovic was deputy commander and chief of staff at the time, while Drago Nikolic was Assistant Commander for Security. Nikolic’s deputy was Milorad Trbic.

In 2010 the Hague Tribunal sentenced Pandurevic was sentenced by first-instance verdict to 17 years in prison for aiding and abetting murder. The same verdict sentenced Nikolic to 35 years’ imprisonment for aiding and abetting genocide.

After Obrenovic pleaded guilty, the Hague Tribunal sentenced him to 17 years in prison, while the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina sentenced Trbic to 30 years in prison for genocide.

Trbic’s verdict was the only second-instance verdict so far for the genocide committed in Srebrenica in July 1995.

After the VRS seized Srebrenica on July 11, 1995, the majority of men, were first separated from women and children in Potocari or detained while trying to cross to the territory under control of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ABiH.

They were then kept in Bratunac from one to three days, and then taken to other places of detention and execution.

Although the gathering, capture and detention of the men from Srebrenica were primarily under the command of the Bratunac Brigade, the subsequent detention and executions of the detainees were carried out under the command of the Zvornik Brigade.

As the Trbic verdict stated, on July 13, 1995, Drago Nikolic was informed that all able-bodied Bosniak [Muslim] men from Srebrenica should be taken from Bratunac to Zvornik to be executed.

Trbic provided facilities to keep the detainees and in the evening hours of July 13, 1995, the first group of detainees was brought to the school at Grbavci in Orahovac.

In the Trbic verdict, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina concluded that VRS soldiers and members of the Military Police of the Zvornik Brigade secured the detainees at the school and kept them in inhumane conditions.

“From time to time we started to yell because we could not take it anymore. We were suffocating. There was no air, no water,” Witness A-47 said, recalling the situation at the school. “When we started to yell, and they would open fire and shoot over our heads,” he added.

On July 14, the detainees were taken from the school to the meadow near Orahovac and executed.

Witness A-26, who survived the execution in Orahovac, said he entered a truck, and after a short journey the detainees were ordered to get off and form a line, after which shooting began.

“They started to shoot ... People began to fall, and I fell with them, with my hand over the chest of the man next to me. Someone then said: ‘We need to finish them off,’” said A-26, who survived by pretending to be dead.

Another witness, Witness A-27, and Mevludin Oric, survived the execution of detainees from the school and managed to escape together from the execution site.

The Trial Chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina concluded that before the shooting of detainees in a meadow near Orahovac, Trbic, together with other VRS members, killed up to 20 men by opening fire with automatic weapons in front of the gym in order to “restrain and control the other detained Bosniaks inside the school”.

The Hague Tribunal verdict said Nikolic issued the instructions at the execution site in Orahovac, while the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina determined that Trbic went from Orahovac to Petkovci, where executions of detainees were also carried out.

Executions at Petkovci and Kozluk:

The captured men from Srebrenica were kept in the premises of the school in Petkovci before being taken away and executed at nearby dam on the night of July 14 to 15, 1995.

Witness A-29, who was 17 years old at the time and survived the shooting at dam, recalled seeing rows of dead people on the ground after he got off the truck.

“I came down when it was my turn. Like everyone else, we were all waiting for our turn,” he said. We played a game for time. We lived for few extra seconds…

“When we went behind the truck ... I saw the rows of dead people on the ground. You could feel them,” he added.

According to the court verdicts, at least 179 men were killed at the dam in Petkovci.

According to the Trbic verdict, he “acted together with other members of the VRS and supervised them”, securing the premises in which the detainees were held, while Nikolic was near the school in Petkovci when the prisoners were detained there.

Members of the Military Police of the Zvornik Brigade also secured approximately 500 men from Srebrenica who were detained in a school in the village of Rocevic.

On July 15, the detainees were taken to a garbage depot next to the river Drina in Kozluk and executed.

The Trbic verdict said: “Approximately 500 men were executed on the bank of the river Drina. It is not known whether anyone survived…. According to Trbic’s claims, at least between 600 and 700 people were killed in Kozluk”.

The verdict stated that on July 15, 1995, Trbic killed at least five Bosniak detainees in the village school of Rocevic, and organized the transport of detainees from the school to the execution site in Kozluk.

According to the verdict of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, along with Trbic, other members of the Zvornik Brigade were also responsible for killing the men from Srebrenica in Kozluk.

The Hague Tribunal has also determined that on July 15, Nikolic participated in organizing the arrests and executions of detainees in the school in Rocevic.

As the Trial Chamber of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina concluded, on the same day, Trbic “coordinated and supervised” killings of the men from Srebrenica in Kula Grad, which was carried out by the VRS.

“Evidences confirm that a group of detainees was executed and buried in Kula Grad on July 15, 1995, and their remains later transferred to Kamenica,” the Trbic verdict said.

Killings of the men from Srebrenica continued on July 16, 1995, in the House of Culture in the village of Pilica and at Branjevo Military agricultural field.

Shot in the head:

About 500 male prisoners were brought to the premises of the school at Kula on July 14, 1995, and after two days, they were transported to Branjevo Military agricultural field and killed.

Witness P6, who survived shooting at Branjevo, said that he, along with the other detainees in the bus, was brought to the site where he watched soldiers shooting at detainees. Later, he was also taken in the column from the bus, along with 20 other detainees.

“I was in the second column. They were taking us by the same road as the first group, from where we heard bursts [of fire],” he said.

“First, they ordered us to stand up next to the dead men from the first group, then to turn round and then a burst [of gunfire] cut us down. I heard bodies falling down and fell, too, but I wasn’t shot,” Witness P6 said.

Witness Q also survived the shooting at Branjevo by “throwing myself to the ground” when the shooting started.

“Another man fell on me, on my head. He was already dead,” he recalled. “Then they started to shoot people one by one in the head. One of them said to another that he should not shoot [people] in the head because their brains exploded.”

On the same day, about 500 prisoners were also killed in the House of Culture in Pilice. It is not known whether anyone survived this shooting.

The verdict of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina sentencing Trbic for genocide in 2010 said that three detainees who survived the July 16 killings in the House of Culture were killed the next day, when it was noticed that they were hiding under the dead bodies.

Momir Pelemis, as Deputy Commander, and Slavko Peric, as Assistant Commander for Security of the First Battalion of the Zvornik Brigade, were sentenced to 16 and 19 years respectively by first-instance verdict of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina for assisting in the killing of at least 1,000 men in Pilice.

Verdicts of The Hague Tribunal and the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina said the killings at Branjevo were undertaken by members of the 10th Sabotage Unit.

The Trial Chamber established that Trbic also participated in the killings at Branjevo and in the House of Culture in Pilice.

“He helped with the transport of detainees from the school in Kula to the places of executions at Branjevo Military Economy, he provided the manpower for the shooting squads at Branjevo Military Economy and House of Culture in Pilice and also the necessary logistical support, and he coordinated tasks related to cleaning and burials at these locations,” the Trbic verdict said.

According to The Hague Tribunal verdict, Nikolic gave orders to the First Battalion of the Zvornik Brigade to guard the prisoners in the school in Kula, knowing that they would then be shot.

The Hague Tribunal sentenced Dragan Jokic, former chief of engineering of the Zvornik Brigade, to nine years in prison for having “assisted in the commission of crimes by sending the mechanization and members of the Engineering Unit to places of execution in order to participate in burials”.

Ostoja Stanisic, former commander of the Sixth Battalion of the Zvornik Brigade and Marko Milosevic, his deputy, were arrested in June.

They are accused of committing genocide at the dam in Petkovci. The Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina considers that about a thousand detainees from Srebrenica were shot there in mid-July, 1995.

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