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“Disrupted” Relations between VRS Generals

8. July 2013.00:00
A Hague Prosecution witness says at Ratko Mladic’s trial that he received an order from the indictee on the day when Srebrenica fell in July 1995, telling him to provide buses for the evacuation of the local population from the enclave.

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Petar Skrbic, who was Mladic’s assistant for organization, mobilization and personnel affairs at the time, said that the order to “mobilise” 50 buses and send them to a football stadium in Bratunac was conveyed to him by phone by the Operational Centre of the Main Headquarters with the Republika Srpska army, VRS, in Han Pijesak in the late evening of July 11, 1995.

“General Mladic, Commander of the VRS Main Headquarters, stood behind the order,” Skrbic said. Skrbic said that he forwarded the order, in writing, to the Ministry of Defence of Republika Srpska, RS, which “mobilised” buses in several municipalities on the following day, July 12, 1995. According to Skrbic’s testimony, civil and military police, including policemen from the 65th Protective Regiment of the VRS Main Headquarters, which was under Mladic’s direct command, were in charge of escorting the buses. The witness said that the buses were “used for evacuation”, pointing out that, at the time he neither knew “who will be evacuated nor where.” As he said, a few days later he saw on TV that the buses evacuated “women and children”. He said that the information was confirmed to him at the VRS Main Headquarters approximately on July 18, 1995. According to the indictment, which charges Mladic with genocide against 7,000 Srebrenica Muslims and the persecution of thousands of women, children and the elderly, the buses were used for transferring men to several locations in Zvornik municipality, where they were shot, and transporting the remaining population to Muslim territories near Kladanj. While being cross-examined by Mladic’s Defence attorney Branko Lukic, General Skrbic confirmed that the offensive on Srebrenica was not discussed at meeting held in the VRS Main Headquarters premises, which he attended. Also, he said that he did not know who sent buses from Bratunac to Potocari and that nobody told him that it should be kept secret. Defence attorney Lukic suggested and witness Skrbic confirmed that, during the attack on Srebrenica RS President and supreme Commander of RS armed forces Radovan Karadzic maintained direct contacts with general Radislav Krstic, Commander of the Drina Corps, who commanded the offensive, “bypassing” General Mladic.Skrbic also confirmed that the relations between Karadzic and Mladic, as well as other generals of the VRS Main Headquarters, were “highly disrupted”. Krstic was sentenced to 35 years in prison for having assisted in the commission of genocide in Srebrenica. During an additional examination Prosecutor Peter McCloskey asked his witness “whether he has problems with admitting that he participated in taking civilians (from Srebrenica) by buses, because he knows that it was a crime?”“If I may, I would elide the answer,” Skrbic said. When asked who could have made the decision about the final destination of the buses, which he mobilised and sent to Bratunac, Skrbic said: “The Commander of the VRS Main Headquarters.” When Defence attorney Lukic made an additional question, asking him whether it meant that General Krstic, Commander of the Drina Corps, could not have given the order about the destination of the buses, the witness said: “Not without permission from the Commander of the VRS Main Headquarters.” The prosecutors are trying to prove, by Skrbic’s testimony, that the forced relocation of people from Srebrenica was planned in advance and that its implementation began on the day when the enclave fell into the hands of the Republika Srpska Army. On the other hand, Mladic’s Defence has so far suggested that the evacuation of people was conducted at a request by Srebrenica Muslims themselves and UNPROFOR, something which was made during a meeting with Mladic in the “Fontana” Hotel in Bratunac in the morning of July 12, 1995. At that meeting Mladic told the Bosniak population that they “could survive or disappear”. Mladic is also charged with persecuting Muslims and Croats throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, terrorizing civilians in Sarajevo by long-lasting shelling and sniping and taking UNPROFOR members hostage. The trial is due to continue on July 9.

Radoša Milutinović

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