Sarajevo Siege: Brigade Chiefs’ Role in Terrorising City Ignored

6. April 2020.09:11
Despite strong evidence that emerged in their superiors’ trials, officers who led brigades of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Sarajevo-Romanija Corps as it targeted Sarajevo with shells and sniper fire have never been indicted.

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“I remember lying in the office, near the door, covered with debris and bits of furniture… I had a cut above my eye and the surfaces of my eyes were injured by the dust and debris. A piece of shrapnel was stuck in my right cheek.”

This is what Rialda Musaefendic Ocuz said in testimony at the Hague Tribunal in 2006, describing how she was injured when a blast hit the Radio-Television Sarajevo, RTV building in June 1995, in the last year of the siege of the Bosnian capital.

Witness statement by Rialda Musaefendic. Photo: Screenshot Click to enlarge

Twenty-eight of her colleagues were injured in the shelling of the RTV building, and one lost his life.

“I am sad and angry too, because if the television station hadn’t been there, people would not have seen what was happening in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that would have been the worst possible propaganda,” Musaefendic Ocuz told BIRN.

Musaefendic Ocuz testified at the trial of Dragomir Milosevic, who was the commander in 1994 and 1995 of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Sarajevo-Romanija Corps. The Sarajevo-Romanija Corps targeted Sarajevo with a long-running campaign of shelling and sniper attacks during the wartime siege of the city.

The Hague Tribunal sentenced Milosevic to 29 years in prison for terrorising the population of Sarajevo. Among the crimes for which he was found responsible was the attack on the RTV building.

Another former commander of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, Stanislav Galic, and the wartime Bosnian Serb political leader, Radovan Karadzic, have also been found guilty of bearing responsibility for shelling and sniper attacks on Sarajevo.

But Sarajevo-Romanija Corps brigade commanders under the control of Milosevic or Galic have never been prosecuted for their role in incidents in which civilians were targeted.

Amir Ahmic, the liaison officer at the Hague Tribunal for the Bosniak member of Bosnia’s tripartite presidency, claimed that although the UN court has handed down three final verdicts for crimes committed during the siege of Sarajevo, no one in Bosnia and Herzegovina has properly researched what was actually written in them.

“[The case files] contain numerous documents and pieces of evidence, including testimonies, documents, expert evaluations and analyses, which clearly specify the command structure responsible for each individual incident – which squad, which section and even which brigade; who fired the missiles, which sniper opened fire, who was the direct perpetrator, who gave orders in the field to annihilate Sarajevo for nearly four years,” Ahmic said.

BIRN has analysed all the evidence in the Milosevic case, as well as in other trials related to the siege of Sarajevo, in order to determine precisely which crimes the brigade commanders might have committed. This evidence includes witness testimonies, orders and requests for weaponry issued by the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, local Sarajevo police reports, UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) reports and testimony from ballistics experts.

‘Select the most profitable target’

‘Use of Modified Aerial Bombs during the Siege of Sarajevo 1994-1995’, a report by Berko Zecevic. Photo: Screenshot. Click to enlarge

In a report entitled ‘Use of Modified Aerial Bombs during the Siege of Sarajevo 1994-1995’, which was included as evidence in Dragomir Milosevic’s trial, ballistics expert Berko Zecevic concluded that the aerial bomb that hit the Radio-Television (RTV) Sarajevo building from a launching point six kilometres away.

“The projectile first hit the roof of the television station, bounced off the roof and ricocheted. This was a so-called projectile ricochet. It then hit one wall and fell into the space between two studios, where it exploded. The marks made at the moment the projectile hit the ground and the wall made it possible for us to determine the direction [from which it came hat was the wider area beyond [the Sarajevo neighbourhood of] Rajlovac,” Zecevic told BIRN.

According to Hague experts’ findings about the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps’ structure and maps of its positions, the territory behind Rajlovac was held by Ilidza Brigade units of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, whose commander was Vladimir Radojcic in 1995.

Click to enlarge
Map of Sarajevo used at the ICTY trial of Dragomir Milosevic. Photo: ICTY.

Radojcic testified at several trials in The Hague. During the trial of former Bosnian Serb Army chief Ratko Mladic, he admitted ordering the launch of two modified aerial bombs at RTV building in June 1995. He said he targeted the TV station because it “broadcast the worst possible propaganda”.

Radojcic is now believed to live in Serbia and could not be reached for comment.

The shelling of the RTV building is one of more than a dozen such attacks for which Dragomir Milosevic was sentenced. His case was proved in the same way as those against Galic and Karadzic – by using the findings of the Sarajevo police, UNPROFOR, Sarajevo-Romanija Corps orders and evaluations by domestic and foreign experts.

The database of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague contains numerous reports and orders, as well as reports by military experts on launch sites for projectiles and aerial bombs in Sarajevo and on the areas from which sniper fire came. These were used at Milosevic’s trial and at the trials of Stanislav Galic and Radovan Karadzic.

However, this evidence has not led domestic prosecutors in the Balkans to bring cases against lower-level brigade commanders for command or individual responsibility.

To prove who was responsible for bombing the RTV building, Hague prosecutors included a series of Sarajevo-Romanija Corps documents in the case file, showing that the Ilidza Brigade possessed aerial bombs and the equipment for launching them.

One was a document issued by the Bosnian Serb Army’s Main Headquarters of on June 28, 1995, indicating that the Pretis ammunition factory would deliver ammunition, including five FAB-100 aerial bombs, at the request of the Ilidza Brigade. In a document issued on July 1 that year, the Ilidza Brigade also asked the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps’ command to provide it with ammunition, including ten FAB-250 and five FAB-105 aerial bombs. The request was signed by Colonel Vladimir Radojcic.

On June 4, 1995 the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps’ command issued an order for 50 aerial bombs from the Pretis factory. The bombs were intended for the Ilidza, Third Sarajevo Infantry, First Sarajevo Motorised and Ilija Brigades. The document stated that seven FAB-105 and five FAB-250 bombs would be delivered to the Ilidza Brigade.

Sarajevo-Romanija Corps’ report on the situation at the front line, June 30, 1995. Photo: Screenshot Click to enlarge

To launch the aerial bombs, the brigade needed launchers and other military hardware. Evidence about this can also be found in The Hague. A document issued by the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps’ command on June 15, 1995, which was addressed to the Bosnian Serb Army’s Main Headquarters, contained data on the anti-aircraft arms that the Corps had, listing four launchers of “105, 200, 250 kg” aerial bombs, two howitzer launchers, guided missiles, 12 anti-aircraft machine guns of 7.7 mm calibre and three 23mm anti-aircraft cannons.

On June 12, 1995 the Ilidza Brigade command sent a reply to the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, saying it had one launcher which could fire 100kg and 250kg aerial bombs. The document was signed by Radojcic.

The Ilidza Brigade’s responsibility for another shelling incident was established in Milosevic’s verdict and the subsequent trial of Radovan Karadzic. On April 7, 1995, an aerial bomb hit Hrasnica, a residential area in the foothills of Mount Igman, killing one civilian and injuring three others.

The evidence file contains an order issued by Sarajevo-Romanija Corps on April 6 – one day before the attack – in which Milosevic ordered the Ilidza Brigade: “Immediately prepare the launcher with one aerial bomb and transfer the bomb to be launched.”

“As for the target, select the most profitable target in Hrasnica or Sokolovic Kolonija, where the largest amount of damage will be caused,” the order adds.

In a statement included in the case file, witness Ziba Subo recalled that she lived in a building in Hrasnica, and that there was a smaller house in the same courtyard where her cousin Ziba Custovic lived. She said she invited her cousin for coffee that day.

“She did not even manage to get to my place, everything happened in a split second, all of a sudden all the windows got dark, like in a solar eclipse. I looked up when things began falling on me. I knew it was a mortar right away, because the house began falling down. Bricks and mortar were falling on me. The house was falling down,” Subo said.

The Hague Tribunal verdicts convicting Galic and Karadzic also determined that three mortar shells were fired at the Alipasino Polje neighbourhood from Ilidza Brigade positions on January 22, 1994. Six children were killed and five civilians injured.

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Map of Sarajevo used at the ICTY trial of Dragomir Milosevic. Photo: ICTY

Evidence collected but not used

Attorney Vasvija Vidovic pointed out that war crimes committed in the Sarajevo area during the siege have been well investigated in several cases in The Hague.

“The incidents and perpetrators have been fully identified. There are many pieces of evidence on the basis of which the command and individual responsibility of perpetrators can be determined in a relatively easy way,” Vidovic said.

“As I have seen the documentation, I think it is a simple task which the state prosecution should have considered an absolute priority,” she added.

She said that Sarajevo-Romanija Corps and its hierarchy have been completely identified.

“It upsets me that nobody has answered for crimes committed from the Jewish cemetery zone [where the Bosnian Serb Army had sniper nests],” Vidovic said.

“These were Sarajevo-Romanija Corps operations and the precise command structure [of the Corps] is known. The [Hague] Tribunal determined the command structure through those cases [against Milosevic, Galic and Karadzic], starting from the lowest-ranking officers to the top of the hierarchical pyramid,” she added.

She noted that, thanks to the Sarajevo police and investigative judges who carried out crime scene inspections at the time, documentation about incidents in the city was gathered professionally and good-quality evidence exists.

One of the investigators who prepared most of the reports was Dragan Miokovic, who told BIRN that these pieces of evidence are of the highest importance despite the fact that they do not identify the perpetrators by name.

“There was no way we could go deeper into those investigations in terms of determining the personal or command responsibility of those people, but we documented everything. However, as we had plenty of data and findings, we cross-matched them and acquired knowledge of [who was responsible] too,” Miokovic said. He argued that the evidence should be used to charge Sarajevo-Romanija Corps officers.

Ballistics expert Berko Zecevic said that he was also involved in investigating many shelling incidents, including the deadly attacks on the Markale open-air market in 1994 and 1994 and “around 50 mortar shelling incidents in urban parts of Sarajevo”. He pointed out that these urban districts had no military targets.

Some of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps’ commanders have never even been contacted by investigators. Velimir Dunjic confirmed to BIRN that he was commander of the Corps’ Igman Brigade for a certain period of time, but no one has ever been in touch with him about incidents that happened during his time in charge.

Snipers target civilians
Evidence used at Dragomir Milosevic’s trial suggests that, in addition to shelling, Sarajevo-Romanija Brigade units were responsible for numerous sniper attacks that killed and injured a number of civilians.

Dzenana Sokolovic, 31, and her seven-year-old son Nermin Divovic were targeted by sniper fire while they were walking along Zmaja od Bosne Street in Sarajevo – the so-called ‘Sniper Alley’ – on November 18, 1994.

One bullet hit Dzenana in her stomach. The bullet went through her body and hit her son in the head, killing him. They were on their way back from the Hrasno neighbourhood, where they had gone the previous day to get some firewood. Karadzic and Milosevic were convicted of responsibility for this incident.

Court expert witness Patrick van der Weijden, a sniper instructor, visited the crime scene and determined that from the Metalka building, which was held by Bosnian Serb forces, there was a direct and uninterrupted view of the part of the street where the victims were shot.

The court in the Milosevic case determined that the bullet that wounded Sokolovic and killed her son was fired from that building, which was in the zone of responsibility of the Sarajevo-Romanija Brigade’s First Sarajevo Mechanised Brigade at the time.

In an order dated October 29, 1993, Stanislav Galic, who was the commander of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps at the time, wrote that in order to intensify sniping activities, “a group of snipers with the size of a squad (30+1 soldiers) should be formed in each brigade”.

“They should be equipped with telescopic and passive infrared sights and silencers. Training for the troops and the execution of tasks should begin right away. Brigade commanders will personally issue orders for the deployment of the troops, starting with the selection of positions and the methods of operating. The focus should be put on using snipers with silencers,” said the order.

According to documents available in The Hague, the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps’ First Sarajevo Brigade had snipers too. These documents also indicate that the First Sarajevo Brigade was commanded by Veljko Stojanovic.

Stojanovic, who lives in Banja Luka, confirmed to BIRN that he was the commander of the First Sarajevo Brigade, but did not want to talk about incidents that happened when he was in charge.

The Bosnian state prosecution has not filed a single indictment for shelling and sniping incidents in Sarajevo.

Only one trial of a former Sarajevo-Romanija Corps brigade commander is underway before the state court – Miladin Trifunovic, former commander of the Corps’ Vogosca Brigade, is accused of giving consent to the management of the Planjina Kuca prison in Vogosca to take detained civilians away and use them for forced labour on the frontlines.

The Bosnian state prosecution suspected former commander of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps’ Kosevo Brigade, Miroslav Krajisnik, of crimes against humanity, but the investigation was discontinued.

“An order to discontinue the investigation into the aforementioned person was issued. There is still an active case at the prosecution referring to the said incident,” prosecution spokesperson Boris Grubesic told BIRN.

For Rialda Musaefendic Ocuz, it remains a source of deep discontent that the Bosnian prosecution hasn’t yet brought anyone to justice for the RTV shelling and other attacks in the capital.

“I think the Bosnian prosecution did a really poor job finding those who are guilty of crimes in Sarajevo,” she said. “Without that, without justice and without teaching our kids the truth about the crimes against the citizens of Sarajevo, we will never have peace.”

Albina Sorguč

This post is also available in: Bosnian