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14 May 2013

Crime in Srebrenica – Wish for Revenge

Radosa Milutinovic BIRN BiH Hague

Former member of the Republika Srpska Army, VRS, Zlatan Celanovic confirms at Ratko Mladic’s trial that, in July 1995 he participated in examination of Muslim captives from Srebrenica, who, according to the charges, later went missing.

Celanovic, who worked with the Morale and Religious and Legal Issues of the VRS Bratunac Brigade at the time, said that he examined the captives in Bratunac as per an order by Lieutenant Colonel Ljubisa Beara, the then Chief of Security of the VRS Main Headquarters.
According to Celanovic’s testimony, Beara was present when thousands of Muslim male captives were brought from Srebrenica to Bratunac by buses and trucks in the evening hours on July 13, 1995.  
The indictment against Mladic alleges that, on the following day the captives were transported to several locations in the vicinity of Zvornik, where the VRS shot them in an organised manner.
In 2010 The Hague Tribunal pronounced a first instance verdict against Beara, sentencing him to life imprisonment and finding him guilty of genocide in Srebrenica. The indictment charges Beara’s chief Mladic, the then Commander of the VRS Main Headquarters, with genocide against 7,000 Srebrenica Muslims.
Witness Celanovic told the Tribunal that Momir Nikolic, Security Officer of the VRS Bratunac Brigade, introduced him to Lieutenant Colonel Beara on July 13, 1995.  
In 2003 Nikolic admitted guilt, before The Hague Tribunal, for the persecution of Srebrenica Muslims. After having admitted guilt, he was sentenced, under a second instance verdict, to 20 years in prison. Nikolic subsequently testified at several trials for Srebrenica genocide.
As Celanovic said, Beara ordered him to examine the captives from Srebrenica in order to determine whether any war-crime perpetrators were among them. According to the witness testimony, Major Nikolic then brought Rasid Sinanovic, a lawyer from Srebrenica, whom he had known from before, and “five or six other men”.
Celanovic said that, following the examination, military policemen took Sinanovic and the other Muslim captives to the school building in Bratunac, where many other prisoners were held.
The Prosecution alleges that Sinanovic has been missing since.
The witness said that, on that same evening he told Lieutenant Colonel Beara that too many Muslims had been brought to Bratunac by buses and trucks. After that they jointly visited a convoy of vehicles, the school building and stadium, where prisoners were held.
“Standing in the street, we could see Muslim captives on school windows… We heard them shouting: ‘When are they going to release us?...We need water’,” the witness said, describing the scene he saw. He mentioned that Lieutenant Colonel Beara, who was with him, did not react at all. Celanovic said that he saw vehicles full of captives along the Bratunac road.
During the cross-examination Mladic’s Defence attorney Branko Lukic suggested to the witness that the crime in Srebrenica was an act of revenge caused by local Serbs’ “wish for revenge” due to previous attacks by the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ABiH, from that enclave on the surrounding Serb villages, where many civilians were killed.
While confirming that such attacks were conducted, Celanovic said that he neither noticed the wish for revenge nor “physical animosity” among the local Serbs, but just a wish “to see the war end”.
Responding to a suggestion by the Defence attorney, the witness confirmed that he had not heard that any of the captives were killed in Bratunac following the fall of Srebrenica. He said that nobody mistreated Sinanovic and the other Muslims, whom he examined. Also, he told the Tribunal that he had “never heard” of the plan for deporting the local population from Srebrenica and that, as far as he knew, disarming of the enclave was the goal of the VRS offensive.
Celanovic said that it was true that Lieutenant Colonel Beara told him, on July 13, 1995, that “all captives would go to Kladanj tomorrow in order to be exchanged”. When asked whether anybody made a list of the captives, the witness said: “I was convinced that they were really going to Kladanj for an exchange. I do not know why anybody would have made lists.”
Mladic is also charged with persecuting Muslims and Croats throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, terrorising civilians in Sarajevo through long-lasting shelling and sniping and taking UNPROFOR members hostage.
During the continuation of the hearing witness RM-325 testified via video link behind closed doors.
The trial is due to continue on May 15.
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