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24 March 2013
News

Muslim Extremists To Be Blamed for Conflict

Radosa Milutinovic BIRN Hague

As the trial of Radovan Karadzic continues, two defence witnesses denied responsibility of the Serb side during the Bijeljina conflict in spring 1992, stating that it was caused by Muslim extremists.

Witnesses Zivan Filipovic and Dusan Spasojevic stated that Muslim paramilitaries organised and armed by the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) blocked Bijeljina on 31 March by placing numerous roadblocks in the streets and snipers on rooftops.

Karadzic, the then leader of the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) was charged with, among other things, persecution of Muslims and Croats from 20 municipalities in BiH.

According to the indictment, in early April Serb paramilitaries led by the unit of Zeljko Raznjatovic (Arkan) forcibly took over the control over Bijeljina, killing 48 civilians on that occasion. Karadzic was also charged with Srebrenica genocide, terrorising civilians in Sarajevo through a long-lasting shelling and sniping campaign, and taking UNPROFOR members hostage.

During the cross-examination by Prosecutor Hildegard Uertz–Retzlaff, witness Filipovic who was deputy commander of the Bijeljina Territorial Defence corroborated that the day before the conflict started, Serbs close to Serb Democratic Party threw a bomb on the "Istanbul Cafe" which was frequented by Muslims.   

Subsequently, according to the witness, a Muslim attempted to throw a hand grenade on "Serbia Cafe", but he was stopped from doing so.

When asked by the prosecutor to corroborate his earlier statement that the Bijeljina victims were the result of paramilitaries of Zeljko Raznjatovic-Arkan, Ljubisa Savic-Mauzer and the Patriotic League commanded by Hasan Tiric, in addition to local extremists, Filipovic replied that "the members of Patriotic League were the first to place roadblocks and snipers, while all the others were participants in the war - they removed the roadblocks."

When shown the photo of Raznjatovic's paramilitaries kicking bodies of civilians on the ground, the witness corroborated that these were "Arkan's people" but was unable to identify either the civilians or the location of the incident.

Raznjatovic was killed in 2000 in Belgrade, and prior to that the ICTY had indicted him for war crimes.

Filipovic testified that Raznjatovic was a criminal and that Serbs were also afraid of him, but Muslims in particular. However, he denied that Raznjatovic had been invited to Bijeljina by the local authorities, stating that it was done by "Radical Party and its members".

When asked about the persecution of hundreds of Muslims commanded by Vojkan Durkovic, Filipovic replied that "there was no pressure" to relocate people. According to the witness, Durkovic was subsequently acquitted of persecution by the Court after Muslims testified that he "helped them cross over" to the Muslim territory.

Spasojevic, a police inspector from Bijeljina, stated that the police did their best to prevent the conflicts having immediately arrested the person who threw the hand grenade at the "Istanbul Cafe". He stated that half of the victims were killed at roadblocks while "putting up resistance".

During the cross-examination, Prosecutor Catrina Gustafsson corroborated that contrary to police reports, Muslim forces never controlled the entire town and that roadblocks were not removed by "self-organised" citizens but primarily by Raznjatovic's army.

"I disagree," the witness replied.

When asked to explain why the police reports fail to state the circumstances under which the civilians, including women, were killed,  Spasojevic stated that he did not know.

The next hearing is scheduled for 22 March.

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