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31 July 2013

Kos’ Recollections of Executions on Branjevo

Radosa Milutinovic BIRN BiH Hague

Former Republika Srpska President Radovan Karadzic, who is charged with genocide in Srebrenica, presents Franc Kos as Defence witness before The Hague Tribunal. Kos confirms that, in his capacity as member of the RS Army, he participated in the shooting of hundreds of Srebrenica Muslims on Branjevo military farm, near Zvornik, in July 1995.

The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina pronounced a second instance verdict against Kos, sentencing him to 35 years in prison after having found him guilty of genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was transported from a prison in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he is serving his sentence, to The Hague in order to testify at this trial.
According to the charges against Karadzic and previous verdicts pronounced by The Hague Tribunal, about 1,000 Muslim men from Srebrenica were shot on Branjevo on July 16, 1995. Karadzic, former supreme Commander of VRS, is charged with genocide against about 7,000 Muslims.
Kos said that he and seven other members of the 10th Reconnaissance Squad with the Main Headquarters of VRS shot Muslims, who had been brought by seven buses, adding that there could have not been more than 350 of them, and not 1,200, as said by Drazen Erdemovic, who was the first person to admit guilt for participating in that crime. Following his admission in 1996, he was sentenced to five years in prison before The Hague Tribunal.
Kos and the others shot the first group of 25 captives from machine guns, but many were wounded.  
“Bowels protruded out of bodies of three or four men...They wail and beg...I shot them on their heads in order to stop their suffering...I said, guys, we cannot go on like this any more...Then we took out groups of ten captives,” Kos said, adding that they continued with the execution using automatic guns.
He said that, after the fifth or sixth bus had arrived, somebody said that they had to shoot people faster.
“They did not like the fact that we shot them slowly, by shooting two or three bullets on their napes,” Kos said.
He said that he and other members of the Squad said that they could not do it faster, because they were hungry and thirsty, and that they left the scaffold after that.
According to Kos’ testimony, the shooting was continued by VRS soldiers from Bratunac, who knew the Muslim captives and mistreated them.
Reading a brief summary of Kos’ statement in the courtroom, Karadzic indicated that members of the 10th Reconnaissance Squad did not have genocidal intention to destroy Muslims as an ethnic group, because some non-Serbs were among them too, alluding that Kos was a Slovenian, while Erdemovic was a Croat.
Kos said that the order for shooting Muslim captives on Branjevo was issued by Lieutenant Colonel Vujadin Popovic, Chief Security Officer with the Drina Corps of VRS.
According to his testimony, Popovic said that the captives, who had been brought from nearby Pilica village, were prisoners of war and that they had to be executed.
However, testifying in the courtroom, Kos said that he did not know who the officer was, adding that he was tall, “not really grey-haired, had white complexion” and aged between 40 and 45, but that, during Popovic’s trial at The Hague, he found out that he was at Branjevo.
The person described by the witness did not match Popovic, who is black-haired. In 2010 the Tribunal pronounced a first instance verdict, sentencing Popovic to life imprisonment for genocide in Srebrenica, but it did not explicitly determine that he was present on Branjevo.
Kos and other members of the 10th Reconnaissance Squad with the VRS Main Headquarters arrived on Branjevo farm as per an order by another VRS officer, who he identified, in his written statement, as Ljubisa Beara, Chief of the Security Sector of the Headquarters.
However, while testifying in the courtroom, Kos did not repeat that it was Colonel Beara. The Hague Tribunal sentenced Beara to life imprisonment for genocide in Srebrenica.
Trying to prove that there were more victims on Branjevo during the cross-examination, Prosecutor Christopher Mitchell presented Kos with his previous statements, in which he said that he shot Muslims from ten buses and that buses “kept coming faster and faster” afterwards.
Kos responded by saying that he did not think about that at the critical moment, but that, after his arrest, he realised that there could not have been more than eight buses. Also, he said that he did not know how many buses there were, but they did arrive faster and faster.
The witness said that perpetrators began quarreling during the shooting and that Erdemovic told group leader Brane Gojkovic that he could not do it.
Kos told the Tribunal that he approached Erdemovic and told him: “Do you want us to be killed too? Don’t you see what’s happening?”
Prosecutor Mitchell is due to complete the cross-examination of Kos on August 1.
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