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26 June 2013
News

Men Separated from Families in Potocari

Radosa Milutinovic BIRN BiH Hague

Dutch Officer Vincent Egbers says, testifying at Ratko Mladic’s trial, that he saw Muslim men, whom the Republika Srpska Army, VRS, had separated from their families, in a white house in Potocari two days after the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995. 

He said that most of them were elderly, so he considered that they were not soldiers, but civilians, who wanted to leave with their families.

Egbers, the then squad commander with the Dutch Battalion of UNPROFOR, specified that he saw piles of personal belongings, which had been confiscated from the male detainees, in front of the white house.  

Serb soldiers informed the witness that they would examine those men and send them to Muslim territories in Kladanj, where their families had already been sent. On that same day Egbers saw VRS loading the men onto three buses and driving them away.

“Some of them gestured at me indicating that they would be killed,” the witness said.

The indictment, which charges General Mladic with genocide of about 7,000 Srebrenica Muslims, alleges that, on July 13, 1995 VRS transported the men from the white house, along with thousands of other captives, to Bratunac and then to several locations in the Zvornik surroundings, where they were shot.

Witness Egbers confirmed that, on July 12 and 13, 1995 he escorted convoys of refugees from Srebrenica, driving women, children and the elderly to Kladanj outskirts. Upon their return on July 13, VRS stopped the Dutch soldiers in the vicinity of Nova Kasaba and seized their armoured personnel carrier, armours and helmets. Egbers saw a mass of Muslim captives at a local football stadium.

He told the Tribunal that he handed over a written protest due to the seizure of equipment to Lieutenant Colonel Ljubisa Beara, who, as he was told, was the chief officer in that area and the only one who could guarantee safety to Dutch soldiers.

In 2010 the Hague Tribunal pronounced a first instance verdict against Beara, the then Security Officer with the Main Headquarters of VRS, sentencing him to life imprisonment for genocide in Srebrenica.

Egbers said that, on July 11, 1995 the VRS fired mine-thrower grenades on both sides of the road, while the Muslim population was walking in the road from Srebrenica to Potocari. As he said, the purpose of the shelling was “to ensure the moving of the people.”

During the cross-examination Mladic’s Defence attorney Branko Lukic said, calling on some documents issued by the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, that the 28th Division of the Bosnian Army was present in Srebrenica and that it consisted of more than 4,000 members. 

“I neither saw the Army nor the Division. I just saw some armed persons and civilians,” the Dutch Officer said, adding that the armed persons “defended the enclave”, but he “did not see the real defence of the enclave.”

He confirmed that fire from Srebrenica represented “a risk to civilians”, but he denied the Defence’s suggestion that the aim of the fire was to provoke VRS to respond and cause civilian victims.

He said that he “did not know” about previous ABiH attacks from Srebrenica on the VRS and surrounding Serbian villages.  

Egbers confirmed that, prior to the VRS’ attack, Muslim forces opened fire at UNPROFOR and killed a Dutch soldier. Also, he said that two members of SAS, British Special Forces, were members of the Dutch Battalion for months.

The trial of Mladic, who is also charged with persecuting Muslims and Croats throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, terrorising civilians in Sarajevo and taking UNPROFOR members hostage, is due to continue on June 27.

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