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13 October 2014

Mladic's Witness Says Serb Forces Protected Civilians

Selma Ucanbarlic BIRN BiH Sarajevo
A witness at the war crimes trial of Ratko Mladic said that Serb troops held civilians at a school in Rogatica in 1992 to protect them from fighting, not to persecute or abuse them.
Milenko Jankovic, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Rogatica company, told his former military chief Mladic’s war crimes trial at the Hague Tribunal on Monday that local people were kept in the Veljko Vlahovic school in Rogatica in 1992 for their own safety.

“Civilians were held in the Veljko Vlahovic school, both of Muslim and other ethnic backgrounds, so that they could be protected from combat activities carried out at the time in the municipality of Rogatica. My uncle was there with his wife, also my cousin Veljko... and there were certainly more families that I cannot recall,” defence witness Jankovic told the UN-backed court.

Asked why the school was guarded, Jankovic said it was to avoid any potential ‘excesses’.

“There were families who lost their relatives, we wanted to avoid retaliation. That’s why there was a guard duty set up there,” he said, adding that he did not know whether any of the people held at the school were murdered.

Mladic is being tried for the persecution and expulsion of Bosniaks and Croats from 15 municipalities controlled by Bosnian Serb forces, including Rogatica.

He is also charged with genocide in Srebrenica, terrorising the population of Sarajevo and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.

Jankovic testified that in the Rogatica area, a joint Territorial Defence force was set up, and that there were Muslim members in its ranks.

“The Serb Territorial Defence armed the Serb population, including a number of Muslims who lived close to the Serb people,” he explained.

Asked whether he saw prisoners forced to do hard labour at the Veljko Vlahovic school and the Rasadnik improvised detention facility in Rogatica, where prisoners were also allegedly abused by Serb troops, Jankovic said that they actually volunteered to work.

The trial continue on Tuesday, October 14.
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