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16 April 2013
News

Everybody Was Afraid of Paramilitaries

Radoša Milutinović BIRN BiH

Testifying in defence of Radovan Karadzic, former President of the Bratunac Municipal Assembly Ljubislav Simic says that crimes against Bosniaks in that municipality in 1992 were committed by paramilitary formations, which the local authorities could not control, adding that the Bosniak population voluntarily left Srebrenica in July 1995.

Karadzic, the then President of Republika Srpska, RS, and Supreme Commander of its armed forces, is charged with the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as genocide against about 7,000 Bosniaks from Srebrenica after the enclave had been occupied by the Republika Srpska Army, VRS, in July 1995.

Just like the previous Karadzic witnesses, Simic blamed the breakout of the conflict in the Bratunac area on local Bosniaks, but he confirmed that Serb “volunteers” arrived afterwards and that they detained a certain number of Bosniaks in a local school building, where they abused and killed them. 

After that the Crisis Committee, whose member Simic was, evacuated the remaining Bosniaks to Pale, while the paramilitary forces withdrew following threats by police and the Army. The witness said that “nobody could control” those paramilitary forces, adding that “everybody was afraid of them”.

Simic told the Tribunal that representatives of local Bosniaks held a meeting with VRS Commander Ratko Mladic in the Fontana hotel in Bratunac on July 12, 1995, one day after the fall of Srebrenica. During that meeting, which Simic attended, the Bosniaks said that they wanted to be evacuated to Kladanj. He said that VRS and local authorities helped them by providing transportation means. According to Simic’s testimony, nobody forced the Bosniak population to leave.

The Hague Prosecution previously played a recording from that meeting in the courtroom. The recording depicted Mladic telling Bosniaks that they could either “survive or disappear”.

During the cross-examination Prosecutor Julian Nicholls presented Simic with the fact that, prior to the meeting held in Fontana, Mladic had already asked the civilian authorities, in his presence, to provide many trucks and buses for the evacuation of about 20,000 Bosniak refugees from Potocari. While not denying that he met with Mladic, the witness said that the VRS Commander did not say that in his presence.

Sticking to his allegation that Bosniaks left Srebrenica voluntarily, Simic said: “I was at the meeting. I heard Muslim representatives requesting the urgent evacuation and saying that, if nothing was done to that end, they would leave on their own in an unorganised manner… As far as I could see nobody forced anybody to get on the buses up there (in Potocari).”

Explaining that his task was to provide food and water for thousands of refugees from Srebrenica, Simic confirmed that he saw “a shocking situation” in Potocari and that the supplies he had brought were just “a drop in the ocean.”
 
The witness said that “the living conditions” in the enclave prior to its fall were “horrible”. However, he said that he had not heard about Karadzic’s “Directive number 7”, ordering the VRS to create such conditions for the civilians in “depriving them of hope for survival”.

Also, Simic denied having known that captured Bosniaks were transported to Bratunac by dozens of buses on July 13, 1995 or that they stayed overnight in that town before being transferred to several locations near Zvornik, where they were shot. The witness said that he did not know about the murders that happened in the school building in Bratunac that night.

As he said, Simic heard about the murder of “a large number” of Bosniak captives in the co-operative warehouse in Kravica village on July 13, 1995 on the following day. Miroslav Deronjic, the then “civilian commissioner” for Srebrenica, told him that he had informed “those on the top”, i.e. Karadzic, about it. 

According to the charges, Serb forces killed about 1,000 Bosniak captives in Kravica. This was the first in a series of mass executions of men from Srebrenica.

When Prosecutor Nicholls said that, according to notes from General Mladic’s diary, during a meeting held in June 1992 Simic had bragged about the fact that Bosniaks were the majority in Bratunac prior to the war, while “only two Muslims are left today”, Simic said that he said this “ironically” in order to draw their attention to the effects of the action undertaken by Serb paramilitaries.

A session to discuss an appeal against a decision under which Karadzic was acquitted of the charges for genocide in seven Bosnian municipalities in the middle of trial, is due to be held at The Hague on April 17.

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