Miloševic linked to Srebrenica massacre
by Emir Suljagic, The Hague
Slobodan Milošević had a hand in the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995,Europe's worst atrocity since World War II, according to a copy of an official Bosnian Serb document which IWPR has obtained. Up to now, it had been widely assumed that by the summer of 1995 Serbia had cut off ties with the Bosnian Serb leadership and that the former's forces had not taken part in the Srebrenica operation.
The document, dated 10 July 1995, is an order from Bosnian Serb minister of interior Tomislav Kovač instructing his subordinates to move a unit that included members of Serbia's interior ministry police (MUP), which were fighting around Sarajevo, to eastern Bosnia to participate in the Srebrenica operation. Under the Serbian constitution, the president of Serbia, a post that Milošević held at the time, is directly responsible for the actions taken by his republic's police force.
The document is expected to have a profound effect not only on the outcome of Milošević's trial, but also on the genocide case the Bosnian government has filed against the former Yugoslavia before the International Court of Justice, because it links the former Serbian leader and his police force directly to the worst atrocities committed during the war in Bosnia. Whether Milošević knew that his police were sent to participate in the attack on the town is unclear. If he did, then the document will play a key role in proving genocide charges. If he did not, it will still provide important evidence of crimes against humanity. For the former, intent has to be established; for the latter responsibility is enough. ‘It sounds like a document which supports the position on the Bosnian case against Serbia and Montenegro with regard to Srebrenica would be very useful,’ said Phon Van Den Biesen, one of the lawyers representing the Bosnian government in its genocide case against Serbia and Montenegro.
A six-year, 6 million US dollar investigation by the Dutch government's Institute for War Documentation - concluded by a 7,000-page report last April - found no evidence linking the Belgrade government to the Srebrenica massacre. However, the document IWPR has obtained clearly shows that members of Serbia's MUP were operating out of the key Bosnian Serb military stronghold of Trnovo, just outside Sarajevo, and that they were transferred to Srebrenica and placed under the command of Bosnian Serb police colonel Ljubomir Borovčanin.
At the time the order was issued, Colonel Borovčanin was deputy commander of the Bosnian Serb special police brigade, based in the northwestern town of Banja Luka. The order instructed him to take charge of a special force - which included members of Serbia's MUP - to crush resistance in Srebrenica. Borovčanin was ordered to go to Bratunac, a village close to Srebrenica, and report to Bosnian Serb army general Radislav Krstič by noon on 11 July. Krstič was chief of staff, and from 13 July overall commander, of the Drina corps which controlled troops in the area and which the tribunal accuses of war crimes. By the time the MUP units reported for duty, the military operation in Srebrenica was nearly over - but the mass killings were about to start
Role of Borovčanin
Late last year, the tribunal charged Borovčanin with complicity in committing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The indictment alleges that Borovčanin's troops captured and summarily executed more than 7,000 men and boys from Srebrenica. He remains at large. By the time Borovčanin took charge of his new unit, which had assembled at the Bratunac police station, tens of thousands of Srebrenica's inhabitants had taken shelter at the Dutch UN base in Potočari, just outside the town, and several thousand more were trying to flee through the forest to Bosnian government-held territory.
The indictment against Borovčanin alleges that his forces - the presumption has always been that they were only Bosnian Serb - separated and ‘summarily executed by decapitation’ between eighty and a hundred men at the UN base in Potočari on 12 July. It also alleges that between 12 and 17 July these forces took control of a stretch of road between the neighbouring villages of Kravica and Sandići - which the men from Srebrenica had to cross en route to Bosnian government-controlled Tuzla - capturing more than 5,000 of them. Starting in the early evening of 13 July, the indictment alleges that Borovčanin's police killed more than 1,000 men who were being held in a warehouse in Kravica, one of the largest and most notorious massacres in the campaign. These forces also allegedly conducted summary executions in Pilica, Orahovac and Kozluk, all villages in eastern Bosnia.
The tribunal's indictment against Borovčanin is almost identical to the Bosnian interior ministry document in its description of how the special force was formed under his command and deployed around Srebrenica. It names three of the units which were part of the force, but not the fourth, crucial one - the company which contained MUP men from Serbia. IWPR learned of the document's existence late last week when the former chief of the Yugoslav bureau of Interpol, Budimir Babović, testified against Milošević.
The prosecution had commissioned Babović to write a 50-page report on the structure of the Serbian ministry of interior, which showed that Milošević controlled the police force. Although the report was available to the public, it received scant attention because Babović's testimony, given over several days, did not seem particularly compelling. It appeared to be just one of thousands of documents prosecutors had submitted as evidence in the Milošević trial. In a chapter entitled ‘Co-operation with police forces outside Serbia’, Babović referred to the Bosnian Serb ministry of interior order to move units including police belonging to Serbia's MUP from Sarajevo to Srebrenica. IWPR subsequently obtained the order from the tribunal.
Although the prosecution refused to comment on its importance in the trial, it said it hoped the wider publicity given to it would prompt Western governments who may have similar evidence implicating Serbia in war crimes to come forward.
To view scans of the court document in English or Serbian please go to:
Emir Suljagić is an IWPR reporter in The Hague. This article appeared in IWPR's Tribunal Update No. 317, 17 June 2003. See www.iwpr.net