Monday, February 14, 2011

New Article from the Institute of War & Peace Reporting

It is again my privilege to reprint this article with the kind permission of the Institute for War & Peace Reporting. Many thanks for permission to reproduce it and pass it on:

Karadzic and Mladic “Operated Together”
Ex-UN military chief in Bosnia gives evidence about relations within Bosnian Serb leadership.

By Rachel Irwin - International Justice - ICTY
TRI Issue 679, 11 Feb 11

The former commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia told Hague tribunal prosecutors this week that Radovan Karadzic and his top general Ratko Mladic were effective leaders and “operated together”.

“Both Mr Karadzic and General Mladic were very clearly in command of what they were doing,” said prosecution witness General Sir Rupert Smith, who met with both men on several occasions during 1995.

“They were clearly operating together [with other members of the Bosnian Serb leadership],” Smith continued. “That was [what] we were told by them - that they operated together as one.”

“With respect to the military itself, the Bosnian Serb army, did you have the opportunity to observe the nature of its command structure and command and control relationships?” prosecuting lawyer Alan Tieger asked.

“Speaking from the impression formed over time - here was any army in which orders were obeyed,” Smith replied. “Instructions, if given at the top, saw action at bottom, and you could see communications going to the top.”

Prosecutors allege that Karadzic, the president of Bosnia's self-declared Republika Srpska, RS, from 1992 to 1996, planned and oversaw the 44-month siege of Sarajevo that ravaged the city and left nearly 12,000 people dead. Karadzic’s army is accused of deliberately sniping and shelling the city’s civilian population in order to “spread terror” among them.

The indictment - which lists 11 counts in total - alleges that Karadzic was responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer which "contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory". He was arrested in Belgrade in July 2008 after 13 years on the run.

Smith said that when he would express concern to General Mladic about the continued sniping and shelling of Sarajevo, there was a “frequent theme” to the latter’s response.

“The response is, ‘We’re doing it because they (the Bosnian government) are doing it,’ and secondly, ‘You are not stopping it, so I had to do it’,” Smith recalled.

However, the witness said that in his opinion, the “bulk” of the shelling was coming into Sarajevo from Bosnian Serb forces, which surrounded the city.

“During the course of your service, were you able to identify the effect or objective of the shelling of civilian areas?” Tieger asked.

“The objective appeared to me to be the harassment of the population at large,” Smith said. “There was no specific target, and events occurred randomly. You couldn’t see them connected to events happening on the ground where this shell landed.”

Smith said he also met with Mladic after paying a visit to the eastern enclave of Srebrenica in March 1995, when it was still a UN designated safe area. In July of that year, Bosnian Serb forces captured the enclave and murdered some 8,000 Bosniak men and boys, an event which both Karadzic and Mladic are accused of planning and overseeing.

However, Smith said that in March, Mladic had a “different understanding of what the safe area was”.

According to Smith, Mladic took out a map and drew a small “lozenge” centered on Srebrenica town itself.

“If he attacked, he would respect that lozenge but nothing else,” said Smith, who added that he disagreed with Mladic’s limited characterisation of the safe area.

A few months later, in May 1995, Smith said he issued a warning to both the Bosnian Serb army and the Bosnian government army to return heavy weapons to what was called a “weapons collection point”.

“I made a point that whether force was used was entirely in the hands of General Mladic - if he returned the weapons, it would not be used,” Smith said.

But the weapons were not returned by the imposed deadline, Smith continued, and NATO airstrikes on Bosnian Serb military targets commenced on May 26. In response, Bosnian Serb forces allegedly took hostage more than 200 UN military observers and peacekeepers, using many of them as human shields.

Smith said he believed the hostage-taking was a “centrally controlled” effort which Mladic led.

“I don’t think there was a doubt in either of our minds that he was in charge of dealing with the hostages,” Smith said.

When it was Karadzic’s turn to conduct his cross examination, he greeted Smith and remarked on his “good health”.

“I see you are not aging and that your memory is very fresh,” Karadzic noted with a smile.

As the questions got underway, however, their exchange was at times quite tense.

“You arrived with the intention to end the war, and to end it, it was necessary to bomb the Serbs, and that the UN should change [its] mandate and be able to use force, would you agree?” Karadzic asked.

“I did not arrive with intention to end the war,” Smith responded.

“Was your position that the United Nations should resort to force?” Karadzic asked.

“No, it was not my position, and it certainly wouldn’t have been one at all at the beginning of my tour,” Smith said.

Later, Karadzic presented a series of documents related to the NATO bombings and ensuing hostage crisis, and said that “one gets the impression that you’re waging a personal war against Mladic”.

“Did you try to vanquish Mladic during the war… to humiliate him, and did that contribute to our suffering?” Karadzic asked.

“No, I didn’t want to humiliate him and I wasn’t interested in increasing the suffering of anybody,” Smith replied. “The burden of what I was required to do … was to change the intentions of that commander (Mladic) and those around him such as yourself. In that sense, of course, it’s personal.”

Karadzic countered that in a “planned fashion you became a war time ally of our enemy”.

“Is it not clear that … you tried to change the situation on the ground in order to make it possible for Muslims and Croats to have better negotiating position?” Karadzic asked.

“I was not doing anything to improve the situation for the other party,” Smith said. “Inevitably what we were doing, attacking the Bosnian Serb army [through the NATO bombings], would alter that balance. My purpose was to re-impose the exclusion zones and get weapons withdrawn from them.”

The trial continues next week.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.


Wednesday, February 09, 2011

New Article from the Institute for War & Peace Reporting

It is again my privilege to reprint this article with the kind permission of the Instiute for War & Peace Reporting. Many thanks for permission to reproduce it and pass it on:

UN Hostage Speaks of Execution Fears
Ex-Canadian observer tells court how he feared for his life after being seized by Bosnian Serb soldiers.

A former United Nations military observer testified this week at the Hague tribunal that he was taken hostage by soldiers in Radovan Karadzic’s army and repeatedly threatened with violence.

Canadian army major Patrick Rechner is the fifth prosecution witness in recent weeks to describe his ordeal as a hostage during the Bosnian war.

On May 25 and 26, 1995, NATO forces conducted air strikes on Bosnian Serb military targets. In response, Bosnian Serb forces allegedly took over 200 UN military observers and peacekeepers hostage between May 26 and June 19 of that year, including Rechner, and according to the prosecutor’s pretrial brief, held them at “various locations in the [Bosnian Serb entity], using them as human shields and maltreating some of them”.

Rechner told the court that prior to the events in May, his team lived and worked in the town of Pale, in a three-storey house about 300 metres from the headquarters of the Bosnian Serb presidency. Unlike some others, his group of military observers, UNMOs, did not go on patrol, but instead mainly worked as liaisons between the UN and the Bosnian Serb political and military leadership.

On the morning of May 26, Bosnian Serb soldiers entered their house, Rechner said. Before they saw him, Rechner said he managed to call a few people with whom he had been in frequent contact, including Karadzic’s personal secretary and Jovan Zametica, Karadzic’s senior political advisor. The secretary told him that the soldiers were sent “officially” while Zametica suggested Rechner be “as cooperative as possible”.

At that point, Rechner said that his interpreters summoned him to the office where two Bosnian Serb soldiers were waiting, both of whom carried AK 47s. One of the soldiers, Nicholas Ribic, was a “Canadian of Serbian origin”, Rechner had met before, he said.

Rechner contacted his headquarters via radio and said there were armed men in this office, and then “Ribic, who of course spoke perfect English as a Canadian, started making threats that he wanted the airstrikes called off”.

Ribic’s threats soon became more specific, Rechner said.

“[Ribic] said that if the bombing continues, we will execute the UNMOs, meaning myself and other two team members,” Rechner recalled. “The threats got more specific to the point where [Ribic said] ‘For the next bomb that falls, one UNMO will be killed’.”

Ribic then called the office of General Rupert Smith, who was the commander of UN forces in Bosnia at the time, and made similar threats, Rechner said.

After that, Rechner said he and his colleagues were driven away to an ammunition depot known as Jahorinski Potok, a NATO target. During the journey, they were handcuffed to each other, he said, and once they arrived, they encountered an angry group of civilians.

“One of them then broke away from the crowd, came to our vehicle and opened the door and started punching and kicking me,” Rechner said. “Unfortunately I had only one hand to defend myself [because of the handcuffs] so I got a few good punches and kicks in the process.”

Bosnian Serb soldiers pulled the man off and he appeared to calm down, Rechner said, but then he took out a pistol. Once again, the soldiers took it away, but the man then grabbed Rechner by the throat, he said.

“[The man] said he had lost 12 sheep in the airstrike and he said that this was his livelihood,” Rechner recalled, adding that the man also expressed fear that a missing relative had been killed in the airstrike that morning.

“He ended by saying that for those reasons he should be allowed to kill me and I shouldn’t be surprised by his reaction,” Rechner said. “I told him that we had nothing to do with the airstrikes, but he was too emotional and angry to discuss that issue.”

When the group finally entered the facility, another Bosnian Serb soldier approached and took out a revolver, Rechner said.

“[The soldier] pointed to two notches he had in the handle and he explained that those notches were for two people he had already killed with it,” Rechner recalled. “And he said that if airstrikes would not kill us by the end of the day, he would come over and personally execute us, and he would really enjoy getting three more notches on his revolver handle, indicating that the three notches were for the three of us [military observers].”

Sometime later, Rechner said they received confirmation that the airstrikes had been called off, but shortly thereafter, there was yet another airstrike.

“It wasn’t clear to any of us what real situation was—if airstrikes had been called off or not,” Rechner said.

The group was then driven to four bunkers that had not yet been hit, Rechner said. The soldiers handcuffed him to one of the lightning rods in front of the bunkers, he said, adding that his two colleagues were subject to similar treatment.

Rechner said he remained handcuffed to the lightning rod for five to six hours, but was given a crate to sit on after a while. During this time, a group of people in civilian clothes came to visit the facility, one of whom was Zametica, the political advisor to Karadzic who in an earlier phone call had told Rechner to cooperate.

“Mr Zametica came over to me and I expressed to him my shock and surprise at how we were treated, because up to that point I had thought maybe there was some kind of mistake, that this was an out of control group that had taken us hostage,” Rechner said.

“…I asked him what was going on and how he could justify this treatment of us, and I explained that I had been attacked and so on, and [Zametica] said, ‘Well, times have changed’,” Rechner continued. “And then in a self-satisfied way, he added a comment to himself, ‘I wonder what General Smith will do now.’ And then he walked up the road.”

At around 5 pm, some Bosnian Serb soldiers unhandcuffed Rechner, blindfolded him, and took him and some other UNMOs for a drive up “a steep and bumpy” road, the witness said.

When the car stopped and his blindfold was taken off, Rechner said he found himself in front of a “large radar dome.

“Two of the soldiers took out AK47s, donned black masks and then [one of them] turned to us and asked if we were afraid, and I said no, trying to appear as calm as possible.”

Prosecuting lawyer Alan Tieger then asked what Rechner thought would happen at that point.

“…When we were taken to the radar dome, my grave concern was that we were being taken there to be executed,” Rechner replied. “Driving up the dirt track, one soldier turned to another and asked why they were going there, … and the other soldier turned to him and said, ‘Oh, it’s because [General Ratko] Mladic wanted us to film some UN people there’, so one of the possibilities was we were being taken there to be executed and filmed in the process.”

That did not happen, and instead the soldiers took one of Rechner’s colleagues up to the radar dome and “conducted some sort of interview” with him there.

After that, the day took an especially “bizarre” turn, Rechner said. He and his colleagues were taken to a hotel and treated to dinner “as if nothing at all had happened to us”.

They were subsequently allowed to pick up blankets and provisions from their house in Pale, and Rechner was taken to a military garrison and reunited with other UNMOs.

“It was a very relieving situation to see that everyone was ok,” Rechner said, his voice breaking with emotion.

Rechner also said that, according to his interpreters at the time, local newscasts had shown video footage of him handcuffed to the lightning rod and they “accused us of being the people on the ground who were guiding the airstrikes.

“[This] was not only false, but it infuriated us because accusations like that put our lives in danger, because local people had very little access to independent media and we were concerned that … [they would] see these reports and take their angry and frustrations out on us.”

Towards the end of his time in captivity, Rechner’s repeated request for a meeting with Professor Nikola Koljevic, the vice-president of the self-declared Bosnian Serb entity and a close associate of Karadzic, was granted.

“I wanted to make sure Professor Koljevic understood everything [about how we were taken hostage]—he was bit surprised,” Rechner said. “He knew about some of the details but not everything, that we had actually been threatened and how the whole situation had impacted on all of us.”

Koljevic told Rechner that the airstrikes had been a “major crisis” for the Bosnian Serbs, and that the strikes had occurred prior to a deadline set by the UN for certain conditions to be met.

“He used the analogy of electric shock—sometimes if you treat a patient with electric shock you can kill him, but you can also cure him,” Rechner recalled. “[Koljevic] said that from his point of view this was worth the risk.”

When it was Karadzic’s turn to cross-examine the witness, he spent several minutes asking about Rechner’s status during his captivity.

“Were you ever told that you were prisoners of war?” Karadzic asked.

Rechner said that he was told this twice, but on one occasion he was referred to a “captive combatant”.

“You as a group asked for certain rights and privileges, among other things, for visit from the Red Cross, from a doctor and to watch television, right?” Karadzic asked.

Rechner confirmed that they asked for those things, but emphasised that the request to watch television was so as to “receive information through the media”.

“It was not because anyone called us prisoners of war, but because we considered it unjust to be taken captive,” Rechner continued. “…We requested the minimum that we as a group were entitled to if the Bosnian Serb side designated us as prisoners of war, because we weren’t getting any of that.”

“You got all three [requests], didn’t you?” Karadzic asked.

“Towards the end, yes,” Rechner responded. “We made the requests early on.”

Rechner said he also asked Koljevic for permission to make more frequent phone calls home, since the few that were permitted only lasted for one or two minutes at a time.

“You were in different theatres of war on behalf of the UN,” Karadzic remarked. “Did you ever see POWs entitled to satellite phones or wireless communications? Does international law envisage that kind of thing?”

“Move on to the next question,” presiding judge O-Gon Kwon interjected.

Karadzic concluded by thanking Rechner for his testimony.

“I’m sorry you went through what you went through, but I can’t help thinking also of the Serbs who were there at the time suffering from NATO airstrikes.”

The trial will continue next week with the testimony of General Rupert Smith, the commander of UN forces in Bosnia from January 1995 until the end of the conflict.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.


Allow me to editorialize a little bit--I hope that the next person who interviews General Lewis MacKenzie puts him on the spot about this. MacKenzie was collaborating with and publicly supporting an illegal regime which committed terrorist actions against his own troops. He may not have been the direct commander of this particular UN troop, but they were still from his force; what's more, this man was from the Canadian military. It is simply incomprehensible that a military office with any sense of honor and loyalty would have chosen to support a military force and 'government' which was committing this sort of war crime against a soldier from his own army. The man should be ashamed of himself.