At the trial of Zdravko Tolimir, the prosecution continued its case with the evidence on the events in Zepa. Zepa is the other enclave nominally protected by the UN to be captured by the VRS in July 1995, after Srebrenica

Zdravko Tolimir in the courtroomZdravko Tolimir in the courtroom

A witness whose name was not disclosed began his evidence today with protective measures but without a pseudonym. During the war, the witness served as the president of the Zepa executive board and a member of its War Presidency, which comprised the president of the Zepa municipality Mehmed Hajric and ‘chief military commander’ Avdo Palic. According to the witness, there were about 1,200 men of military age in Zepa in July 1995. About 600 of them were fighters.

The witness confirmed that the enclave was never ‘ever entirely demilitarized’ as its defenders had kept their light infantry weapons. The witness also verified that arms continued to be brought into the enclave in the second half of 1994 with helicopters. The weapons were used in actions by the Zepa Brigade, under Palic’s command, targeting the Serb positions outside of the enclave as a ‘part of an operation to lift the siege of Sarajevo and to ease the pressure on the Sarajevo front’, the witness recounted.

The political leadership in Zepa was not officially informed about those attacks and was against them. This led to a disagreement between the military and political elements in the Zepa War Presidency. General Palic received his orders through the military chain of command, the witness said.

The day after the fall of Srebrenica, on 12 July 1995, the VRS called the War Presidency of Zepa to negotiate the evacuation of the enclave. Although the War Presidency forwarded this invitation to the political and military leadership in Sarajevo, members of the War Presidency decided – without receiving a reply – to accept the invitation. Two members, the witness and Mujo Omanovic, were appointed to negotiate.

On 13 July 1995, a two-member delegation from Zepa met with VRS general Zdravko Tolimir and Colonel Rajko Kusic at an UNPROFOR checkpoint in Boksanica. Tolimir started the meeting by saying ‘Srebrenica has fallen, Zepa is next’, the witness recounted. As Tolimir explained, this could be done in two ways: either ‘the entire population would board buses and leave the enclave’ or the VRS would capture Zepa in a military operation.

When the witness asked if agreeing to evacuate meant that a ’35-year old man could board a bus with his family and leave the enclave’, Tolimir said, ‘yes, of course’.

While the witness and Omanovic talked to Tolimir at Boksanica, the War Presidency in Zepa received a reply from Sarajevo ordering them ‘not to agree to negotiate with the aggressor’ because the only thing the Serbs could offer was an ‘ultimatum to surrender’.

The testimony of the former official from Zepa will continue after the court hears another witness, testifying as PW 076.