The attempt by the civilians and BH Army soldiers to break through to the liberated territory from Srebrenica was in fact a military offensive launched by the 28th Division on the VRS defenses, Zdravko Tolimir contends. Former Mladic’s assistant for security in the VRS Main Staff is charged with genocide and other crimes in Srebrenica and Zepa in 1995

Zdravko Tolimir in the courtroomZdravko Tolimir in the courtroom

Protected witness PW 018 left Srebrenica on 11 July 1995, just before Mladic’s troops entered the town. The next day the witness headed out from the village of Susnjari in a column of civilians and soldiers towards Tuzla, which was controlled by the BH Army. The witness had already testified at the Radislav Krstic trial about his ordeal that lasted until 20 July 1995, when he finally reached the liberated territory. The transcript of the testimony the witness gave in 2000 was admitted into evidence today at the trial of Zdravko Tolimir. The prosecutor asked the witness some additional questions.

As the column tried to break through to Tuzla, the witness managed to survive a number of ambushes and to pass through some mine fields where hundreds of people in the column were killed. On 19 July 1995, the witness reached the area of Baljkovica and Nezuk. There Bosnian Serb soldiers in camouflage uniforms captured the witness. He remembers only that the soldiers wore the insignia with the words ‘Krajina...’ and ‘Drina...’.

The witness was taken out to be executed together with nine other prisoners, including a relative of the witness and a 15-year old boy. The soldiers brought the prisoners out one by one and then fired a single shot in the back. A bullet hit the witness in the left shoulder: he fell and lay there until dark, pretending he was dead. After the soldiers left, the witness ran into the forest. The next day, the witness managed to get through to the BH Army-controlled territory.

General Tolimir spent most of his cross-examination focusing on issues related to the formation, organization and coordination of the movement of the column that was trying to reach Tuzla. The witness and other civilians and soldiers were in the column.

The witness dismissed Tolimir’s suggestions that the forming of the column was in fact tantamount to the 28th Division organizing an effort to fight its way through the VRS defense lines; it was merely an attempt to retreat towards the liberated territory. The witness disagreed with Tolimir’s claim that when civilians joined the column they became legitimate military targets and that they were thus exposed to additional dangers. ‘Here we are talking about people trying to save their lives, to stay alive’, the witness said.

In an effort to prove his argument, Tolimir referred to a statement made by Ramiz Becirevic in August 1995, where the former chief of staff of the BH Army 28th Division describes the ‘timeline of the breakthrough’. The witness noted he didn’t know Becirevic, adding that he couldn’t comment on Becirevic’s statement about the structure of the BH Army units because he himself served in the Srebrenica Territorial Defense until March 1993, and had nothing to do with the army in any way after that time.

The trial continued with the evidence of handwriting expert Kathryn Barr, set to continue tomorrow.