The first witness at the trial of Ratko Mladic after the summer recess, is Aernout van Linden, war correspondent for the British TV network Sky News. He testified about the two meetings he had with the accused. In a TV footage, van Linden called Mladic ‘the scourge of Sarajevo’. Mladic’s army around Sarajevo would ‘turn the screw to increase pressure according to the demands of political and military situation’. Mladic smiled at the witness, but also insulted him, calling him a ‘CIA spy’ and a ‘Tomahawk rider’

Aernout van Linden, witness at the Ratko Mladic trialAernout van Linden, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial

When Ratko Mladic heard for the first time that he was called ‘the scourge of Sarajevo’ and that he was ‘the holy terror’ of its citizens, he smiled with pleasure and invited Aernout van Linden, who first thought of the nickname, for lunch. Van Linden was a war correspondent for the Sky News TV network. Mladic reacted the same way today in court as he watched TV footage from September 1992 in which Van Linden also described him as a ‘warrior with an appropriate name – Ratko [warrior]’.

Former British reporter and Dutch diplomat testifies for the seventh time in The Hague. Van Linden arrived in Sarajevo in late May 1992. In June 1992, he filed a series of reports about the suffering of the citizens of Sarajevo and the ‘mental and physical terror’ inflicted by Mladic’s forces on the civilians. Today Van Linden said that the Serb forces positioned on the mountains around Sarajevo could shell any part of the city under siege. The city was left without food, water and electricity. Bosnian Serb forces could ‘turn the screw’ and ‘increase the pressure according to the demands of the political and military situation’, Van Linden said. As the witness insisted, the people in Sarajevo lived under ‘immense physical and mental pressure’.

The prosecution showed Van Linden’s several reports; they were admitted into evidence. The reports describe the constant ‘rain’ of shells on Sarajevo, ‘eerie’ and lit by the intermittent flashes of missiles, the destruction of UNIS skyscrapers, the fire in the Marsal Tito barracks after the JNA pull-out. The reports also spoke about persons with amputated limbs, sniper injuries and the dead in Sarajevo hospitals. According to Van Linden, the artillery and sniper fire came from the positions held by the Bosnian Serb army.

Van Linden visited one such position in September 1992 when he interviewed Mladic. The accused took Van Linden to an artillery position; they could see all of Sarajevo from it. Mladic told Van Linden that the Security Council would have to accept the fact that ‘Serbs are a reality, not aliens; they have the right to defend themselves, they have to defend themselves for as long as they exist as a nation’. Mladic confirmed his statement in court today, saying ‘that’s right’. He smiled when Van Linden described how Mladic made a hand gesture to show he had Sarajevo in a stranglehold. Mladic then asked for a short break to consult with his defense lawyers. Instead consulting them, Mladic launched into a string of insults directed at Van Linden, all clearly audible. Mladic said Van Linden was a ‘scourge of war, a thief, a liar, a dog, a spy’, ‘riding on Tomahawks and counting dead Serbs’. Tomahawks are missiles fired by NATO on the Bosnian Serb military positions after the second Markale town market massacre in the summer of 1995.

When they met for the last time, after the first mortar attack on the Sarajevo town market in February 1994, Mladic openly showed he was unhappy with Van Linden’s reporting on the BH Army’s capture of Mount Zuc and the situation in Gorazde. Mladic ‘started shouting’ and grabbed Van Linden by the jaw. When the accused let go of him, Van Linden managed to utter just one sentence: ‘We’ll meet in The Hague’. And indeed, they have, today.

In the cross-examination, Mladic’s defense counsel Branko Lukic noted that the positions the Bosnian Serb army had targeted were military facilities: this made them legitimate military targets. ‘I checked what I could’, Van Linden replied. As he said, he looked for uniformed soldiers and bullet casings in the buildings that had been shelled and he talked to the people and the UN staff. According to what Van Linden was able to learn, the BH Army didn’t use those facilities. However, Van Linden did note that he ‘didn’t conduct a police investigation as one would in peacetime’. The ‘city was at war’ and their investigations ‘were limited’.

The defense counsel then tried to prove that Van Linden received information from biased UNPROFOR staff and interpreters. Van Linden didn’t know who controlled which positions and was unaware that the BH Army troops ‘opened fire on their own people in Sarajevo’, the defense counsel argued. Lukic then moved on to what the British reporter did in Afghanistan in the first half of the 80s. Lukic justified this line of questioning by claiming that Van Linden had links with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan and in Bosnia and contributed to the effort to arm them. ‘This is not true,’ Van Linden said, adding that every reporter who spends more than 24 hours in a war zone knows that any such activities would result in their death. Van Linden’s cross-examination continues tomorrow.