Yesterday, Rajif Begic began his evidence at the trial of Ratko Mladic, former Bosnian Serb army commander. Continuing his testimony today, Begic described in detail how 19 Muslim men were killed on the Vrhpolje bridge on 31 May 1992. Nedzad Begic, the witness’s brother, was among the victims

Rajif Begic, witness at the Ratko Mladic trialRajif Begic, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial

Serb soldiers headed by Jadranko Palija took Muslims captured in the hamlets in the Sanski Most area to a bridge over the Sana river, where the detainees were first ordered to take their clothes off and were then ‘beaten and abused’, Begic recounted in his evidence today. A soldier asked the prisoners ‘who can dive well’. Another soldier replied he had ‘heard Cera could dive very nicely into the water’. The soldier meant Midhat Ceric. A soldier Begic identified as Nenad Kaurin ordered Ceric to dive into the river. When Ceric did so, four soldiers with automatic rifles waited for Ceric to surface downstream and then they opened fire. Ceric’s lifeless body floated down the river. There was blood in the water, Begic said.

Midhat and Munir Begic were killed in the same way. Jadranko Palija killed the youngest among the prisoners, 16-year old Enes Dizdarevic: he shot the boy in the head at point blank range. Palija then kicked Dizdarevic’s body, pushing it from the bridge into the river. The next in line was the witness: it was his turn to jump off the bridge, which was about six meters high. The witness dived in head first. He hurt himself as he hit a rock at the bottom of the river. He remained conscious, however, and managed to grab a tree stump under the bridge. He took off his shirt and let it float downstream. The witness then dived deeply to dodge the bullets fired by the same four soldiers from the bridge. Begic managed to surface unhurt underneath a bush growing on the river bank and watched the events on the bridge from this vantage point. Two or three prisoners were killed ‘following the same script’ and then there was a burst of machine gun fire from the direction of the bridge, followed by silence.

Begic remained hiding under the bush until dark and then he let the river carry him. A ‘day or two later’, he floated to the confluence of the Sanica and Sana rivers. Three days later, Begic sought help from his close friends, but soon had to leave because their Serb neighbors were concerned over his presence in the village. The witness was then moved to the village of Tomin where other refugees from the village of Begici were accommodated. The witness’s mother and brother were there. From there, Rajif Begic was first transferred to the Krinks prisoner camp in Sanski Most and then to Manjaca, where he remained until 16 December 1992.

In the cross-examination Mladic’s defense counsel Branko Lukic attempted to point that in May 1992 Bosnian Muslim forces were organized in Vrhpolje and Hrustovo forming check points and launching attacks on Serb villages and Serb part of Sanski Most. The witness couldn’t tell anything about it. Begic confirmed that soldiers that killed prisoners on the Vrhpolje Bridge on 31 May 1992 didn’t look as members of regular military formations. Some of them wore civilian clothes and others were in military and police uniforms. They wore different caps or helmets with or without ‘Chetnik insignia’.

After Rajif Begic completed his evidence, the accused Mladic asked to be allowed to address to the Trial Chamber. The presiding judge advised Mladic to first consult with his defense counsel during the upcoming break. After the break, his defense counsel Branko Lukic told the Trial Chamber he had ‘nothing to say’.