British correspondent Martin Bell testified at the trial of Ratko Mladic about the artillery and sniper terror campaign in Sarajevo. In the cross-examination, Bell confirmed his statements in his book In Harm’s Way: he said that a number of journalists took the Muslims’ side during the war. Later in his evidence, Bell corrected his statement, saying that their bias was not ‘conscious’: they did it because they never left the city and couldn’t see the war from any other perspective

Martin Bell, witness at the Ratko Mladic trialMartin Bell, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial

The prosecution continued with the examination-in-chief of the British correspondent Martin Bell, focusing on the artillery and sniper activities of the Bosnian Serb army that targeted the population in Sarajevo. The prosecution played several of Bell’s war reports. According to one of them, the Serb artillery around the city held such good positions that the Serb forces could fire on ‘whatever they wanted to’.

Commenting on his war reports, the witness said that civilians in Sarajevo were targeted by deliberate fire. They went around looking for water and food in an effort to survive as best as they could. Many of them were killed or wounded. In the shelling of a water queue near the Sarajevo Brewery in January 1993, eight persons were killed and 18 were wounded. The victims included three members of a single family – father, mother and daughter, the witness recalled.

In the examination-in-chief, Bell said that on 28 August 1995 he arrived in the Markale market immediately after the explosion of the shell that killed 43 and wounded over 75 persons. Bell also visited the location hit by a modified air bomb in Hrasnica in April 1995. The so-called ‘sow’ razed five houses to the ground, the witness recounted, adding that he had never seen a weapon of such destructive power before.

In the cross-examination, Mladic’s defense dwelled on the context of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, highlighting the crimes perpetrated in the past against Serbs and their fear of the restoration of the Ustasha movement and the Muslim Handzar Divison. Bell dismissed the suggestion that the Mujahideen fought in BH from the beginning of the war under the BH Army command. According to Bell, the foreign soldiers fought together but not under the command of the BH Army and they were not active at the beginning of the war. However, Bell added, when the images of demolished mosques and thousands of Muslims fleeing for their lives were broadcast, it caused shockwaves in the Islamic world.

Mladic's defense counsel Dragan Ivetic quoted from Bell’s book In Harm’s Way, where Bell wrote that a ‘number of journalists took the Muslims’ side’. Asked about the percentage of biased journalists reporting from Sarajevo, Bell replied, ‘It’s not that they consciously took sides but they didn’t go anywhere outside the territory under the control of the government in Sarajevo and they couldn’t see the war from any other perspective’.

Defense counsel Dragan Ivetic put it to the witness that the British and American politicians looked at the media as the main source of information and made decisions based on their reports. Bell begged to differ, saying that the British and American government had their own military and other sources and didn’t let journalists such as himself influence the decision making. On the contrary, Bell noted, he was considered a ‘nuisance’. The politicians called him the founder of the ‘let’s do something’ club.