Former Bosnian secret service agent Edin Garaplija testified about the ‘shocking’ information he learned in the course of Operation Eagle, as he interrogated Nedzad Herenda, former member of the paramilitary unit called the Larks. In the interrogation, Herenda purportedly admitted that he had personally killed a UN French member in 1995 – ‘so that the UN would blame Serbs for it’, and that the Larks unit was responsible for an attempt on Sefer Halilovic’s life in 1993

Edin Garaplija, defence witness of Radovan KaradzicEdin Garaplija, defence witness of Radovan Karadzic

Former member of the Bosnian secret police, Edin Garaplija testified under a subpoena at the trial of Radovan Karadzic. Garaplija repeated the publicly known facts about his role in the operation codenamed Eagle. The operation, carried out in 1996, was meant to uncover the secrets of the Larks unit. The operation and indeed the very existence of the Larks unit, which was part the Bosnian State Security Service, was secret and just a small number of persons in the leadership knew about it, Garaplija said. According to the witness, one of them was minister Alija Delimustafic who established the unit.

Garaplija said that in June 1996, Kemal Ademovic, head of the Agency for Investigation and Documentation, ordered him to investigate the activities of a paramilitary unit known as the Larks. Nedzad Herenda was a member of that unit. Garaplija was involved in the surveillance of Herenda, his arrest and finally his interrogation. Garaplija learnt ‘shocking information that harmed the Bosnian defense’. According to the witness, Herenda’s interrogation lasted 72 hours. Garaplija and his colleagues focused mostly on two ‘particularly shocking’ incidents. The targets in those incidents were a member of the UN peace-keeping force and the first BH Army commander.

In the interrogation, Herenda admitted that he had killed a French UNPROFOR soldier in 1995 with a sniper bullet. The French soldier was helping erecting anti-sniping barriers near the Holiday Inn hotel. Karadzic played the recording of a conversation Garaplija had with the OTP investigators in 2000. The witness told them that Herenda admitted he had shot the Frenchman and explained that ‘Ugljen ordered him to do it so that the UN would blame Serbs’. Herenda said that he was paid a couple of thousand German Marks. According to the witness, Nedzad Ugljen was the commander of the Larks unit. Ugljen was killed in 1996; the case remains unsolved.

According to Garaplija, Herenda said that the Larks were responsible for an assassination attempt against the first BH Army commander, Sefer Halilovic. At that time, Halilovic was declared an ‘enemy of the state’ because he publicly opposed the partition of BH. Explosives were planted on the balcony of Halilovic’s apartment and were activated by remote control. The public was told Halilovic’s apartment was shelled by the VRS. The witness said that the members of the Larks unit planted a piece of a cable normally used in Malyutka missiles at the crime scene. The idea was ‘to divert the investigation while the official explanation was that Serbs fired a guided missile at Halilovic’s place from a hill’, the witness said. Halilovic’s wife and her brother died in the explosion.

Garaplija also said that during the interview Herenda mentioned the forensic expert Dr Ilijas Dobraca, who was allegedly tasked with covering up some of the killings by providing medical records. Dobraca is also deceased.Garaplija contended that Herenda spoke about some other crimes committed by the Larks unit, including the killing of captured soldiers and civilians in Veliki park in Sarajevo and sniper fire on the part of Grbavica under the VRS control. When Garaplija asked Herenda how he knew whom to target, Herenda purportedly said he chose ‘women wearing black because he knew they were Serb’.

In a brief cross-examination, prosecutor Gustafson noted that Garaplija used force when he interrogated Herenda, beating him with his fists and a wooden baton. Garaplija claimed that ‘there was no abuse’, just ‘a bit of pushing around’. Judge Kwon asked Garaplija if Herenda told him anything about the Larks unit targeting Muslim civilians. The witness replied he didn’t, except for an attempt to kill Ismet Bajramovic Cela and the killing of Musan Topalovic Caca in Operation Trebevic.

In the course of his evidence, Garaplija repeated several times that the proceedings against him and other participants in the Operation Eagle in Sarajevo was a show trial. Garaplija also insisted that the members of the Larks unit have not been prosecuted yet. According to him, this is because many people worked hard to cover up the Larks’ activities.