Former official from Bijeljina Svetozar Mihajlovic contends that the Republika Srpska president was manipulated and that his meeting with Zeljko Raznatovic in the fall of 1995 was not planned. The prosecutor noted Karadzic praised Arkan in a speech and handed him certificates that had been prepared in advance. Former president of Bijeljina municipality Cvijetin Simic completed his testimony earlier this morning

Svetozar Mihajlovic, defence witness of Radovan KaradzicSvetozar Mihajlovic, defence witness of Radovan Karadzic

The former president of Bijeljina municipality Cvijetin Simic and the former president of the municipal Executive Board Svetozar Mihajlovic gave statements to Radovan Karadzic’s defense, in which they tried to blame the ‘Muslim side’ for starting the war. Simic and Mihajlovic claimed that in late March 1992 Muslims put up roadblocks. ‘Street fighting’ followed, and Serbs took over Bijeljina. Neither Simic nor Mihajlovic spoke about the role of Zeljko Raznatovic Arkan’s paramilitary unit in the attack on the town.

In the cross-examination, prosecutor Tieger put it to the witness that ‘Arkan’s men’ arrived in Bijeljina on 1 April 1992 at the request of the local authorities; they were invited despite the notoriousness of their crimes in Croatia: this was why the non-Serbs in BH were afraid of Arkan’s units and why they were so popular among the Serbs. Simic replied that Arkan ‘was well-known but not quite popular’ among the Serbs, adding that he didn’t know ‘why Muslims and Croats feared’ Arkan. Insisting that at the time the world was already familiar with Raznatovic’s crimes, the prosecutor showed reports in the international media about the notorious Serb guerilla commander who didn’t leave prisoners alive. Simic responded laconically that BH citizens didn’t read the international press.

As the prosecutor noted, the Bijeljina Muslims soon fell victims to ‘Arkan’s men’ themselves. Some of the crimes were recorded on the photos taken by Ron Haviv, shown by the prosecutor. A photo shows Arkan’s soldiers kicking dead civilians. Another photo shows a woman bent down over a dead man. The witness said he could not tell if the photos were taken in Bijeljina and that it wasn’t possible to establish the identities of the victims and perpetrators. Contrary to the witness’s claim, one of the uniformed man shown in the photos has recently been arrested in Serbia for drug trafficking and was identified as a member of Arkan’s ‘Tigers’.

Reckoning that the Trial Chamber might not be familiar with the pre-war reality, Karadzic claimed in the re-examination that the women in Haviv’s photos were in fact Christian women, ethnic Serbs, because they didn’t wear the traditional Muslim clothes such as the dimije trousers. But the witness could not play along with Karadzic, and had to admit that in Yugoslavia, most women dressed in a similar fashion. It was impossible to determine their religious or ethnic background based on their clothes.

The second witness, Svetozar Mihajlovic, called Arkan a ‘notorious manipulator’ in his statement. As Mihajlovic said, Arkan was waiting for Radovan Karadzic after a meeting in Bijeljina and reported to Karadzic in front of his unit that had lined up there. This was all staged by Arkan, the defense claimed, in a bid to contest the video recording admitted into evidence as a prosecution exhibit to prove that Karadzic had close ties with the paramilitary unit commander. Arkan’s units were notorious for their crimes against civilians.

Prosecutor Gustafson drew the court’s attention to the details in the footage that indicate the opposite. First, Karadzic tells Arkan he will always be a ‘welcome guest’ in Republika Srpska, thanking him for his efforts in the ‘defense of Serbs’. The witness said this was just a sign of ‘courtesy’ for a unit returning from battle; he was adamant that the encounter had not been planned. And yet, Karadzic handed to Arkan and his troops the certificates of gratitude: these had been prepared in advance. This, according to the prosecutor, indicated this was very much a planned encounter. Mihajlovic se managed to weasel his way out this predicament, saying that some of Karadzic’s companions may have brought the certificates with them and Karadzic then handed them to Raznatovic when an occasion arose. ‘Ah, so, Karadzic’s team then lugged the certificates around, hoping to stumble upon Arkan and give them to him’, the prosecutor asked a rhetorical question. The witness refused to budge, and maintained that the encounter was definitely not planned, but may well have been something the team hankered for.

Svetozar Mihajlovic, defence witness of Radovan Karadzic
Cvijetin Simic, defence witness of Radovan Karadzic