ORAHOVAC KILLING FIELDS
The trial of Ratko Mladic continued with the evidence of a protected witness, who survived a mass-execution of the people from Srebrenica in July 1995 in Orahovac. As he lay underneath the dead bodies in the ‘killing field’ in Orahovac, the witness heard a gravely wounded man ask the soldiers to finish him off. ‘Take it easy’, said one of the killers
When Mladic’s forces overran Srebrenica on 11 July 1995, the protected witness RM 297 and his brother joined the column of men heading out from Susnjari in a bid to break through to Tuzla. Today, at the trial of Ratko Mladic, the witness explained that they decided to do that because they ‘knew what would happen to Srebrenica’.
When the prosecutor asked the witness ‘what is it that you knew’, the witness said, ‘Srebrenica was not the only place like that’. The same fate had befallen the inhabitants in other municipalities – Zvornik, Bijeljina, Vlasenica, Bratunac, Foca, Visegrad, Prijedor, Sanski Most and Kljuc. The only difference was that the ‘genocide like the one in Srebrenica’ didn’t happen there, the witness said. The genocide the witness referred to was the killing of 7,000 to 8,000 men in a matter of days.
The witness, his brother and a large group of men from the column surrendered to the Serb forces near Konjevic Polje on 13 July 1995. They were taken to Sandici, where they were visited by Ratko Mladic. The ‘governments are negotiating and tomorrow you will all be exchanged’, Mladic told them, adding that everyone ‘will go to the hangars, you won’t have supper but you will get water’. ‘We said to him, thank you, commander, and there was a round of applause’, the witness said.
However, instead of being exchanged, the witness and other detainees from Sandici were first taken to Bratunac and then to a school in Orahovac. ‘We were guarded by Karadzic’s young Chetniks; they were cursing us, calling us Turks and balijas’, the witness said. The detainees who dared to speak were taken out and killed immediately. The rest of them, about 1,000, were given a glass of water each and then were taken in groups to a nearby field. There, the detainees were executed.
As he lay underneath the dead bodies, the witness heard a gravely injured man beg the soldiers to finish him off. ‘Take it easy’, said one of the killers. As soon as the soldiers’ attention wandered, the witness fled. As he ran, the witness looked back and saw the ‘killing field’ in Orahovac, as he termed it, strewn with the bodies of the people from Srebrenica.
In the examination-in-chief the witness confirmed that in June 1999 he returned to Orahovac together with the head of the Srebrenica investigation team, Jean-Rene Ruez. The witness identified the school gym where they had been detained and the field where the executions had been carried out. The prosecution corroborated the claims with the photographs of the school and the ‘killing field’ in Orahovac.Mladic’s defense counsel Branko Lukic noted at the beginning of his cross-examination that when the witness testified in the Popovic case he said he had been unable to identify the execution site during his visit to the crime scene with Ruez. The witness confirmed that at first he wasn’t able to recognize the execution site: this was because they were blindfolded when they were brought to the site and it was dark when the executions were carried out. ‘If I took you there blindfolded on a truck, you wouldn’t be able to tell for sure’, the witness told Mladic’s lawyer. The witness added that it was only when he fled the execution site that he was able to see where exactly he had been. The cross-examination continues tomorrow.
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