ESCAPE FROM CERTAIN DEATH
A protected prosecution witness has told the court at the trial of Ratko Mladic how in July 1995, after the fall of Srebrenica, he managed to board one of the buses used to evacuate the women and children. He was discovered soon afterwards and taken to one of the execution sites. His luck held and he was able to escape and reach the liberated territory
A Bosnian Muslim testified at the trial of Ratko Mladic under the pseudonym RM 249 and with image distortion to protect his identity. In July 1995, the witness managed to escape from one of the Srebrenica execution sites. He has described his ordeal at several trials in The Hague. The transcript of the witness’s testimony at Zdravko Tolimir’s trial and his statement to the OTP investigators from 1996 were admitted into evidence.
In the summary of the statement, read out by prosecutor Vanderpuye, the witness recounted that after the Bosnian Serb military and police entered Srebrenica on 11 July 1995 he and his family sought shelter in Potocari. The witness hoped that he would be spared because a shell injury in 1992 left him severely disabled. Two days later, on 13 July 1995, the witness managed to board one of the buses used for the evacuation. He was with his wife and children. As the bus passed through about a dozen check points along the way, the witness was able to remain unnoticed, hiding on the floor.
When the bus arrived in the place called Luke, everybody was ordered to get off the bus. The witness was then discovered and separated from his family. Soldiers told him to hand his four-year-old daughter to his wife and to go with them. The witness was then taken to a local primary school yard where his hands were tied. All detainees were then taken inside the building. There they were searched, robbed and verbally and physically abused. As the witness recounted, a total of 22 detainees were gathered there until the evening of 13 July 1995.
After midnight, the detainees were ordered to get on a military truck and were taken in the direction of Vlasenica. After 20 or 30 minutes, the vehicle stopped. Three detainees were taken off the truck and executed. Two other detainees were mown down when they tried to flee. The witness decided to take his chance and escape: his luck was better. He was able to roll down a cliff in thedark and hide at the bottom, just below the execution site, behind a rock on a river bank. There, the witness said, he remained until the gunfire stopped, until the other detainees were executed. As the witness said, their bodies were exhumed near the place of the execution. The remains of a number of identified victims were buried with thousands of other Srebrenica victims in the Potocari graveyard.
For seven days, the witness roamed the woods and finally was able to join the column of fugitives and reach the liberated territory, where he was reunited with his family. The people in the column told the witness that the site where he had escaped the execution was called Rasica Gaj.
In a brief examination-in-chief, the witness said that when he left Srebrenica he had no choice. No Muslim there could ‘either stay or survive’ there, he said. The only chance to escape certain death for all the Muslims, and men in particular, was to flee the town. In the cross-examination, Mladic’s defense counsel put it to the witness that the Dutch peace-keepers ‘participated’ in the evacuation of the people. The witness replied that the Dutch UN soldiers in Potocari only took part in directing the population towards the buses that were used for the evacuation. The general impression among the people was that ‘Serbs controlled everything’, the witness noted.
The protected witness completed his evidence today. The prosecution case will continue tomorrow morning.
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