Janusz Kalbarczyk from Poland testified today at the trial of Ratko Mladic. In May and June 1995, Serb troops used Kalbarczyk and about 200 other UN members as human shields against NATO strikes in the Mount Jahorina region

Janusz Kalbarczyk, witness at the Ratko Mladic trialJanusz Kalbarczyk, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial

At the trial of Ratko Mladic, the prosecution called Janusz Kalbarczyk, a retired colonel in the Polish army. Kalbarczyk is one of about 200 UN peacekeepers who were held hostage by the Bosnian Serb troops in May 1995. They were used as human shield against NATO air strikes, as the prosecution alleges. At the time, Kalbarczyk was a major serving as a UN military observer in Pale.

The Serb forces arrested Kalbarczyk the day after the first NATO air strikes against Serb targets, in the morning of 26 May 1995. Kalbarczyk was first taken to Jahorinski Potok, where he was handcuffed to a lightning rod near an ammunition depot targeted by air strikes. A Serb officer held a gun to his head and told Kalbarczyk that he had been ordered to kill the ‘blue helmets’ if NATO didn’t stop the air strikes.

Several hours later, Kalbarczyk and a Canadian peace-keeper, Patrick Rechener, were taken to Mount Jahorina. There, a journalist from a Serb TV network interviewed Kalbarczyk and Rechener standing next to a radar facility. ‘Whether they live or not will depend on whether NATO continues the air strikes’, the journalist concluded in the footage. Another interview with the witness, filmed the next day at the same location, was also broadcast.

In his evidence, the witness spoke about the impact of his detention by the Serb forces. After his release and a leave of absence, he returned to the post of a military observer. Kalbarczyk noticed that he got ‘upset every time I saw Serbs’. He also realized he would get ‘emotional’ whenever he spoke about his time in detention, and he felt he would cry.

As he answered the questions asked by Mladic’s defense, Kalbarczyk said that until his release on 13 June 1995 he and other UN members were held captive in the VRS military barracks in the Pale region. From there, the detainees could be moved to any of the potential NATO targets as needed. This only increased their feeling that they were used as human shields, Kalbarczyk said. The witness recounted that on 2 or 3 July 1995 they were visited by a delegation which included Ratko Mladic.

The witness dismissed defense counsel Stojanovic’s suggestion that Mladic wasn’t in that delegation. Kalbarczyk explained that at first he didn’t recognize Mladic because he was in civilian clothes. Later that day, he realized that it was Mladic, because he saw him on TV.

The defense put it to the witness that because of the NATO air strikes, there was a danger that the local population would act aggressively towards the ‘blue helmets’. Therefore, the VRS commanders ordered measures for their ‘protection’. There really was a danger, Kalbarczyk agreed, especially on the first day of their detention, when Serb soldiers left them alone, handcuffed to a car. The residents of Pale pelted them with stones and spat on them. In Kalbarczyk’s view, this only meant that the VRS soldiers didn’t really care what would happen to them.