Branko Davidovic, former commander of a battalion in the VRS 6th Krajina Brigade, said that he begged Muslims ‘as brothers’ to lay down their arms but they refused to do it. In May 1992 The VRS 6th Krajina Brigade razed the Muslim village of Hrustovo near Sanski Most to the ground

Branko Davidovic, witness at the Radovan Karadzic trialBranko Davidovic, witness at the Radovan Karadzic trial

Branko Davidovic began his evidence in the defense of Radovan Karadzic yesterday. Davidovic was first a battalion commander and later the assistant commander for morale in the VRS 6th Krajina Brigade. His battalion took part in the search for weapons in the Muslim villages in the Sanski Most area, including the village of Hrustovo on 25 May 1992. At the beginning of his today’s evidence, Davidovic was warned that he was entitled to refuse to answer any potentially incriminating questions.

In his statement to Karadzic’s defense, Davidovic said that in the Sanski Most area only those Muslims and Croats who were suspected of involvement in reorganizing the rebellion were arrested. ‘Remand prisons’ were set up for them in the Betonirka Factory, in the sports hall and in the Famos Factory. Davidovic denied that there were any civilian victims in Mahala. As far as Davidovic knew, Mahala was taken without a bullet being fired. Davidovic said that the shelling of Hrustovo by his battalion was an ‘exception’.

In the cross-examination, Davidovic recounted how he had tried to explain the situation to the villagers of Hrustovo ‘as brothers’, begging them to lay down their arms. After they refused to do so, the village was shelled and captured. As many as 250 ‘fighters’ were arrested in the operation. The prosecutor confronted the witness with the statement of Adem Seferovic at the trial of Momcilo Krajisnik. Seferovic said that after they spoke to Davidovic, the villagers of Hrustovo laid down their arms, but the shelling of the village continued unabated.

The prosecutor played the audio recording of the announcement made to the villagers of Hrustovo. ‘As long as a single one of you retains their weapons, you risk the destruction of your houses and families’, the announcer says. Davidovic claimed he knew nothing about the announcement. His orders were to disarm the villagers ‘without any consequences, if possible’, not to destroy it because of a single rifle. The witness was then asked if he knew that the soldiers of the 6th Brigade had killed a group of unarmed women and children in a garage in Hrustovo on 31 May 1992. ‘It may have happened, but in combat’, the witness replied.

As the prosecutor noted, on the same day, 31 May 1992, the Serb soldiers in Vrhpolje rounded up the villagers. The soldiers took them to a bridge, forced them to jump into the river and then fired at them. At least 28 persons were killed in the incident. ‘If there is proof of it, I cannot do anything about it’, said Davidovic, adding that he and his unit didn’t take part in it.

The prosecutor also quoted parts from a diary kept by Branko Basara, the commander of the 6th Krajina Brigade. After the events in the villages of Hrustovo and Vrhpolje, Basara wrote that the mistakes with prisoners shouldn’t be repeated in future operations. Basara strictly prohibited the beating of prisoners and the ‘commission of genocide’ against women, children and the elderly. ‘I don’t know that version of the truth’, the witness said. As he said, he never saw anyone as much as slap a prisoner in his presence.

Radovan Karadzic’s trial continues on Monday.