WAS SARAJEVO UNDER BLOCKADE?
Dusan Skrba, former artillery commander in one of the battalions that were part of the 1st Sarajevo Brigade, claimed that his unit was manned by citizens of Sarajevo who had no intent of ‘terrorizing civilians’. All they wanted was to ‘defend their homes as the people’s army they were’. The witness was shown Mladic’s order to ‘keep Sarajevo firmly under blockade’ and to ‘prevent the de-blocking’, but he was categorical that the city had never been under a blockade
Ratko Mladic’s defense case continued with the testimony of Dusan Skrba, former commander of the Mixed Artillery Battalion in the 1st Sarajevo Brigade. The task of Skrba’s battalion was to provide support to the infantry units on the frontline. Through Skrba’s evidence the defense wants to contest the prosecution’s evidence on the artillery and sniper terror campaign against Sarajevo and its citizens.
According to the summary of the statement read out in the courtroom by defense counsel Miodrag Stojanovic, ‘there was never any intent to cause civilian casualties or to terrorize civilians. The witness never received ‘any written or oral orders to attack public transport vehicles in the part of Sarajevo inhabited by Muslims’. On the contrary, the ‘standing order not to open fire on civilian targets’ was in effect. Skrba highlighted the fact that for the most part the soldiers in his unit were people from Sarajevo ‘defending their homes like the people’s army they were’.
Noting that in his statement the witness said there were no 120mm mortars in the sector manned by his unit in the southern part of Sarajevo, the defense claimed the VRS was not responsible for the shelling of the Markale town market on 28 August 1995. As alleged in the indictment, 43 persons were killed in the incident and 76 were injured. The prosecution contends that the shell was fired from Mount Trebevic, from the positions under the control of the VRS. Skrba on the other hand claimed that large caliber mortars were moved 20 km from the center of Sarajevo. According to Skrba, in the Miljevici sector on Mount Trebevic there were no firing positions with 120mm mortars.
In the examination-in-chief, Skrba said that his battalion was deployed southeast of Sarajevo and that his soldiers had about 30 artillery pieces, including 120mm mortars, howitzers and multiple rocket launchers. Skrba claimed that the 1st Sarajevo Brigade took artillery fire from two sides – from the direction of Sarajevo, and from the direction of Mount Igman. Skrba’s unit was thus sandwiched between the BH Army troops that constantly moved their positions. In Skrba’s words, his unit only responded to attacks by firing one or two shells, and ‘that was it’. Judge Orie then asked the witness if he ever received any orders to open fire on Pofalici. Skrba replied that he didn’t hear such an order. Among the evidence the prosecution called against Mladic for the terror campaign against Sarajevo is his order of 28 May 1992 to shell Pofalici and Velesici to ‘roll out [their] minds’ because there aren’t many Serb inhabitants there’.
The prosecution asked for no less than three and a half hours to cross-examine the witness. In the first part of the cross-examination, the prosecutor tried to learn more about the organizational structure and composition of the mixed artillery battalion, as well as the firing positions manned by its units. Skrba said that his troops always opened ‘proportionate’ fire to ‘neutralize enemy positions’ because he ‘had no ammunition to just open fire randomly without a clear target’.
The witness confirmed his evidence at the trial of Radovan Karadzic, that the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps was in a ‘double encirclement’, and that the BH Army held the Sarajevo-Romanija corps under blockade. The prosecutor showed Skrba Mladic’s order to the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps to ‘keep Sarajevo firmly under blockade’ and to prevent the de-blocking. Skrba was categorical that Sarajevo was not under a blockade. According to him, until August 1993 the BH Army troops could ‘get into the city by crossing the airport strip and Butmir and later through the tunnel that had been dug out to carry food, water, fuel and water’. Furthermore, many civilians used that route to get out of Sarajevo. This prompted Judge Orie to note that the fact that some people manage to escape a prison does not mean that everyone was free to go. The witness replied that the commander of the BH Army General Staff himself said in public that he would ‘go out and come to Mount Igman’. ‘How could he go anywhere if he was not free to leave?’, the witness asked.
Dusan Skrba will complete his evidence tomorrow.
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