Former commander of the 7th Battalion in the 1st Romanija Brigade, which was part of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps, testified today in the defense of Ratko Mladic. According to him, the civilians in Sarajevo were victims of the decision made by the BH Army to open fire from built-up areas on the Bosnian Serb positions. Slavko Gengo denied allegations that civilians were targeted deliberately and that the shell that hit the Markale Market in February 1994 was fired from a VRS position in Mrkovici

Slavko Gengo, defence witness at Rako Mladic trialSlavko Gengo, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial

Ratko Mladic's defense today called Slavko Gengo, former commander of the 7th Battalion in the 1st Romanija Brigade, which was part of the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps. Through Gengo's testimony, Mladic is trying to prove that the Republika Srpska Army was on the defensive and that 'the only war objective' of the Bosnian Serb army was 'to protect its own people, territories and hearths'. The defense is also trying to contest allegations that the VRS was responsible for the shelling of the Markale market on 5 February 1994, in which 66 persons were killed and 140 injured.

The summary of the witness statement read out in court by Mladic's defense lawyer notes that the BH Army forces encircled the VRS troops in the Sarajevo theatre of war, opening fire on them from mobile mortars and setting up positions in areas inhabited by civilians. The witness also claims that the BH Army snipers opened fire on buses, civilian cars and other vehicles traveling along the Vogosca Hresa Pale road. Gengo claims that the VRS troops returned fire solely at the enemy combat positions 'without any intent of causing civilian casualties or terrorizing civilians'.

The summary of Gengo's statement goes on to say that nobody in his battalion heard any mortars being fired on the day when a shell hit the Markale market. The suspicion that the shell that hit the Sarajevo town market was fired from a position manned by his unit in Mrkovici resulted in an inspection being dispatched to his unit on 6 February 1994. The inspection was ordered by the VRS Main Staff. The team comprised personnel from the brigade command, from the SRK and UNPROFOR. In his statement, Gengo claims that some days later he learned from a French UNPROFOR soldier that 'the investigation established that fire had not been opened from any positions manned by the 7th Battalion on the Markale market'.

The prosecutor referred to UNPROFOR and VRS documents in the cross-examination in a bid to prove that the commission, which comprised UNPROFOR soldiers too, never went to the positions held by the 7th Battalion, 1st Romanija Brigade. As the prosecutor noted, the documents make no mention of any visits or on-site investigations in Mrkovici. The witness was adamant that UNPROFOR staff had visited the positions held by his battalion.

In the cross-examination, Gengo confirmed that Sedrenik 'faced the positions held by my brigade'. According to the indictment, 14-year-old Tarik Zunic was wounded in Sedrenik on 6 March 1995. He also confirmed that civilians lived in that area, but he insisted that it was up to the BH Army to remove civilians from combat zones. It was his duty to ensure that his troops opened accurate fire on legitimate military targets. 'I could not make the civilians move away from their artillery pieces', Gengo said.

When the witness was questioned by Judge Orie, he repeated that his unit only returned fire on the BH Army positions. If those positions were in built-up areas, civilian casualties could not be avoided. As Gengo explained, those civilians were 'collateral damage'.

The prosecutor also showed the witness an order issued by the SRK commander, General Stanislav Galic, on 26 January 1994, instructing his troops to exert 'strong pressure on the Muslim forces in Sarajevo and to liberate a number of locations'. The witness denied that the order required his unit to take offensive action. The SRK units 'merely tried to improve their tactical situation, and did not move the front lines forward', Gengo explained. His evidence will continue tomorrow.