Asked about the pre-war arming of Serbs in Sarajevo, Mladic’s defense witness said he didn’t know anything about it. Until the beginning of the war the witness ran a restaurant and didn’t think about war at all. At the same time, the witness claimed that after people ‘had a drink or two in a bar’ all kinds of things could be heard about the Muslims arming themselves. According to the witness, the word 'poturica' is not a slur for a person who converts to Islam

Svetozar Guzina, defence witness at Rako Mladic trialSvetozar Guzina, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial

All previous witnesses of Ratko Mladic’s defense claimed that the Muslims in BH were the first to get weapons and that they initiated the incidents that led to the war. In his statement to the defense team and in his examination-in-chief yesterday, Svetozar Guzina, who commanded the VRS battalion in Nedzarici during the war, made a similar claim. According to Guzina, as early as in 1991, while he still ran a restaurant in Sokolovic Kolonija, he heard that Muslims were getting arms. Today this prompted the prosecution to present documents showing that before the war Serbs were arming themselves in secret.

In early 1991, a report from the police station in the Serb municipality of Ilidza stated that at a series of ‘illegal meetings’ people ‘advocated the war option as a means of accomplishing the national interests’. There was ‘intensive work’ underway to arm the citizens of Serb ethnicity, the report noted. Asked how that fit with his allegations, the witness replied that he didn’t know anything about the arming of Serbs. At that time, he ran a restaurant and didn’t get involved in the matters of war. But, as the presiding judge Orie noted, Guzina was nevertheless well aware of the arming of Muslims. The witness explained that it was because of his job as a caterer. Various people came to his restaurant and ‘after a drink or two’ they could tell all kinds of things.

Yesterday the witness was adamant that his battalion and the Ilidza Brigade were not responsible for the crimes against the Sarajevo citizens. This prompted the prosecution to present documents describing a Serb attack on Dobrinja in June 1992. In the incident, Guzina’s battalion captured the settlement called Avijaticarsko naselje, and the local non-Serb civilians left their houses. The witness explained that his soldiers took the civilians out of their homes and took them all to the airport. After that, the civilians were allowed to leave the territory ‘safe and alive’. Because the witness claimed that the civilians left voluntarily, the prosecutor showed several statements and reports of Nedjeljko Prstojevic, war-time president of the Ilidza Crisis Staff. In the documents Prstojevic mentioned that Serbs ‘expelled the Muslim population’ from the municipality.

The prosecutor stressed that the witness participated in the attack of the village of Azici in Sarajevo in February 1993. After that, in his statement to the Reuters news agency the witness said that in order to minimize the losses, they opted for the tactic designed to ‘destroy the whole place before seizing it’. It was true that the village was 'heavily shelled', the witness said, but this was done because the Serb troops knew there were ‘no civilians’ there.

At the time of the attack on the village of Azici, the witness gave a statement to a Serb TV network, explaining that the attack was launched in response to an attack by the 'poturice', a word used to refer to converts to the Islamic faith. When the prosecutor put it to Guzina that the term was derogatory, the witness said he did not see it that way. Guzina was sure that the term didn’t bother Muslims. In the defense’s re-examination Guzina explained that there were in fact different historical forms of the same term. ‘Now we call them Bosniaks, previously they were Muslims and before that they were 'poturice', converts to the Islamic faith, all those terms are the same for me’, Guzina noted.

Before he left the courtroom Guzina said, ‘I hope I have been useful’. The accused then nodded affirmatively. In contravention of the instructions he has received from the Trial Chamber, Mladic spoke to his defense counsels aloud. Mladic has recently violated the order several times. He was warned today that if he persisted, he would be denied the right to communicate orally with his defense, and would be restricted to exchanging written notes.