At Ratko Mladic's trial, his defense called Milorad Batinic Lola in order to highlight the suffering of Serb civilians in ‘the occupied Sarajevo’ and in the ‘liberated’ parts of the city under the VRS control where they were under constant sniper and mortar fire from the BH Army positions in the city

Milorad Batinić, defence witness at Rako Mladic trialMilorad Batinić, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial

Milorad Batinic Lola started his testimony at the trial of Ratko Mladic. Mladic faces charges of double genocide and other crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Batinic is a former soldier in the VRS Ilidza Brigade; he also worked as an interpreter for the UN monitors. The Trial Chamber has decided that Batinic should testify viva voce after two different versions of the witness’s written statement appeared before the Tribunal in circumstances that remain unclear. The issue was discussed in a Rashomon style hearing.

In the first part of the examination-in-chief, Batinic testified about the ordeal of the Serb civilians in ‘the occupied Sarajevo’ and in the ‘liberated’ parts of the city under the VRS control. The Serb civilians were exposed to constant sniper and mortar fire from the BH Army positions in the city, Batinic claims. Batinic described how he was able to take his parents and several other friends out of ‘the occupied Sarajevo’ with great difficulty. Also, Batinic recounted how several of his close relatives were killed in the city. The defense showed photos Batinic had taken at the exhumation of his uncle. Batinic’s uncle had been killed in the part of Dobrinja under the BH Army control.

The prosecution objected to the admission of those photos into evidence, noting that they were not relevant for Mladic’s responsibility for the crimes listed in the indictment. Mladic’s defense counsel Branko Lukic replied that the photos were evidence that refuted the testimony of the prosecution witnesses who had denied the crimes against Serbs. The judges overruled the prosecution’s objection, but invited the parties to try to reach an agreement about the existence of crimes against Serb civilians in Sarajevo.

In his evidence Batinic also said that the personnel of the UN French Battalion moved the BH Army soldiers across the airport runway in their vehicles. This was called ‘the French taxi’, the witness noted. In early 1993, Batinic attended a meeting where Spasoje Cojic, the Igman Brigade commander, complained to the UN that the media ‘vilified’ Serbs. The media blamed Serbs for various incidents although the other side was responsible for them, Cojic said then. As an example Cojic mentioned the ‘bread queue’ massacre in May 1992 and tried to convince other participants of the meeting that the incident had been staged. The civilians were killed in the explosion of directional anti-personnel mines called MRUD which had been placed in the basement windows in Vase Miskina Street. The UN staff didn’t comment on Cojic’s allegations but, as the witness put it, they ‘just listened to him with amazement’. It remained unclear what caused the amazement.

With Batinic’s help, the defense tried to prove that the shell that hit the Markale market on 5 February 1994 wasn’t fired from the Serb positions. As Batinic recounted, Colonel Marko Lugonja told the UN representatives that it was another ‘staged’ incident. He showed the footage of the incident which contained suspicious details: a ‘prosthetic leg’ at the site, untouched potato piles and undamaged bottles on market stalls after the explosion…

Finally, Batinic said that in the spring of 1995 he was with a group of UN staff who, as the prosecution alleges, were taken hostage by Mladic troops to stave off further NATO air strikes. Batinic claimed they were not hostages. The ‘blue helmets’ were ‘semi-free’. It is true that their ‘movements were restricted’ but they could have left at any time. They did not do it because they were treated well and they knew nothing bad would happen to them, Batinic explained.

Milorad Batinic continues his evidence tomorrow when he will be cross-examined by the prosecution.