Speaking about the character of the accused Ratko Mladic, his war-time assistant Rajko Banduka praised Mladic’s education, humanism and professionalism. The witness claimed that he had spent the entire war with Mladic in Crna Rijeka in ‘very modest circumstances’. The ‘humble abode’ was in fact a one-storey villa called Javor located near the entrance to an underground bunker, the prosecutor said

Rajko Banduka, defence witness at Rako Mladic trialRajko Banduka, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial

Ratko Mladic’s defense case continued with the first witness to appear this week, his war assistant Rajko Banduka. This is the first time Banduka is testifying at the Tribunal in The Hague. In his statement to the defense, Banduka said that the VRS Main Staff HQ was located in Crna Rijeka near Han Pijesak. Mladic and the witness were billetedin a building a kilometer and a half from there.

As Banduka recounted, during the war the accused, as the commander of the Main Staff, used encrypted radio communications with all corps commanders. Mladic also had at his disposal other communications equipment, including two telephone lines. Mladic had access to the Main Staff Operations Center where all the written reports from the field poured in. According to the witness, in the course of years he spent with the accused, he came to ‘know Mladic's character and personality’. Mladic is an ‘educated man’, loyal to his nation and profession; he adhered strictly to the rules, never took revenge on anyone and was against looting and destruction. According to the witness, the accused thought that all those who wanted to live together with Serbs should remain in Republika Srpska. During the war Mladic lived in ‘very modest circumstances’, Banduka said.

In the cross-examination, prosecutor McCloskey showed the witness a photo of the facility in Crna Rijeka where Mladic and Banduka had spent the war. The prosecutor noted that it was in fact a one-storey villa calledJavor. The entrance to an underground bunker was located near the villa. When the prosecutor asked if those were the modest circumstances the witness had described, Banduka confirmed it. As the cross-examination continued, the prosecutor contestedBanduka’s claim that he had been following the events in Srebrenica and Zepa from the media reports in his apartment in Bijeljina, as he was recovering from an illness. Banduka was confronted with several intercepted conversations that he had allegedly taken part in in mid-July 1995, but he remained adamant that he was not the man recorded on tape, claiming he was not in Crna Rijeka at all at the time.

After Banduka completed his evidence, the defense called Milenko Rajak, who had begun his testimony last Friday. During the war the witness served in the Rogatica Brigade. Later Rajak became the chairman of the war veterans’ association in Rogatica. In the examination-in-chief, defense counsel Lukic tendered into evidence lists of Serb civilians and soldiers from Rogatica who had been killed, in a bid to contest the prosecution case that Muslims in the region were not armed and that there were no clashes with Serbs.

Like most of Mladic’s witnesses from Rogatica, in his statement to the defenseRajak said that ‘there had been no system targeting Muslims’ in the municipality. Civilians were not detained in the Veljko Vlahovic school or in the Rasadnik farm, the witness claimed: those were prisoners of war. Later, the prisoners wereexchanged for Serbs. According to prosecution exhibits, there were women among the prisoners, including a woman who was a hundred years old. Rajak said heknew nothing about it, although he admitted that during the war he never went to the school and Rasadnik.

As today’s hearing drew to a close, Slavko Kralj began his testimony in Mladic’s defense. Kralj was a liaison officer in the 1st Krajina Corps and later in the VRS Main Staff.

Rajko Banduka, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial
Milenko Rajak, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial