Ratko Mladic’s defense witness tried hard to play down his role in the murder of Ivan Grgic, a priest from Prijedor. The witness recanted the statement he had given to a Banja Luka investigative judge. On that occasion, the witness described how he and three accomplices took the victim from his house and brought him to the Ljubija mine, where the priest was executed. Today the witness was adamant that he had helped a man by the name of Ivica Pavlovic detain Grgic, when Pavlovic suddenly took Grgic out of the car and killed him

Ratko Milojica, defence witness at Rako Mladic trialRatko Milojica, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial

The statement Ratko Milojica, who served in the VRS Prijedor Brigade during the war, gave to Radovan Karadzics defense was admitted into evidence at the trial of Ratko Mladic. In the statement, Milojica described in detail the incident that took place on 22 May 1992 in the village of Hambarine near Prijedor. That day, the witness and five other Serb soldiers were in a vehicle when the Muslim guards opened fire at them from a check point in Hambarine. The witness and three passengers were wounded, while two persons were killed. It is the defense case that the incident ignited the conflict. The prosecution alleges that the Serb leadership in BH planned in advance the takeover of power in the municipality and the ethnic cleansing that followed. The Hambarine incident was used as a pretext for retaliation against the non-Serbs.

Milojica recounted how he and five other persons headed home to the village of Tisova near Ljubija. They were stopped at a check point in Hambarine. The guards manning the check point asked them to surrender their arms and they complied, Milojica said. As they were waiting there, they suddenly came under fire from automatic weapons, the witness said. In the cross-examination, prosecutor Amir Zec presented the statement made by a Muslim guard to the Prijedor police in June 1992. In the statement, the Muslim guard said that the witness and other soldiers had refused to surrender their weapons. Milojica insisted that the statement was 'one million percent not true', adding that 'everyone has their own version of the story.

The prosecutor mostly focused on an incident the witness did not mention in his statement. A Catholic priest by the name of Ivan Grgic was killed in the night of 7 November 1992. In October 1993, the witness gave a statement to an investigative judge in Banja Luka and signed it. According to the statement, Milojica, his cousin Boro Milojica and a friend had a drink or two. The three of them decided to go visit Grgic in the village of Gornja Ravska to ask him about his purported role in the arming of Croats, the witness recounted. En route they picked up another man, Ivica Pavlovic. All of them entered the priests house;they didnt find any arms but they did find money. Then, intending to scare the priestthey took him to the Ljubija mine where Ivica Pavlovic killed him.

Just like he did at Karadzic's trial, the witness again denied that his statement was true. He was adamant that the only true fact was that Ivica Pavlovic killed the priest. As Milojica explained, Pavlovic later committed suicide. Milojica claimed that everything else in the statement was just an interpretation of the facts that was there to frame him. In the new version, Pavlovic had beenordered by the commandto detain Grgic. The witness, his relative and a friend helped Pavlovic to do that. The events took a different course when Pavlovic took the priest out of the car near the Ljubija mine and killed him. The witness claimed Pavlovic was acting on his own.

Milojica also described how he ended up signing a false statement. He was forced to do it, Milojica explained, because there was a police officer in the room where the investigative judge was questioning him in the presence of his defense counsel. The policeman threatened him, saying he would receive the death sentence and would be beaten if he refused to sign the paper he was given. Summing up Milojicas testimony, presiding judge Orie noted that if his version of the events were to be accepted, the Trial Chamber would have to accept that three persons the investigative judge, the recording clerk and the defense lawyer all lied and that the witness was their victim. Yes, today I maintain that was not my statement, Milojica retorted calmly.

As todays hearing drew to a close, Mladics defense called a new witness who began his testimony. Milorad Sajic is the former vice-president of the Crisis Staff in the Autonomous Region of Krajina.