VRS colonel Milovan Milutinovic said at Mladic’s trial, ‘I have not heard until today’ that the Srebrenica men, who had been separated from women and children in Potocari, were killed. According to him, the report produced by NIOD, a Dutch institute, found that there ‘was no plan’ to commit the crime in Srebrenica. As he told the court, he did not misinterpret the words of a British journalist who had purportedly said that Muslims in Sarajevo were shooting at their own people: it was in fact the TANJUG agency. Ratko Mladic’s trial will be adjourned until 19 January 2014

Milovan Milutinovic, defence witness at Rako Mladic trialMilovan Milutinovic, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial

Mladic’s defense counsel Ivetic read out the summary of the statement given by Milovan Milutinovic to Ratko Mladic’s defense. Judging by the summary, the head of the Information Service in the VRS Main Staff denied a wide range of crimes against non-Serb civilians in BH, primarily the crimes in Sarajevo and Srebrenica. Like many previous defense witnesses, Milutinovic also blamed the ‘other side’, mainly Muslims, for the war in BH. To corroborate his argument, Milutinovic claimed that Alija Izetbegovic and grand mufti Ceric had issued a fatwa for jihad. That, Milutinovic claimed, attracted many Mujhideen to come to the Balkans.

Denying that the Bosnian Serb army terrorized the Sarajevo citizens, the witness shifted the blame on the ‘Muslim authorities’, accusing them of ‘sacrificing their compatriots’ when they opened fire at the civilians in a bread queue in 1992 and later twice in the Markale market. According to Milutinovic, he was informed that the Russian investigators who were part of an UNPROFOR team had established that ‘old dead bodies’ that had been brought from other sites were among the victims of the second Markale massacre. Presiding judge Orie wanted to know if the ‘fake victims’ from Markale had been identified and if the Russian investigators’ report the witness mentioned existed at all. The witness wasn’t able to assist him beyond claiming that in his view, Biljana Plavsic and IFOR had removed the documents from the VRS Main Staff archives.

To support his allegation that the Muslims were shooting at their own people, Milutinovic quoted a report by British journalist Martin Bell published in the Independent on 3 July 1994. Bell, who appeared as a witness at several trials in The Hague, reported that the Muslim command in Sarajevo ‘went crazy and is terrorizing its own people’. The prosecutor presented the article to prove that it did not contain the words. Martin Bell, the prosecutor explained, wrote, ‘I feel like a member of an army whose supreme command has lost its mind’. Bell in fact criticized his own government for its lack of empathy for the people suffering in BH. ‘How on earth could you do this to Martin Bell’s quote’, prosecutor McCloskey asked the witness. Milutinovic replied that he didn’t read Bell’s text in the original. He read the TANJUG’s report about Bell’s report. As Milutinovic explained, he thought that the Belgrade news agency was ‘trustworthy’.

In a bid to deny the Srebrenica genocide, the witness noted in his statement that the Dutch institute NIOD concluded in its comprehensive report that there ‘were no plans to commit crimes against Muslims’ in July 1995. According to the report, the witness added, the crimes were ‘isolated’ and ‘stemmed from the extremism of various groups’. On the contrary, the prosecutor stressed, the Dutch institute found that Srebrenica detainees were ‘executed on a large scale’. The executions included the transportation, burial and later exhumation of the bodies to cover up the crime. The NIOD report notes that this ‘would be impossible without a plan’ by a ‘well-organized’ Bosnian Serb army. Once again, Milutinovic replied that he didn’t read the original but a report by the France Presse agency.

The witness went on to deny that the accused was responsible for the crimes in Srebrenica. In his statement to the defense Milutinovic said that he ‘as a superior officer and a human being’, could never have issued an order that would have violated the Geneva Conventions. Milutinovic claimed that the UNPROFOR commander Rupert Smith praised Mladic for his treatment of the people of Srebrenica. Also, Milutinovic said that Mladic ‘gave his word as a general’ that all those who had gathered in Potocari could choose if they wanted to leave or stay.

The prosecutor argued that the general didn’t keep his word and that most of the men gathered in Potocari were separated from the rest of the people and later summarily executed. The former head of the Main Staff Information Service replied, ‘I hear that for the first time’ today, despite the fact that, according to the indictment, the soldiers from the same army he served took part in the executions.

Soon afterwards, the foreign media learned of the mass executions of the Srebrenica men who had been separated from the rest of the people in Potocari or captured in other locations, the prosecutor recalled. He showed several texts by journalist Robert Block from the second half of 1995. The articles, also published in the British newspaper the Independent, describe the capture of those people and report the mass killings. In one of the texts Block said he had seen Zoran Petrovic Pirocanac’s report broadcast by a Belgrade TV channel, showing bodies of Muslims executed in Kravica. Milutinovic did admit that the Main Staff had known about the footage. However, since the bodies could be seen ‘only for a second’, the recording ‘cannot be relevant’. Milutinovic argued. Also, the witness admitted that he had taken measures to get hold of the footage, but he managed to do it only a year later.

Colonel Milutinovic was Mladic’s last defense witness this year. After the winter recess, the trial will resume on 19 January 2015.