MUSLIMS HAD TO LEAVE ‘FOR THEIR OWN GOOD’
In May 1992, the former commander of the VRS Birac Brigade ordered the removal of Muslims from Zvornik, but he had nothing to do with that because the Territorial Defense 'did not act on anyone's orders' and didn’t carry out his instructions. Personally, the witness didn’t feel he had ‘even a modicum of responsibility’ for the killings of Muslims in Zvornik and Kozluk. According to the witness, paramilitary formations were responsible for the crimes
In his examination-in-chief at Ratko Mladic's trial, Svetozar Andric, former commander of the VRS Birac Brigade, spoke about the Serb victims in his area of responsibility. Since the prosecution didn’t contest the claim that ‘many Serb civilians’ were killed in that area, the judges interrupted that part of the witness’s testimony. The witness’s written statement was admitted into evidence. After a few questions pertaining to the witness’s career in war-time, the defense handed Andric to the prosecution.
In the first part of the cross-examination, prosecutor Alan Tieger confronted Andric with the order he issued on 28 May 1992 in which he ordered the removal of Muslims from Zvornik. ‘The removal of the Muslim population should be organized and coordinated with the municipalities that will implement it’, the order specifies, adding that ‘only children and women are allowed to move out, while able-bodied men should remain in the prison camps to be exchanged’. A few days later, the SAO Birac government issued a similar order.
Andric claimed that the Muslims left voluntarily. On 22 May 1992, the warring factions made an agreement with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata to move the people out to ensure their safety, the witness recalled. The prosecutor stressed that the Birac authorities officially justified their decision to move the Muslims out with the crimes against Serbs. According to prosecutor, this meant that the Muslims ‘had to leave whether they wanted or not’. Andric on the other hand said that it was just one of the reasons for their removal. There was a fear of paramilitary formations and possible retaliation by those Serbs who had been expelled from the Tuzla area, Andric stressed. Also, Andric noted that he had nothing to do with that at all, because Marko Pavlovic, who commanded the Zvornik Territorial Defense,didn’t implement his order. Pavlovic 'did not act on anyone's orders', the witness said.
The prosecutor referred to the evidence of a witness who testified at Radovan Karadzic’s trial. According to the witness, on 30 May 1992 the Serb radio station in Zvornik broadcast a message to the inhabitants of the villages of Drinjaca and Kostijerovo, instructing them to remain in their homes. Then the soldiers came and took about 150 men, women and children to the culture hall in Drinjaca. Ninety Muslims were killed there subsequently. Andric claimed he didn’t know about the killing of Muslims in Zvornik and Kozluk. He didn’t feel he had ‘a modicum of responsibility’. Paramilitary formations were responsible for 'most' of the murders, the witness explained.
As prosecutor Tieger noted, Muslims were expelled from other places in the area of responsibility of the Birac Brigade; the scenario was always the same. The villages of Memici and Seher near Kalesija are two such examples. Andric once again denied he was in any way responsible. The villages were in a combat zone and they allowed the people to leave because they wanted to save them from certain death, Andric claimed. Personally, the witness was proud of the fact that he had thus saved thousands of lives.
Svetozar Andric continues his testimony tomorrow.