In Savo Sokanovic’s cross-examination, the prosecutor noted that the VRS tried to ‘deceive the public’ and present all offensive actions as self-defense. The VRS knew that such activities ‘caused criticism of the international community', the prosecutor added. Sokanovic initially claimed he ‘didn’t know about any criticism’, but then he suddenly recalled that the Main Staff Department of Information mentioned it in its reports
Savo Sokanovic, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial
General Savo Sokanovic, former head of morale and religious affairs department in the Republika Srpska Army Main Staff, claimed in the examination-in-chiefthat the military leadership wasn’t informed about what was in the reports in the foreign media and didn’t know that the international community was quite critical of the crimes. The prosecutor showed a series of documents proving the opposite.
First, the prosecutor referred to an interview the witness gave to the OTP investigators in 2004. Sokanovic told the OTP investigators that the Main Staff Department of Information was ‘obliged to follow as much as possible’ the media reports. The prosecutor went on to present the instructions on how to deal with anti-Serb propaganda issued by General Milan Gvero, head for morale, religious and legal affairs in the Main Staff, on 9 March 1993. As the prosecutor suggested, the document shows that Gvero was aware of the reports in the foreign media about ‘grave crimes committed by the Bosnian Serbs’. The witness was adamant that he had no knowledge of that.
In the same document Gvero orders his subordinates to ‘prevent any uncontrolled movements of local and foreign journalists in the battlefield’. Since Sokanovic noted that the order was issued in order to keep the journalists safe, presiding judge Orie reminded him that the document was about the risk posed by ‘anti-Serb propaganda and misinformation’. ‘One could interpret it that way too’, the witness replied.
A document with the witness’s signature ordered the units to ‘present offensive operations as the result of the natural right to defense’. The prosecutor put it to Sokanovic that he had intended to ‘deceive the public’. Sokanovic knew that the ‘offensive actions were controversial and that the international community was critical of them’, the prosecutor emphasized. Sokanovic initially replied that he had ‘no knowledge of any criticism’ as at the time he ‘wasn’t informed about what was going on in the international public’. Later Sokanovic added that he remembered that ‘this criticism’ was passed around the department of information.
According to the prosecutor, the international community was critical of the conditions in the Prijedor prison camps too. The witness accompanied reporters on the visits to those camps in July 1992 as a representative of the Main Staff. Although he admitted that some prisoners looked as if they were ‘starving’, Sokanovic claimed he didn’t know that many people were killed in Room 3 in Keraterm on 24 June 1992. No one informed him about that, Sokanovic explained. When the prosecutor put it to him that he must have passed by a room riddled with bullets, the witness denied it.
When the prosecutor put it to him that men in VRS uniforms secured Trnopolje, Sokanovic replied that in that period the army and the police both wore uniforms. Sokanovic was adamant that he didn’t know that the army was responsible for security in Omarska.
At the end, the prosecutor showed the witness an order from April 1993 instructing subordinates to submit lists of prisoners of war and Muslim civilians detained in Republika Srpska prisons because they were to be exchanged. According to the prosecutor, both the witness and the Main Staff knew that civilians had been illegally detained. However, no one lost their job over that: in fact, some people were promoted. Sokanovic replied that the department for morale didn’t have ‘anything’ to do with prisons, prisoners of war or their detention.
Mladic’s trial continued with the evidence of Velo Pajic, who served in the 67th Regiment of the VRS Main Staff.