In his evidence in Ratko Mladic’s defense, General Bosko Kelecevic, who served as the chief of staff in the 1st Krajina Corps during the war, tried to shift the blame for the events in the Prijedor prison camps on the civilian authorities. According to Kelecevic, the Manjaca prison camp operated in line with ‘the provisions of humanitarian law’. Civilians voluntarily left the area of responsibility of the Krajina Corps, which was ‘possibly Europe’s largest military corps’

Bosko Kelecevic, defence witness at Rako Mladic trialBosko Kelecevic, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial

Ratko Mladic’s defense case continued today with the evidence of General Bosko Kelecevic, former chief of staff of the VRS 1st Krajina Corps. In his statement to the defense, the witness denied that the Bosnian Serb army carried out any ‘actions aimed at persecuting civilians’. According to Kelecevic, the civilians left because they were ‘scared of the war’.

As alleged in the indictment against Mladic, a large number of crimes were committed in the area of responsibility of the 1st Krajina Corps. In the municipalities of Prijedor, Sanski Most and Kotor Varos, the persecution reached the scale of genocide. Despite the fact that he spent the entire war as the chief of staff in a corps, a top military post, General Kelecevic claimed that he didn’t know anything about the crimes. In his statement Kelecevic claimed that an action to 'disarm the Muslim population' was carried out in the villages of Kozarac and Hambarine. No civilians were killed or abused, Kelecevic argued. The prisoners were taken to Omarska and Keraterm where they were handed over to the civilian police. According to Kelecevic, the third prison camp in Prijedor – Trnopolje – was an ‘open center’.

The witness claimed he was unaware of the events in the Prijedor prison camps because they were under the jurisdiction of the civilian authorities. In his statement Kelecevic had nothing but praise for the Manjaca military prison camp near Banja Luka where the prisoners were treated according to the ‘provisions of humanitarian law’. The witness saw it for himself when he visited the prison camp in late August 1992. Kelecevic was not aware that the prisoners were coerced, beaten or killed.

After the witness’s statement was admitted into evidence, Mladic’s defense didn’t have any questions for him. As indicated, the witness’s cross-examination, which began today, will last for seven and a half hours, or at least two days. A good part of today’s questions pertained to the structure of the 1st Krajina Corps and the witness’s position in the Bosnian Serb military chain of command. The prosecutor and the witness agreed that the Corps was strictly under the command of Mladic’s Main Staff and that several brigades were subordinated to the witness. The 1st Krajina Corps had 67,000 fighters and held 68 per cent of the Republika Srpska territory, the witness noted. ‘It was possibly the Europe’s largest corps’, Kelecevic concluded.

The prosecutor put it to the witness that the Bosnian Serb army took over the structure, the arsenal and the personnel from the JNA. The witness agreed almost entirely with the suggestion.

In May 1992, the 5th Banja Luka Corps of the JNA was renamed the 1st Krajina Corps of the VRS. The brigades also changed their names, but their composition remained the same. The witness confirmed that after the transformation he had his new post in the VRS structure but he also retained post in the JNA and received his salary ‘from Belgrade’.

The witness was then asked if he as a top officer in the Corps knew about the train that transported Muslims from Bosanski Novi to Doboj sometime in June in 1992. Kelecevic was told that the Prijedor Crisis Staff had organized the transfer of civilians who ‘had volunteered’ to leave their homes. The witness did not know that the train had been stopped in Doboj, and that hundreds of men were separated from the rest of the people and taken back to Bosanski Novi where they were detained. The witness also denied that in the spring of 1992, during Operation Koridor, crimes were committed against non-Serb civilians in Modrica and Odzak. The houses there were destroyed during the clashes, and the Bosnian Serb army wanted to flush out the enemy soldiers, not civilians. Kelecevic was aware that General Momir Talic, the 1st Krajina Corps commander, had been indicted by the Tribunal in The Hague. According to Kelecevic, Talic ‘is not a war criminal because he didn’t live long enough to be convicted'.

Today the prosecutor indicated that tomorrow he would examine the witness about the events in Prijedor.