NO PUNISHMENT FOR CRIMES IN BOSNIAN KRAJINA
In the cross-examination of Mladic’s defense witness General Bosko Kelecevic, the prosecutor listed a number of crimes committed in the area of responsibility of the 1st Krajina Corps. The crimes ranged from imprisonment and abuse of civilians in the Manjaca prison camp to the killings in Kljuc and Prijedor; no Serb soldier was ever tried during the war for any of those crimes, the prosecutor stressed. In one case the perpetrators were arrested but were released at the request of the Corps commander Momir Talic
In the cross-examination of the former chief of staff of the 1st Krajina Corps Bosko Kelecevic, prosecutor Traldi presented a document produced by the Bosnian Serb Army Main staff on 19 May 1995. According to the document, ‘the separation from Croats and Muslims’ and ‘the establishment of a Serb state in BH’ were the main military goals of the Bosnian Serb Army. The prosecutor went on to list in detail the crimes committed in a bid to achieve those goals, as alleged in the indictment against Mladic.
As the prosecutor put it to the witness, a unit known as the Wolves from Vucjak fought as part of the Serb forces in Operation Koridor in June and July 1992. The witness commanded the forces involved in the operation. Kelecevic today explained that he knew that Milankovic was a ‘small-time criminal’. He was also aware that during the operation Milankovic ‘took some stuff’; the prosecution qualified those actions as looting. The witness dismissed the suggestion that Milankovic’s Wolves were part of the Bosnian Serb Army. This prompted the prosecutor to tender into evidence a TV report from Veljko Milankovic’s funeral. In February 1993, Milankovic was buried with full military honors. Kelecevic spoke at Milankovic’s funeral saying that Milankovic and his fellow fighters ‘carried out brilliantly’ all the tasks during Operation Koridor.
The prosecutor then put it to the witness that in the spring of 1992, in order to implement envisaged military goals, the 1st Krajina Corps launched a major operation to disarm the Muslims and Croats, in many municipalities in Bosnian Krajina. The disarmament may have been real or just a pretext. Thousands of civilians were arrested in the actions, most of them in Kljuc and Sanski Most. They were taken to the Manjaca prison camp in Banja Luka. In August 1992, the detainees from the prison camps in Prijedor that had been closed down were brought to Manjaca too. In his statement, the witness said that the conditions in Manjaca were in line with ‘international law’. According to the prosecutor, the detainees were arrested in ‘their homes and fields’; they were unarmed civilians. The witness was unwilling to confirm that this had been the case, prompting the prosecutor to present more documents.
In the first document, an analysis of combat readiness of the 1st Krajina Corps, the Corps command notifies the Main Staff that 9,200 prisoners from Manjaca were exchanged in 1992. Of that number, 6,900 were civilians. The witness replied that it had happened a long time ago. His memory didn’t serve him well because he had some ‘health problems’, Kelecevic said. He allowed the possibility that non-Serb civilians were arrested ‘sporadically’ but was not able to tell how that could result in at least 6,900 civilians being detained in Manjaca. The prison camp was established on the orders of General Momir Talic, commander of the 1st Krajina Corps, Kelecevic admitted. In Kelecevic’s view, Ratko Mladic had authorised Talic to do that.
In a letter sent to the 1st Krajina Corps on 21 July 1992 the prison camp administration demanded that the practice of bringing in ‘unarmed people who have not resisted capture’ stop. If it continued, Manjaca would become a place where Muslims and Croats would be 'kept in isolation', and ‘history will not forgive’ Serbs for those actions. The witness didn’t remember that report or indeed another report which mentions a visit by the International Red Cross. The latter document states that the prisoners were given insufficient food and that they were smeared with ‘fresh blood’. Kelecevic argued that in mid-July 1992, at the time of the visit, he was near Doboj involved in Operation Koridor. The witness could only remember being told about the murder of prisoners Omer Filipovic and Esad Bender. He claimed that the culprits had been punished. The prosecutor then noted that the perpetrators were not tried until 2007. Kelecevic was not able to name a single soldier in the 1st Krajina Corps who was punished during the war in BH for any crimes against the non-Serbs. Even if he wanted to, Kelecevic couldn’t name them simply because there were none, the prosecutor stressed.
The prosecutor used the village of Velagici near Kljuc as an example for the general practice among Mladic’s troops of tolerating and even praising criminal behavior. In early June 1992, about 80 Muslim civilians, who had been held in a primary school, were massacred in Velagici. The culprits, soldiers from the 30th Partisan Brigade, were arrested, only to be released after they wrote to General Talic, the prosecutor said. The perpetrators asked Talic to ‘show some understanding for their situation’ and allow them to ‘fight again for the Serb nation’. Some time later, in mid-July 1992, according to the document showed by the prosecutor, Mladic and Talic ‘praised the 30th Partisan Brigade’, which was in fact responsible not only for the crime in Velagici but for numerous other crimes in Kljuc.
The prosecutor went on to suggest that in May 1992 civilians were killed and their property destroyed in the attacks of the 43rd Brigade from Prijedor on the villages of Kozarac, Hambarine, Brdo and other locations. After the attacks, thousands of civilians were arrested and taken to the Prijedor prison camps. The witness disagreed with most of the allegations put to him. The prosecutor told the witness he had a document proving that Radmilo Zeljaja, deputy commander of the 43rhd Brigade, had told Talic that from now on he would ‘cleanse all and will spare neither women nor children’. Zeljaja was not removed from his duty, the prosecutor stressed. In fact, he was promoted and became the brigade commander. The witness confirmed it.
The cross-examination of General Kelecevic will be completed tomorrow. After that, Mladic’s defense will have a few hours to re-examine their witness.