KRAJINA WAS MLADIC’S TESTING GROUND FOR BOSNIA
Savo Strbac, president of Veritas, an NGO, continued his evidence today. The prosecutor put it to him that while Mladic was the commander of the JNA Knin Corps in 1991, he was involved in the crimes against local Croats. This was a clear indication as to how Mladic would act as the Serb military commander in BH, the prosecutor noted. The witness replied that the crimes had been committed on all sides. The actions against Croats were undertaken to lift the blockade of the JNA military barracks, Strbac explained. When Stipe Mesic’s name was mentioned, the accused shouted out loud, 'Ustasha!'
As he testified about Ratko Mladic’s time as the commander of the JNA Knin Corp, defense witness Savo Strbac described him as a 'tactful and wise officer'. Strbac was the security officer in the Benkovac Territorial Defense, the president of the Commission for the Exchange of Prisoners and a secretary in the Krajina government. Now, Strbac heads the non-governmental organization Veritas, which keeps track and makes lists of Serb victims in Croatia.
In the cross-examination, the prosecutor stressed the darker side of Mladic's involvement in the war in Croatia. The prosecutor put it to the witness that when Mladic was appointed the Knin Corps commander, the JNA changed its course. It was no longer neutral: now it openly sided with the Serbs. The prosecutor presented an interview with the then Krajina president Milan Martic on the BBC in 1994. Martic says that when Mladic arrived in Knin he 'instilled confidence' into Serbs and 'openly told them that they were right'. Strbac on the contrary claims that the JNA remained neutral until mid-September 1991 when the Croatian side decided to blockade the Yugoslav army military barracks in all of Croatia.
When the JNA sided with the Serbs, Mladic's troops took part in the attacks on Croatian villages, the prosecution evidence shows. Many crimes against civilians were committed and Krajina was ethnically cleansed. To corroborate this allegation, the prosecutor tendered several documents into evidence. As reported by a Zagreb newspaper Vecernji list in October 1991, Mladic promised that the town Drnis would never against be a Croat town. Instead, it would be called Ratkovo, Mladic purportedly claimed. In a video recording from September 1991, Mladic threatened the representatives of the town of Sinj: if they didn't meet his demands, Mladic warned, the destruction seen in the villages of Kijevo and Vrlika and the town of Sibenik 'would be nothing' compared to what he had in store for them. Mladic then threatened that he would switch off water and electricity supply to Sinj. According to the prosecutor, all this was just a demonstration of what Mladic would later do in BH as the commander of the VRS Main Staff.
In late September and early October 1991, Mladic ordered the shelling of the ancient town of Zadar. On 18 November 1991, Mladic noted in his diary, he ordered his troops to attack the villages of Skarbrnja and Nadin. According to a report produced by a Croatian medical team, at least 44 persons were killed in Skabrnja and 7 victims were killed in Nadin. The youngest victim was 23, and the oldest 92. Half of the victims were female, while several victims were tortured before they were killed.
The witness didn't deny most of the prosecutor's allegations, stressing that there were victims on both sides. 'No one killed those people while they were sleeping', Strbac claimed; they died in combat. According to Strbac, it is up to a court of law to establish if those were indeed crimes. In the re-examination, the defense counsel noted that Mladic's Corps carried out those actions in a bid to remove the roadblocks and lift the blockade of the JNA barracks and other military facilities in Krajina and Dalmatia. The witness agreed with the suggestion. Interestingly, one of the questions was who the president of the SFRY Presidency and the JNA Supreme Commander was at the time when those crimes were committed, as that person was Mladic's superior. 'Stipe Mesic', the witness responded. 'Ustasha!', Mladic shouted despite the fact that he is strictly forbidden to make loud comments in the courtroom.
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