According to Mladic’s defense witness, the allegations about artillery and sniper terror in Sarajevo were ‘propaganda’. Sarajevo civilians contributed to their suffering because they didn’t observe ‘necessary security measures’, they ‘moved around without a reason’ and ‘gathered in risky areas’, the witness argued

Mitar Kovac, defence witness at Rako Mladic trialMitar Kovac, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial

The situation in the Sarajevo battlefield during the war in BH was in focus during the cross-examination of the defense’s military expert Mitar Kovac today. The prosecutor put it to the witness that in the four-year siege the army under the command of the accused Ratko Mladic terrorized civilians with artillery and sniper attacks. The witness called it propaganda, arguing that there were inevitable civilian casualties on both sides when their armies clashed.

In a bid to prove what the VRS Main Staff’s plan for Sarajevo was, the prosecutor showed several documents in court. Mladic’s Directive No. 4 was the first document: in it Mladic instructs the Corps to hold Sarajevo ‘under complete blockade to tighten the encirclement and isolate parts of the city from the areas around it'. The prosecutor also showed the transcript of Mladic’s speech in the Bosnian Serb Assembly on 12 May 1992 in which Mladic said he would pound the city 'until everyone goes crazy'. The VRS was established on that date and Mladic was appointed commander of the VRS Main Staff. Finally, the prosecutor also showed a document drafted by the VRS Main Staff which states that the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps should implement actions aimed at weakening ‘the morale of the Muslim troops and population’. According to the document, the Corps’ activities should achieve a ‘constant negative effect on the morale of the Muslim forces and population, that they have a sense of fear and constant insecurity’. According to the witness, all those documents merely showed that the Serb troops fought enemy troops and that they didn't terrorize citizens.

In his expert report the witness shifted the blame for civilian casualties in Sarajevo from Mladic’s army on civilians themselves. In Kovac’s view, civilians didn’t observe the ‘necessary security measures’, as they ‘moved needlessly and gathered in risky areas’. The military expert did agree with the suggestion that people had to leave their homes to get food and water. Asked if he blamed the civilians for their own suffering, the witness said that the military and political authorities in the city were to blame because they didn’t evacuate the people from risky areas.

In his report Kovac quoted from a book by General Michael Rose, who said that Sarajevo ‘was not a city under siege’; Kovac referred to that again today. The prosecutor remarked that in fact the Sarajevo media had mistakenly reported General Rose as saying that there was no siege, but General Rose denied the claim immediately and stated so in his book. Also, general Rose wrote that for two years before he was appointed UNPROFOR commander in January 1994, Sarajevo had been a ‘city under siege’, where 350,000 inhabitants lived ‘like rats under the rubble of buildings daring to leave their homes only by night’.

The prosecutor then quoted Rose who described Mladic as an officer worshipped by the Serb troops, who was a ‘very religious man’ who ‘prayed every day for his soldiers’. That was incompatible with the fact that Mladic used ‘terror’ and 'artillery to target civilians’. Asked why he did not quote that in his report, General Kovac replied that he didn’t agree with the claim.

Apart from military issues, the defense expert also dealt with history in his report. Thus Kovac considered the origin of Bosnian Muslims. According to Kovac, the Bosnian Muslims used to be Serbs before ‘Islam separated them from their national core’. Also, Kovac denied the Bosnian Muslims the right to their language saying that there was no Bosnian language. Bosnian was a dialect of the Serbian language into which some Croat words were introduced by force. Kovac didn’t retract any of his claims; in fact, as he told the court, this is what he taught his students in Belgrade.

General Mitar Kovac will return to the courtroom on Tuesday. On Monday Kovac’s evidence will be once more interrupted with the testimony of another defense witness.