A former commander of UN forces in Bosnia, giving testimony for the prosecution at the trial of Radovan Karadzic, has said that the Bosnian Serb political elite had effective control over its military forces in the field.
General Rose told the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, that he got the impression while in the field that the operations of the Republika Srpska Army, VRS, including the sniping and shelling of Sarajevo and the obstruction of the passage of UNHCR convoys to protected zones, were aimed at “forcing peace on their terms”.
“There was an extraordinary coordination between the frontlines and the top political and military personnel. The decisions made at the top were carried out in the field. (…)
“Beginning in March 1994 Serbs became weaker and weaker compared to the Federation, which had already been formed by then. The balance changed in favour of the Federation and the Serbs were desperately trying to force peace on their terms,” Rose said.
Radovan Karadzic, former President of Republika Srpska and Supreme Commander of its armed forces, is indicted for genocide, crimes against humanity and violation of the laws and customs of war committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995.
The witness said that, despite having signed an agreement on the free movement of convoys, Bosnian Serbs forces tried to find ways to block the convoys and prevent them from delivering humanitarian aid.
He explained that all parties to the conflict blocked aid convoys, but Bosnian Serbs forces were more dominant in terms of the territory the covered.
“They often used military attacks, but sometimes they used time consuming bureaucratic procedures, so they searched convoys looking for goods that were not included in the cargo reports. The convoys would then be sent back or stopped. This was a routine procedure that functioned until 1994,” Rose said.
During his testimony General Rose was presented with a document dated July 23, 1994, in which the VRS Headquarters, acting on an oral order by the then President Karadzic, asked the Sarajevo-Romanija Corps Command to prepare its forces for preventing transit through the airport.
Responding to the document, General Rose said he believed this order had a major influence on the closing of the airport.
“This confirms the allegation that there was close collaboration between the top Bosnian Serb military and civil authorities,” Rose said.
During the course of cross-examination the witness confirmed that the investigations could not determine unequivocally where sniper fire had been launched in Sarajevo and that the Bosnian government had been against the demilitarization of Sarajevo.
The witness could not confirm Radovan Karadzic’s allegations that “the Muslim forces deliberately chose their own civilian targets in order to provoke media attention” at the time.
He did say, however, that Bosnian forces “opened fire in some politically important times in order to provoke reactions from Serbs so the Bosnian authorities could show that its people were suffering”.
The cross-examination of General Rose, for which Karadzic requested 30 hours, is due to continue on Wednesday, October 6.