Michael Dobbs

Mladic in Srebrenica – Day 4

Click icons for details. View larger map. The map above shows the reported movements of Ratko Mladic, on July 14, 1995, three days after his forces captured the United Nations "safe area" of Srebrenica. According to testimony presented to the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, he began the day preparing an attack on another "safe area", ...


Click icons for details. View larger map.

The map above shows the reported movements of Ratko Mladic, on July 14, 1995, three days after his forces captured the United Nations "safe area" of Srebrenica. According to testimony presented to the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal, he began the day preparing an attack on another "safe area", Zepa, located in the bottom left hand corner of the map. At 21:15 (according to his own war diary) he met with Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic and European peace envoy Carl Bildt at a hunting lodge near Belgrade.

The question is, what did he do in between?

A Srebrenica survivor, Hurem Suljic, has repeatedly testified that Mladic supervised a mass execution near the town of Orahovac on the evening of July 14. He says he saw the Bosnian Serb general around 1700 at the Grbavci school gymnasium,  which was being used to detain hundreds of Muslim prisoners. He says he saw him again, shortly "before nightfall," at the execution site itself, approximately half a mile away. I have marked these reported sightings with blue icons, in the center of the map.

 

The Mladic defense team claims that the Bosnian Serb commander has a cast-iron alibi for July 14, which it will present in court. His defense lawyer, Milos Saljic, told me that Mladic was not in the Srebrenica area that day at all, and denies being present at any of the executions of Bosnian Muslim prisoners.

The sun set around 20:35 in Bosnia in July 1995. On various occasions (for example, interviewed by American reporter David Rohde in late 1995), Suljic has placed Mladic at the execution site around 20:15. In theory this leaves sufficient time for Mladic to have travelled to the Belgrade area by helicopter (a 20-30 minute flight) for his meeting with Bildt.  Nevertheless, the timing would have been tight.

Another survivor, Mevludin Oric, has testified that he saw Mladic at the gymnasium, but not at the execution site. In contrast to Suljic, who remembers Mladic addressing the prisoners in the gymnasium, Oric says that the general did not talk to the prisoners.  

Other witnesses, including at least one other survivor and several Bosnian Serb officers, make no mention of Mladic, either at the gymnasium or at the execution site. However, they note the presence of a close aide, Colonel Ljubisha Beara, whose visit to the Orahovac area on July 14 is confirmed by a Bosnian Serb military document.  

There is no evidence from the Bosnian Serb side (as opposed to the two Muslim survivors) that Mladic was in the Srebrenica or Zvornik/Orahovac area on July 14. This contrasts with a multitude of sightings of Mladic by Bosnian Serb witnesses in the Srebrenica area over the previous three days.

Unless the prosecution can come up with more evidence, it seems only fair to conclude that Mladic’s presence at the Orahovac execution site on July 14 has yet to be proven. On the other hand, the defense has yet to produce convincing evidence disproving Suljic’s claims. We will have to wait until both sides present all their evidence at the trial before reaching an opinion on the matter one way or the other. 

What is clear is that the international community held Mladic responsible for the fate of the missing Muslims.  During their meeting on the evening of July 14 in a hunting lodge at Dobanovci, Bildt asked Mladic what had happened to the men and boys separated from their families at Srebrenica. He demanded that they be freed immediately or, as Mladic noted in his diary, "we are going to get ourselves into trouble." 

I will deal with the overall question of Mladic’s responsibility for the Srebrenica genocide in a separate post.

 Twitter: @michaeldobbs

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