By Emir SuljagicInstitute for War and Peace Reporting
June 18, 2003
Slobodan Milosevic had a hand in the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995, Europe's worst atrocity since World War II, according to a copy of an official Bosnian Serb document which IWPR has obtained. Up to now, it had been widely assumed that by the summer of 1995 Serbia had cut off ties with the Bosnian Serb leadership and that the former's forces had not taken part in the Srebrenica operation.
The document, dated July 10, 1995, is an order from Bosnian Serb minister of interior Tomislav Kovac instructing his subordinates to move a unit that included members of Serbia's interior ministry police, MUP, which were fighting around Sarajevo, to eastern Bosnia to participate in the Srebrenica operation.
Under the Serbian constitution, the president of Serbia, a post that Milosevic held at the time, is directly responsible for the actions taken by his republic's police force.
The document is expected to have a profound effect not only on the outcome of Milosevic's trial, but also on the genocide case the Bosnian government has filed against the former Yugoslavia before the International Court of Justice, because it links the former Serbian leader and his police force directly to the worst atrocities committed during the war in Bosnia.
Whether Milosevic knew that his police were sent to participate in the attack on the town is unclear. If he did, then the document will play a key role in proving genocide charges. If he didn't, it will still provide important evidence of crimes against humanity. For the former, intent has to be established; for the latter responsibility is enough.
"It sounds like a document which supports the position on the Bosnian case against Serbia and Montenegro with regard to Srebrenica would be very useful," said Phon Van Den Biesen, one of the lawyers representing the Bosnian government in its genocide case against Serbia and Montenegro.
A six-year, 6 million US dollar investigation by the Dutch government's Institute for War Documentation concluded in a 7,000-page report last April found no evidence linking the Belgrade government to the Srebrenica massacre. However, the document IWPR obtained clearly shows that members of Serbia's MUP were operating out of the key Bosnian Serb military stronghold of Trnovo, just outside of Sarajevo, and that they were transferred to Srebrenica and placed under the command of Bosnian Serb police colonel Ljubomir Borovcanin.
At the time the order was issued, Colonel Borovcanin was deputy commander of the Bosnian Serb special police brigade, based in the northwestern town of Banja Luka. The order instructed him to take charge of a special force - which included members of Serbia's MUP - to crush resistance in Srebrenica. Borovcanin was ordered to go to Bratunac, a village close to Srebrenica, and report to Bosnian Serb army general Radislav Krstic by noon on July 11. Krstic was chief of staff, and from July 13 overall commander of the Drina corps which controlled troops in the area and which the tribunal accuses for war crimes. By the time the MUP units reported for duty, the military operation in Srebrenica was nearly over - but the mass killings were about to start.
Late last year, the tribunal charged Borovcanin with complicity in committing genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The indictment alleges that Borovcanin's troops captured and summarily executed more than 7,000 men and boys from Srebrenica. He remains at large.
By the time Borovcanin took charge of his new unit, which had assembled at the Bratunac police station, tens of thousands of Srebrenica's inhabitants had taken shelter at the Dutch UN base in Potocari, just outside the town, and several thousand more were trying to flee through the forest to Bosnian government-held territory.
The indictment against Borovcanin alleges that his forces - the presumption has always been that they were only Bosnian Serb - separated and "summarily executed by decapitation" between eighty and a hundred men at the UN base in Potocari on July 12. It also alleges that between July 12 and 17, these forces took control of a stretch of road between the neighbouring villages of Kravica and Sandici - which the men from Srebrenica had to cross en route to Bosnian government-controlled Tuzla - capturing more than 5,000 of them.
Starting in the early evening of July 13, the indictment alleges that Borovcanin's police killed more than 1,000 men who were being held in a warehouse in Kravica, one of the largest and most notorious massacres in the campaign. These forces also allegedly conducted summary executions in Pilica, Orahovac and Kozluk, all villages in eastern Bosnia.
The tribunal's indictment against Borovcanin is almost identical to the Bosnian interior ministry document in its description of how the special force was formed under his command and deployed around Srebrenica. It names three of the units which were part of the force, but not the fourth, crucial one - the company which contained MUP men from Serbia.
IWPR learned of the document's existence late last week when the former chief of the Yugoslav bureau of Interpol, Budimir Babovic, testified against Milosevic.
The prosecution had commissioned Babovic to write a 50-page report on the structure of the Serbian ministry of interior, which showed that Milosevic controlled the police force. Although the report was available to the public, it received scant attention because Babovic's testimony, given over several days, did not seem particularly compelling. It appeared to be just one of thousands of documents prosecutors had submitted as evidence in the Milosevic trial. In a chapter entitled "Co-operation with police forces outside Serbia", Babovic referred to the Bosnian Serb ministry of interior order to move units including police belonging to Serbia's MUP from Sarajevo to Srebrenica. IWPR subsequently obtained the order from the tribunal.
Although the prosecution refused to comment on its importance in the trial, it said it hoped the wider publicity given to it would prompt Western governments who may have similar evidence implicating Serbia in war crimes to come forward.
To view scans of the court document in English or Serbian please go to:
More Information on International Justice
FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C Â§ 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.