Last Updated: Monday, 29 September 2014, 15:46 GMT

Covert Yugoslav Army Training Claims

Publisher Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Author Velma Saric
Publication Date 10 July 2009
Citation / Document Symbol TU No 609
Cite as Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Covert Yugoslav Army Training Claims, 10 July 2009, TU No 609, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a60421ac.html [accessed 30 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Ez-solidier claims training of Bosnian Serbs units took place first in Serbia and later in Republika Srpska.

By Velma Saric in Sarajevo (TU No 609, 10-July-09)

A former Bosnian Serb soldier testifying in the war crimes trial of ex-Yugoslav army, VJ, chief of staff Momcilo Perisic told the Hague tribunal this week that the members of his and some other units of the Bosnian Serb army were trained by VJ officers.

The prosecution's case is that Perisic provided financial, material, logistical and personnel support to Serb forces operating in Bosnia and Croatia between 1991 and 1995, thus contributing to genocide in Srebrenica in July 1995.

Drazen Erdemovic, a former member of the 10th sabotage detachment, said he was "a regular soldier in the Yugoslav army from 1990 until 1992 and was stationed in Belgrade and the eastern Croatia region of Slavonija".

"I became a member of the Bosnian Serb army in the spring of 1994 as a member of a special commando unit of the 10th sabotage detachment," he said. "My unit commander was ensign Milorad Pelemis and his superior was Petar Salapura who was chief of intelligence in the headquarters of the Bosnian Serb army."

The prosecution introduced a series of decrees from the personnel department of the general staff of the Yugoslav army from March 1994, assigning them to duties in the Bosnian Serb army, which it said proved the relationship between Pelemis and Salapura on the one hand and the VJ.

"Did the members of the 10th sabotage detachment ever receive training and from whom?" prosecutor Bronagh McKenna asked the witness.

"Fifty people from my unit, by the end of December 1994, went to the VJ military barracks in the Serbian town of Pancevo and they got training," Erdemevic replied.

"The training lasted for two to three weeks and included knowledge about arms, how to destroy buildings, how to work with explosives, and how to engage in physical battles. Later they [VJ officers] came to Republika Srpska and continued with a second training," he added.

In 1996, Erdemovic was sentenced by the Hague tribunal to five years in prison for his role in the Srebrenica massacre, specifically for carrying out the execution of over 1,000 people in the Branjevo military camp in the Zvornik area.

He previously testified against seven Bosnian Serb military and police officers charged in relation to the Srebrenica killings, as well as in the trial of the late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic, who was accused of masterminding Bosnian Serb attempts to "ethnically cleanse" non-Serbs from lands coveted by Belgrade. Milosevic died in 2006, a few weeks before his case was due to end.

Presiding judge Bakone Moloto then asked the witness to describe the second VJ training that members of the 10th sabotage detachment received.

"The second training was in Republika Srpska," Erdemovic said. "The VJ generals came from Serbia, on the border with Republika Srpska they changed the licence plates on the cars and travelled around."

"What do you mean they changed the licence plates? Can you explain?" Judge Moloto asked.

"On the [original] plates, there was a symbol of the Yugoslav army," the witness said. "They were protecting the whole training mission by putting the plates of the Bosnian Serb army on their cars so that they could travel without being stopped, without having to explain who they are and what they are doing."

Erdemovic said he was sure one of the VJ generals who were conducting the training in Republika Srpska was from the Serbian town of Pancevo "because some of my colleagues from the barracks recognised him from previous trainings there".

"I think that training took place at the beginning of 1995 and some other special units like 'Panthers' and 'Black Unit' from [the Bosnian town of] Bijeljina also received the same training."

The witness told the court that the soldiers who received the training from the VJ were the same people who were present in Srebrenica in July 1995, when Bosnian Serb forces killed more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim males in the course of a week after overrunning the enclave of Srebrenica in eastern Bosnia.

Erdemovic described how "one morning in July 1995, I got an order that our units are going on a mission", and on July 10, 1995, soldiers from Vlasenica, Bjeljina and from his units arrived at a place called Vis near Srebrenica.

"On 11 July 1995 Milorad Pelemis came and said that our units were going to the town and our task was to direct the civilians to go to the bus station in Srebrenica," he said.

Erdemovic and his unit then went "from place to place, gathering people, mainly elderly who had trouble walking".

When prosecutor Bronagh McKenna later asked the witness if he had seen any able-bodied military-age men, the witness recalled one man who had surrendered and who was killed right away.

"Milorad Pelemis gave an order to one soldier from the Vlasenica unit to cut his throat. The soldier did so," he said. "I saw that with my own eyes. That man did not have weapons and he wore civilian clothing. His body was left lying on the road and I don't know what happened to him."

Erdemovic then described how on July 16, 1995 he and seven other members of his unit were ordered by Pelemis to carry out a mass execution of civilians from Srebrenica who were brought by bus to the Branjevo farm.

"In Zvornik we stopped at some farm. I think it was a farm because I saw a complex of farm buildings. They said that in a couple minutes some buses with people from Srebrenica should arrive and they will be executed," he said. "The first bus, full of civilians, came in the early morning hours."

Judge Moloto asked if this was the only bus that arrived that day.

"No, the other buses came later. I think 15 -20 buses came and they were full of people. All men from these 15-20 buses were killed," Erdemovic said.

When asked by Judge Moloto how old the men on the bus were, Erdemovic replied they were "between 15 and 60 years old".

"They all wore civilian clothes, their eyes were covered and hands were tied," he said.

"The executions started at ten in the morning and continued until five in the afternoon, when the other unit came to continue the executions."

"How many people were killed on that day?" Judge Moloto then asked.

"I don't know precisely, but I think about 1,000."

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.
Copyright notice: © Institute for War & Peace Reporting

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