Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

Mladic Witness Claims Hunger Deaths Were "Propaganda"

Publisher Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Author Daniella Peled
Publication Date 5 November 2014
Citation / Document Symbol TRI Issue 848
Cite as Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Mladic Witness Claims Hunger Deaths Were "Propaganda", 5 November 2014, TRI Issue 848, available at: [accessed 20 February 2018]
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.

Former Bosnian Serb officer tells tribunal that aid deliveries to non-Serb enclaves were facilitated, not obstructed.

A defence witness in the trial of former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic told judges last week that humanitarian convoys were only stopped when it was found they were delivering aid to the Bosnian government army.

Slavko Kralj, a liaison officer with the central staff of the Bosnian Serb army (VRS) who worked with the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia (UNPROFOR) reported receiving intelligence that the convoys were in fact bringing supplies to the Bosnian government's forces.

Prosecutors allege that Mladic was responsible for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible population transfer. He is accused of the massacre of more than 7,000 men and boys at Srebrenica in July 1995, and of planning and overseeing the siege of Sarajevo that left nearly 12,000 people dead. The charges against him also include restricting humanitarian aid to non-Serb enclaves.

At the beginning of Kralj's testimony, defence counsel Branko Lukic tendered into evidence a series of documents from VRS units that dealt with authorising the passage of convoys. UNPROFOR and other humanitarian organisations had to submit requests two days in advance to move deliveries of aid through the territory controlled by the VRS.

One document from September 26, 1993 detailed "numerous" UNPROFOR activities including "daily UN military observer police, convoys to relieve forces, logistical support convoys and columns escorting convoys". The most frequented routes were those connecting with Zepa, Srebrenica and Sarajevo.

In response to a question about what steps were taken when banned goods were found, the witness said, "The procedure was to inspect the convoy."

"If there was established there was something wrong or something that was being smuggled -something not on the list - then an assessment was made. If it was ammunition or something more serious, then the entire convoy would be stopped… these goods would be seized temporarily and returned subsequently, or in agreement with the leader of the convoy would be returned to its origin, and what was all right would continue the journey, of course if the leader of the convoy would agree," he said.

In most cases, this was what happened, Kralj continued.

Judge Alphonse Orie later asked the witness how he learned that weapons and ammunition were hidden in one particular convoy.

"The intelligence organs recorded statements by logistics organs in Bihac and they claimed that a certain quantity of weapons and ammunition was received through UNHCR convoys and this matched our data on the movement of that convoy, which had been stopped and returned to Zenica across Banja Luka and Gradiska," Kralj replied.

The witness also said that people needing urgent medical treatment were allowed to leave the areas of Srebrenica, Zepa and Goradze.

"Medical evacuations were allowed and they were not subjected to the 48-hour notification in advance. They were carried out in two ways, either by land or by helicopter," he said.

"I am not aware of any medical evacuations being refused," he said later.

Describing the VRS's relationship with UNPROFOR, Kralj said, "UNPROFOR was composed of several and various national contingents. As a result, UNPROFOR had problems in terms of commanding those contingents, because some commanders obeyed their own national bodies or representatives of countries they came from and that did result in certain tensions and problems. Some of them even tried to carry out some intelligence work for their own countries - this was particularly pronounced among military observers who frequently moved around without any purpose across the territory of Republika Srpska."

The witness also described hostility from the local Bosnian Serb population when it came to facilitating aid deliveries.

Defence lawyer Lukic referred to a 1992 incident in which Bosnian Serb residents prevented the passage of a 19-vehicle convoy to Srebrenica, asking the witness whether he was aware that "such spontaneous reactions of citizens to UNPROFOR convoys did happen, especially at the very beginning [of the war]".

"It was a period of intense activity and citizens were still not properly informed about the role of UNPROFOR… [it] was perceived as international assistance to Muslims and they protested vehemently. So at first it was a huge problem but then when the system was well established, owing to political bodies and the highest political leadership of Republika Srpska, some order was installed into letting UNPROFOR vehicles enter the enclaves and stay in them," Kralj said.

During cross-examination by prosecutor Peter McCloskey, the witness was shown numerous piece of evidence illustrating the humanitarian situation in non-Serb enclaves.

These included a June 1995 UN report that the Bosnian Serb army was halting aid convoys and demanding half their goods, a photo from earlier that year showing Bosniak civilians searching through rubbish dumped by UNPROFOR lorries, and a Bosnian government army document reporting on the victims of hunger.

McCloskey also quoted Mladic as saying that he had restricted aid convoys to Srebrenica and Zepa before attacking these enclaves.

Kralj said that had no knowledge of these reports and was not aware of Mladic's attitude towards convoys. He further suggested that the photograph might have been faked, adding that he did not believe anyone starved to death during the war.

"I am very sceptical that anyone died. I believe this is the standard propaganda of the opposing side, which wanted intervention by the international community. I don't believe anyone died from hunger during the war," he said.

The trial continues.

Copyright notice: © Institute for War & Peace Reporting

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