interview by Vildana SELIMBEGOVIC
DELIC: Nothing at all. It is only in the interest of the enemies of Bosnia-Hercegovina that the real truth about the suffering of Bosniaks, especially those from the Drina River valley [Podrinje], is not made public. Our goals are very clear: we want to spread the truth in order to punish war criminals, establish the responsibility of the United Nations and the International Community for the fall of the protected zones Zepa and Srebrenica, and establish the responsibility within the ranks of the Army and political leadership for actions taken or not taken to reduce the number of victims or make sure they did not happen at all. Although the military organization is specific we have decided to open all of our archives.
In that case, what did take place in Srebrenica on the eve of its fall: there are allegations of conflicts among the local leaders, smuggling of humanitarian assistance and trade with the Ukrainian battalion based in Zepa which went on under the control of Srebrenica authorities, reign of terror by Naser Oric...?
I would prefer to answer this question more like an ordinary citizen than as a commander. An assessment of relations within political authorities, if there were any, and military structures, has never been made by us, at least as far as I know. I have heard about some of these allegations. I would say that there were two to three sources that indicated rather chaotic situation in Srebrenica. One of them was the Police, and as far as I recall, there is a letter, I believe sent from the local Police Chief to the civilian authorities in which he wrote about a large number of murders in Srebrenica and a generally chaotic situation. The other source, from which we could partially collect information and get insight in the local situation was the military security service. On the eve of the fall of Srebrenica, people were escaping from the enclave, so that we arrested six or seven soldiers from whom we obtained similar information. Also, the Security service using its methods managed to obtain some information. There is a third source: one of the UN officials who personally visited Srebrenica told me personally, several months before the fall of the enclave, about some of the allegations you've just mentioned. I do not want to deny nor confirm anything, but the fall of Srebrenica prompted activities to establish the true responsibility and we held a meeting here in Tuzla, attended by president Izetbegovic, Bakir Alispahic, at the time the Minister of Police, Hazim Rancic, the local Police Minister, and several key people from Srebrenica. For their protection I will not disclose their names, but for four hours they talked about the situation in Srebrenica on the eve of its fall and the fall itself, since, according to our assessments, the fall was more sudden than could have been expected militarily. We hoped that both enclaves, in the worst case situation, could resist for much longer.
Was Naser Oric among the participants in the meeting?
No. They were people from the Military and Police and also civilians. Naser Oric wasn't there, but commanders from that region did participate at the meeting.
Important command positions in the division, with rare exceptions, were given to friends and acquaintances of Naser Oric, although their military credentials were very dubious. For example, the defense was very shallow, there was no reserve line of defense at all...
All enclaves had a specific command and control system. The Second Corps, I have stated this on several occasions, demanded on several occasions, as early as a year before the fall of the enclave, that that operational group and division, respectively, be taken out of our command. The reason for that is that we had almost no influence apart from an advisory role. We had no way of verifying whether our orders had or had not been carried out, so that all of that basically amounted to a lot of paperwork. As a local, General Enver Hadzihasanovic was placed by the Chiefs of Staff in charge of assisting this part, so that all coordination of supplying weapons, equipment and the rest went through him. The role of the Second Corps was pretty minor and boiled down to preparing 30 to 40 soldiers, feeding them, providing them with backpacks, boots and other equipment, so that they could carry 1,000 to 1,500 bullets to Srebrenica or Zepa. They usually went to Zepa first and proceeded from there to Srebrenica. If a helicopter went, we would find out only after its return. I have to say that I had no idea that that group, led by Oric, was coming to the free territory for additional training. Therefore that was more like patronage, relying on the Chiefs of Staff. On the other hand, Zepa was again a special case. I believe that the relations between the two enclaves were not smooth. They decided on their own how many weapons and how much equipment should be sent to whom. It is true that in practice only one man had some military training: late Ramiz Becirevic, the head of the headquarters. I think that that was among the justifications for pulling out some of younger commanders for additional training in Zenica.
That could be true, but the time chosen for that is very controversial. Besides, that is one of the questions that the military leadership has failed to answer.
I can only state my opinion. Brigade commanders were not in that group. As far as I know, Naser came on his own accord, no one had invited him. I know for sure that late Ejub Golic, a commander of a battalion, also came with them (he died in the breakthrough through the Serb lines), in order to have his responsibility for several murders in Srebrenica established. I know his case very well. The commander, Rasim Delic charged me with deciding whether to send him back or try him here, since there was substantial evidence that he had been implicated in several murders in Srebrenica. We discussed this for a long time and finally decided that his potential crimes do not fall under the statute of limitations, that he would be held responsible for them sooner or later and that the priority at that time was to send him back to Srebrenica. I thank God that he was sent back since he led the breakthrough from the other side. I am sure that Enver Hadzihasanovic had a plan, he even set up a small-scale model of the region, to liberate Podrinje. One plan was the lifting of the blockade of Sarajevo, the other Podrinje. Because of the current political situation Sarajevo was given priority. Also the Chiefs of Staff requested plans for activities that would be directed from the other side [from the enclaves] in case of an offensive towards Podrinje. And as far as offensive activities during the lifting of the blockade of Sarajevo are concerned, we concluded that a protected zone according to the International Law had a special status: no attacks, no military activities, although from the military point of view enclaves were the most sensitive spots in our military plans.
Is it true that enclaves did not receive special protection treatment and that there were problems within them?
I have between 500 and 1,000 statements by soldiers, and respected individuals from Srebrenica and Zepa made after the exodus that partly confirm that. However, Zepa cannot be compared to Srebrenica. Zepa was much better organized. The complete Zepa suffered far less casualties, almost all soldiers managed to get out of Zepa (apart from those who crossed over to Serbia), they arrived in good condition, with very few casualties. I would say that casualties were negligible in comparison with the total number of troops. They carried out their withdrawal in an organized manner, in groups. We expected that the inhabitants of the Srebrenica enclave would move towards Zepa since the Zepa plateau after all offers better conditions and is easier to defend.
You've just said that Mr. Enver Hadzihasanovic, as a local, was in charge of these enclaves. As far as I know you are also from Podrinje, and are officially his superior.
Once, at a meeting held near Pazarici, where all Corps commanders and president Izetbegovic were present, I said that it did not make sense that that operational group is connected with me only on paper, and that I do not have any significant influence nor the ability to help. For example, I could not use a helicopter to transfer ammunition, nor could I get ammunition, apart from sending them some of my own supplies.
Do you at least know how the military assistance that was delivered with a lot of trouble to Srebrenica was used? There are allegations that Naser Oric kept the sniper rifle Barret 12.5 mm caliber at home and used it occasionally for hunting; then, the anti tank weapon Red Arrow was used with fatal delay in the crucial moments of the offensive.
I haven't had a chance to discover how and in what manner these resources were used. I know that the group which came here and was supposed to be sent back in a helicopter was trained in use of the weapons that had been sent or could be captured by them. I even considered, since they refused to take an ordinary helicopter, to order them to return on foot, but I always had Ruzine Vode incident in my subconscious. In that incident, in winter 1993, about 70 men, out of 100 who had left from Tuzla for Srebrenica were killed. However, we also had information that Red Arrow, in spite of instructions, had not been used adequately; we even have information that, although its success rate is supposed to be greater than 90 percent, two projectiles were fired and missed the tank at the head of the column, which only encouraged Chetniks to continue their attack. I do not know whether this and other assistance was abused. There are some statements and indications that the humanitarian assistance was distributed exclusively by the military, that the civilian authorities were not involved and that the assistance was distributed according to the wishes of certain individuals. Of course, no one has been summoned by the authorities to establish whether that is true or not, but I think that a lot of that is true.
Two stories are making rounds among the inhabitants of Srebrenica: according to one, after the fall of Srebrenica Naser Oric broke through the Serb lines with a handful of volunteers; according to the other version, he cowardly refused to carry out that action. Which one is true?
I'd say neither one. I think that this story refers to July 13, when Oric received the order to carry out combat activities with a handful of soldiers and officers in the region of Medjedja. They left in the afternoon to try to establish a contact with units of the 28th Division that had headed towards Tuzla. One soldier, only Allah knows how, had gotten through two days before and crossed over to our territory near Kalesija. Based on his story we concluded that it was possible that they could head this way. Therefore, Naser was sent with radio stations since we thought that they would recognize his voice and that he would recognize his men, so that we could figure out which way they were going. Naser tried to get through with his group; they claimed that because of weather, it was raining, they were detected by the Chetniks [Serbs]; the Chetniks opened fire on them and they had to withdraw. There were no wounded. That was the last attempt of that kind. Naser and that whole group, when the corridor was opened, went out to meet with soldiers and people and withdrew with them to the free territory. They did not stay behind in the corridor to organize and defend it, but went along with the people. A two-kilometers-wide front was broken through by the units from Srebrenik, I believe the 211th Liberation Brigade. The 242nd and 243rd Brigades also participated in the action. These were parts of brigades, mostly companies. I personally went with Senahid Hadzic, the commander of the 281st brigade, who was at the time the only officer that got through, went to Baljkovica and crossed the paved road. That implies that I had the full insight in the situation at that frontline. Naser did not break through the Chetnik lines; he did try, but the breakthrough was carried out by organized units.
The Chief of Staff general Enver Hadzihasanovic issued orders for carrying out of sabotage actions in the Serb territory near Srebrenica without any strengthening of the defense lines in the enclave. Why was that order issued? What information was it based on? Are you aware that the units of the Army of Bosnia-Hercegovina are arguing about which units should be credited with the success of these actions?
As far as I am aware, the Second Corps also received that order, but it was not related, unless it went out through the unofficial lines I mentioned earlier, to Zepa and Srebrenica. That was the time of an attempted lifting of the blockade of Sarajevo, and it is customary in military tactics to try to prevent the enemy from withdrawing, moving, and regrouping forces from one region to another. That was the goal of that order. The order was to, wherever and whenever possible, carry out sabotage and other actions in order to tie the enemy down and inflict losses and prevent him from moving reinforcements to this area. I do not know whether this order made it to Zepa and Srebrenica, but that was the period in which we intensified commando actions, and smaller attacks on certain objects, which confirms that the order indeed existed.
In mid-June, the command of the 28th Division sent to the command of the Second Corps the information about Serb military activities near the enclave. Among other, they specifically in that memo mention SAMs [rockets], movement of manpower in busses on the road Vlasenica-Bratunac, digging in of Serb artillery to the east of the enclave. What did the Second Crops do after receiving that information? What sort of information has the Second Corps withheld from the public in the meantime?
None at all. I am not sure where this line of questioning is going. I would be incredibly happy if all answers were here. We informed the superior command and set up a 24-hour communication link with the enclave. Muharem Efendic was in charge of that communication and recordings of all conversations are available. We also sent Oric and he was for a while with them non-stop, he directed them. We also have records of his orders. All of that has been recorded.
Among the documents circulating on the Internet is a moving letter from Avdo Palic sent to president Izetbegovic and several conversations and letters that imply the lack of synchronization in communication between the authorities in Zepa with the military and civilian authorities of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Are you aware of the content of these conversations?
No, I only heard about that. I have never communicated with Avdo. I had been the head of the Corps for six to seven months, and I could not have communicated with them, but I did hear about that letter. Not only Avdo's letter but also of those sent by some politicians. I think that in Sarajevo, there is a physician who is from Zepa...
There are testimonies that the civilian authorities of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina, more precisely gentlemen Izetbegovic, Masovic, Muratovic, rejected the possibility of exchanging 400 captured aggressor soldiers for a secure evacuation from Zepa. What do you know about that?
Nothing. Negotiations were held at their level. I only know that we gave over 100 prisoners of war for children and wounded [from Srebrenica] who were held in the prison in Bijeljina. We exchanged soldiers for about two hundred, perhaps a few more, civilians, allegedly all that they had, only to save all that could be saved. I even held about 130 Chetniks until March in hope of being able to exchange them for a few more survivors. However, once there was no more chance of that, we had to turn them over to the Serb side via the International Red Cross.
The documents posted on the Internet state that General Mladic demanded to negotiate exclusively with Hasan Muratovic about the evacuation of the survivors from Srebrenica and Zepa and that the command of the Second Corps rejected that out of fear for Muratovic's safety? Would you care to comment?
I don't think that I have exchanged more than two words with Hasan Muratovic in my whole life. I might have said selam [hello], once or twice, I don't remember. I know that the only person from that leadership for whom I struggled for was Ajanovic. He was in captivity in Doboj. I offered for him (the Chetniks demanded 50) once 15 and on another occasion 20 prisoners. He sent me two letters from captivity and I was prepared to make an effort to get him out, to assist in that, but I failed since they demanded more prisoners than I had at the time. Therefore, we never had the information that Mladic was interested in negotiating with Muratovic.
The documents presented on the Internet imply that the activities of the General Staff of the Army of Bosnia-Hercegovina boiled down to the statements of Rasid Zorlak, Rifet Bilajic, and Zicro Suljevic, who with selam and calls on faith in God and expectations of assistance form Islamic countries tried to calm down worried officered in the field. Would you care to comment?
It could be that the General Staff placed them in charge of Zepa. But definitely not of Srebrenica, since we had here a command outpost which was working properly. I must say that president Izetbegovic on several occasions in that period called me personally to inquire about the situation in Srebrenica, need for assistance, but I do not know anything about the activities of the officers you've just mentioned.
The documents I have been mentioning are presented on the web-site of the Serbian Unity Congress, an organization of the Chetnik emigrants in the West. In your opinion, how could have these documents ended up on the Internet. And what would be the goal of repeated drawing of attention to the fall of the enclave and the circumstances in connection with the fall?
I do not know if that can be explained in several sentences, but essentially, the goal is already known. We must not allow that that be forgotten and therefore it does not hurt to always work, investigate and write about that. This topic will burden the generations that lived through this war until their death. Probably, this is another attempt to exonerate the criminals and somewhat reduce the responsibility of the International Community for this crime. Even the UN Secretary General has said that Srebrenica is the biggest mistake of the International Community since WWII.
By chance, Dutch Minister Jan Pronk was in Tuzla at the time of the fall of Srebrenica. Later he traveled to Sarajevo. In his interview to Dani, he stated, about ten days before the fall of Zepa, that Zepa would be the last enclave to fall. Does that mean that the International factors had already known what was about to happen?
I have opened the archives of the Corps. The court in the Hague has also shown interest in that. Their [Dutch] defense is that one of our soldiers in Srebrenica killed a Dutch soldier and that consequently they turned against the Army of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Another their defense is that the Serb soldiers, as they state in their reports, were a true army while on our side there was no military organization; they, because they were guests, were taking them to pubs, did what they did etc.
Will the General Staff of the Second Corps and the Joint Chiefs of Staff initiate the question of responsibility of our officers for the fall of these two enclaves?
That is a difficult question. I do not know whether this falls within the scope of that responsibility, but as a man I can state that I did all I knew and could. I did not fail to at any moment do anything I could and knew how to do. Those were my capabilities and the capabilities of the Corps. Whether we could do more or better, only history can tell. The war took its toll. Of course this was the worst genocide ever done at some limited area, if we take into account that some seven to ten thousands of people were killed and our whole Corps had during four years 20,000 soldiers. It is likely that there will be further progress towards that [sic]. Wars are such that simply some battles are won and some are lost. The ethics of our Army was such that, even when an individual made a mistake, we tried to use him as much as possible. I spoke about Golic: he was responsible for some crimes in that area, but we then decided that it was more important to have him fight than to send him to prison, since it would turn out that his punishment was a reward since he would thereby get out of the enclave. On the other hand we gave him a chance to improve. In general, as far as the military is concerned, we passed a report to the Joint Chief of Staff and I think that even president Izetbegovic has received a copy, so that he could decide who did less or did not do, and by his actions or inaction contributed to the fall of Srebrenica.
There are numerous accusations against Naser Oric, for terror...
I am not afraid of anyone, let that be known. I do not have a body guard; when I go fishing, or to play chess, I use my own car. I am not afraid of anyone. I survived and it is up to Allah until when I shall go on. I think that in that way somewhat tacitly Naser's responsibility was accentuated. Simply, he was replaced from the duty of the commander of the unit, he was not accepted to the Federation Army, or he did not want to continue to serve in the Federation Army, I would rather not discuss that, but I never heard that anyone complained about his recruitment into professional Army service. This unit, namely this division was reorganized, it became a part of a larger unit that is active in this area. None of those officers stayed on the same position as before. Most of them were degraded. We have wonderful examples, wonderful people who stayed in the professional Army. I would like to mention Husic, the commander of the armored battalion, or Smajo Mandzic, also a wonderful person.