It is surprising that official international institutions (the United Nations, the Hague Tribunal) do not have reasonably accurate numbers for Srebrenica casualties. By tolerating a margin of error of two thousand human lives (from six to eight thousand victims) these international organizations not only insult the victims of Srebrenica but demonstrate their lack of readiness to establish the full truth regarding the Srebrenica tragedy. Otherwise, the Hague tribunal would have allowed the exhumation of Serb victims in this region and reacted to the indictment against Naser Oric forwarded to it by the RS Government
By Patriot staff
Patriot, Banja Luka, Srpska, B-H, September 9, 2002
It has been a while since a single event triggered as much reaction by local and international circles as the recently published Srebrenica report of the Republic of Srpska Office for Relations with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The report was swiftly condemned and dismissed and international diplomatic circles sent a clear message to the RS Government to distance itself from the facts presented in the study. Everyone condemning the report focused on just one of its aspects - the statement that during the Serb conquest of the former safe haven of Srebrenica in July 1995, a total of about 2,000 Bosniaks were killed. Not a word was mentioned about any other part of the study, especially about the chapters dealing with the murder of the Serb population in the region of Bratunac and Srebrenica. Based on reactions from New York, Washington, London and Sarajevo, any attempt to discuss the Srebrenica tragedy separately from or preceding to the events 1995 is condemned in advance to failure.
How Majority Became Minority
The Republic of Srpska Office for Relations with the ICTY begins its report on Srebrenica with the statement that the Serbs, who formerly comprised the majority population in Srebrenica, were reduced to a minority as a result of crimes committed against them during World War II by Nazi collaborators notorious for brutal torture and murders. The study states that Srebrenica in World War II was under direct attack by the SS Handzar Division, whose goal was to exterminate the Serbs. The report further states that Alija Izetbegovic was a member of an organization called the "Young Muslims" who, with the assistance of Hitler's secret service, recruited "young Muslims" for the SS Handzar Division. The author of the study emphasizes that Izetbegovic's political activities based on his "Islamic Declaration" - which advocates intolerance toward other religions - were resumed after several bans in 1990 (intentionally or not) in Srebrenica. The Muslim National Council, whose goal was the formation of a Muslim state in the Balkans, called on all Muslims from throughout Bosnia-Hercegovina to gather on the first day of Bayram in 1992 in Bratunac, "the geographic center of all Muslims in Yugoslavia". According to the study, all Muslims were openly urged to take up arms. "The key figure in these radical Islamist and militant activities was Naser Oric, who would later become the commander of the Territorial Defense of Srebrenica in the Bosnia-Hercegovina Army," the study states.
Oric's Crimes Against Serbs
The exodus of the Serbs from Srebrenica began after the May 8, 1992 murder of the regional head of the Serb Democratic Party and deputy in the BH Parliament, Judge Goran Zekic. Two days before Zekic's murder, the Serb hamlets of Bljeceva and Gniona were set on fire and looted. On May 7 seven Serbs attempting to leave Srebrenica were murdered. On May 15 the villages of Viogor, Orahovica, Karno, Civeci and Radosevi were attacked. "Similarly, from May 1992 to January 1994 one hundred ninety-two villages were conquered and burned down. During this period eight thousand Serb houses were attacked and five thousand four hundred of them were completely destroyed. The number of persons killed exceeded one thousand, including women, children and old people. Ninety percent of them were killed during the six months following May 1992, despite the fact that the majority of them were civilians," emphasizes the Srebrenica report. The brutality of the Muslim soldiers in Srebrenica is compared to that of the SS Handzar Division half a century before. The study states that attacks on and murders of Serbs in the region of Srebrenica were organized by Naser Oric and Zulfo Tursunovic,and that murders of Serbs "were filmed with a video camera as war trophies". Since they were not successful in taking these tapes or most other documents with them from Srebrenica, most of the material was kept by the RS Commission of Legal Experts as evidence of crimes against Serbs. "One of the reports by the Muslim forces, number 06-08/95, details the death of a Serb man, Milko Markovic, who remained in Srebrenica after the death of Judge Zekic. The report says: Milko Markovic was arrested and taken to see Mish /trans. note - the Mouse, a nickname/. Mish tortured him, stabbed him with a knife and then slit his throat. However, as Milko was still alive, Mish took him to the small river in the center of Srebrenica and resumed torturing him. When Milko lost consciousness, Mish revived him by pouring water on him. Mish then set him on fire while he was still alive," says the report. Mish is said to be "currently living in Tuzla without any problems". The author of the study emphasizes that in June 1993 Dragomir Djokic, the charge d' affairs of the Yugoslav Embassy in the United Nations, submitted a report and evidence of crimes by Muslims against Serbs in the region of Srebrenica to the General Assembly and the Security Council of the United Nations; however, no one ever condemned the crimes.
From Muslim State To Safe Haven
The Republic of Srpska Office for Relations with the ICTY further states that Muslim leaders intended to unite the territories of Srebrenica, Zepa and Gorazde into a larger territory representing a corridor between a future Muslim state and Serbia. However, the report states, in spring of 1993 Muslim forces began to run out of food and made the decision "to exploit their own civilians and the UN to further their cause". The author of the study emphasizes that the Muslim leaders attempted to prevent the fall of Srebrenica at any cost, using the town as a human shield and refusing to evacuate civilians to other territories. "When the UN decided to evacuate 15,000 people at the end of March and beginning of April 1993, Muslim leaders were furious, claiming that the UN operation was equivalent to ethnic cleansing and they decided that the convoy must not enter Tuzla, a Muslim-held territory," says the report. The same Muslim leaders "later told a reporter working for the Independent that the real reason for their decision was that as long as civilians and refugees were there, the Serbs could not carry out a comprehensive attack". The UN Security Council declared Srebrenica a demilitarized zone under UN protection even though, according to citations from the report, Muslim soldiers in this so-called "demilitarized zone" were allowed to keep their weapons and continued to launch attacks on the Serbs from the enclave. "Under the command of a unit of the Eighth Operational Group, the 28th Division [of the BH Army] attacked the same Serb villages which had already been attacked in 1992 and 1993. Most of the attacks were terrorist acts committed by small groups of soldiers. More than 500 Serbs were murdered in attacks carried out from the 'safe haven' and the brutality of the attacks remained unchanged," the report states. Furthermore, up to about a month before the fall of Srebrenica Muslim forces from Srebrenica worked together with units of the Second Corps from Sarajevo to cut off road connections for Serb forces in the Vlasenica region. The author of the study also claims that the political and military leadership of Republic of Srpska did not plan to conquer Srebrenica and quotes the former commander of Serb forces, Ratko Mladic, as having said that he "would not have to attack enclaves if the Muslim soldiers in them had been disarmed".
Estimates Of Bosniak Casualties
Describing the situation after Srebrenica fell into the hands of Serb forces, the author of the study states that following negotiations with the Dutch representative of UNPROFOR and representatives of the Muslim civilians General Mladic organized the evacuation of the residents of Srebrenica. "Mladic kept telling them to tell their soldiers to turn in their weapons within 24 hours. He told them that if they turned in their weapons, the Muslim soldiers, even those not in uniform and those who were war criminals, would be treated according to the Geneva Convention. This did not occur due to the fact that many of Muslim soldiers had Serb blood on their hands from the period from 1992 to 1995. Fearing Serb revenge and hoping to remain unpunished, they decided to conduct a military breakthrough toward Tuzla to the territory under the control of the so-called BH Army," states the RS Office report. According to estimates cited in the study, when Serb forces conquered the former safe haven of Srebrenica in July 1995, Muslim forces sustained a loss of approximately 2,000 soldiers. The report states that approximately 1,800 Muslim soldiers were killed fighting with Serb forces following their flight from Srebrenica and about 100 more died as a result of exhaustion. "The number of Muslim soldiers killed by Bosnian Serbs in acts of personal revenge or due to lack of knowledge of international law is probably about 100," states the study. It goes on to add that "it is important to uncover the names of the perpetrators in order to accurately and unequivocally establish whether or not these were isolated incidents."
This is the part of the Srebrenica report which was subjected to such fierce criticism and accusations. How did the RS Office come up with its claim and conclusion that the often quoted number of six to eight thousand Muslim men killed in Srebrenica is inflated?
Fleeing Through Forest
Citing numerous sources, the author of the study states that 10,000 to 15,000 Muslim soldiers "fled Srebrenica through the forest . . . Fierce battles were waged between these Muslim soldiers and Bosnian Serb soldiers. The battles were intense because Muslim soldiers had to pass through Buljim, Kravica, Pobudje, Bajkovica and Crni Vrh after coming out of the forest. Since Bosnian Serb forces had anti-aircraft artillery, they had only to wait and open fire on masses of Muslim soldiers coming out of the forest; nevertheless, Bosnian Serb forces lost in several locations, such as Bajkovica and Krizevac, and sustained losses of between 300 to 500 soldiers," states the report.
Taking into account considerable losses of the Serb forces, the author of the study estimates that the Muslim forces sustained losses of approximately 2,000 soldiers. The study also states that these clashes did not occur on the major roads used by bus traffic but on rural routes. Quoting UNHCR sources, the author of the study states that approximately 6,000 Muslim soldiers arrived in Zenica through the forest. "In his book 'Lukava Strategija' ['A Cunning Strategy'], [former BH Army commander] Sefer Halilovic also confirms that the 28th Division of the Muslim Army was reorganized after its withdrawal from Srebrenica, and that it was comprised of 6,000 soldiers who broke through the lines of the Bosnian Serbs," says the report.
According to the Republic of Srpska Office for Relations with the ICTY, approximately 25,000 to 40,000 Muslims, primarily women, children and old people, decided to surrender and gathered in Potocari. Men of fighting age "comprised two to three percent of the total number". The women, children and old people were transferred to Kladanj in Muslim-held territory while the men who turned themselves in "a total of some 500 to 750 of them, were transferred to Bratunac, where they were checked for war crimes and divided into three groups: those who had no criminal record, those who required additional checks and those who were known to be war criminals". According to the report, the first group of about 500 men was taken to Kladanj in Muslim-held territory immediately after the check. On July 14 the second group was transferred to the collective center Batkovce in Bratunac. The third group was sent from Bratunac to the prison in Zvornik.
The study denies the claim that thousands of Muslims from Srebrenica were murdered in a school in Karakaj near Zvornik. It states that on July 13 school was in session and quotes testimony by two Muslim women from Mali Zvornik who said that on that day they heard no gunshots on the other side of the river. The report goes on to add that it is highly likely that some Muslim soldiers were "summarily shot in acts of personal revenge, taking into account that some Serbs were killed during 1992 and 1993 by their Muslim neighbors in extremely brutal fashion". For example, according to one Dutch soldier, a Muslim in Potocari on July 13 was pulled out of a group and shot. Another Dutch soldier saw Bosnian Serbs leading a group of ten Muslim soldiers on July 12; nine bodies were later found in the location where they were last seen," says the study, adding that some of the older Serbs indicated that General Mladic personally opposed "every form of illegal behavior and conduct on the part of his soldiers".
List of missing persons
Further supporting the claim that the figure of six to eight thousand Bosniak casualties is inflated, the study says that no date of birth is given for 3,381 of the 6,610 persons listed as missing in Srebrenica in the "Book of the Missing" of the International Committee of the Red Cross. "Of the first ten thousand requests filed by families of missing persons, two thousand were duplicates and five thousand named people who had already left Srebrenica before it fell to the Serbs," the study emphasizes. The author of the report says that he personally visited Srebrenica and discovered that some of the names on the list of missing persons were actually names from the gravestones of people long deceased. The report also states that 180 requests on the list of the ICRC named persons who left the enclave prior to the fall of Srebrenica and, based on documentation left by the Muslim forces in Srebrenica, 190 out of 3,110 requests named persons who were deceased prior to the fall of Srebrenica.
"The most recent investigation located 700 additional people from the ICRC list of missing persons," emphasizes the study. It estimates that the number of valid requests will ultimately be reduced to between two and two and one half thousand.
On the other hand, associations of families of missing persons from Srebrenica claim that in July 1995 ten thousand Bosniak civilians were killed in Srebrenica. No mention is made of armed Muslim soldiers under the command of Naser Oric. It is also surprising that official international institutions (the United Nations, the Hague tribunal) do not have reasonably accurate numbers for Srebrenica casualties. By failing to account for two thousand human lives (from six to eight thousand victims) these international organizations not only insult the victims of Srebrenica but also demonstrate their lack of readiness to establish the full truth regarding the Srebrenica tragedy. Otherwise, the Hague tribunal would allow the exhumation of Serb victims in this region and react to the indictment against Naser Oric forwarded by the RS Government. One thing is certain: until it is publicly acknowledged that some 1,300 Serbs were killed during the last war in the Srebrenica and Bratunac region and until those responsible for these crimes are indicted by the Hague tribunal, the Serbs will not be ready to prepared to face what in fact happened in Srebrenica in July 1995.
Translated by S. Lazovic (October 7, 2002)