JNA linked to Ethnic Cleansing
Yugoslav army implicated in atrocities against Muslims in eastern Bosnian town.
By Emir Suljagic in The Hague (TU 323, 05 September 2003)
A witness in the Milosevic trial this week accused Yugoslav army, JNA, troops of crossing the border into Bosnia to ethnically cleanse the town of Visegrad in the early phase of the Bosnian war.
The claim is potentially hugely significant – prosecutors say Milosevic, then the president of Serbia, had control over Yugoslav security forces.
Testifying under a pseudonym B-1505, he said JNA troops came to Visegrad, took control of the eastern Bosnian town and helped expel the Muslim population.
JNA troops turned up in Visegrad in mid April 1992, under the command of Colonel Dragoljub Ojdanic, one of Milosevic’s top commanders.
B-1505 said he met the colonel in person on two occasions in the town. Once, while waiting for him at army headquarters, he said he overheard five JNA officers planning the ethnic cleansing of local Muslims.
One pulled out a map of the town on the table, and said that the right bank of the Drina river was “clear”. “And tomorrow, we will cleanse this part,” the witness claimed the officer said.
B-1505 said the colonel took him to a place where 3,000 to 4,000 people had taken refuge. The witness insisted that the JNA protect them. Ojdanic then ordered one of his subordinates to arrange for them to be brought into the town.
The next day, thousands of civilians were escorted to Visegrad’s football pitch. When they arrived, they were split into four groups and searched before being allowed to leave. They could not go home, however.
A JNA officer, which the witness could identify only as Colonel Jovanovic, told them that they would only be able to go to the villages that were under his control. He said that outside this area there were Serb paramilitary units, the White Eagles, roaming around and they would kill Muslims on sight.
Then came apparent confirmation of links between the Bosnian Serbs and Yugoslav army. While waiting to see the colonel at the Visegrad Hotel, the witness saw Bosnian Serb vice president Biljana Plavsic arrive with Branimir Savovic, head of the local Serbian Democratic Party. They arrived for talks with the JNA officers.
“They went into a room. I was told later that colonel could not see me and that I should come the next day,” he said.
In the next few days, JNA took control of Visegrad.
Later, atrocities took place across the town, with Muslims taken to its famous bridge, shot and dumped into the river.
Milosevic denied that JNA had taken part in the ethnic cleansing there, saying the whole testimony was “a lie”.
But the witness said there was a simple fact that underpinned his testimony, “There were 13,000-14,000 Muslims before the war. There was none in 1993. And there are 1,500 today.”
Emir Suljagic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.