Andrew Osborn








General denies leading Bosnian slaughter.

The Guardian, 17th October 2000 17:09

By Andrew Osbornin Brussels.

The Bosnian Serb general accused of masterminding Europe's worst atrocities since the second world war yesterday claimed he was emotionally attached to the very people his troops are said to have massacred five years ago.

Launching his defence at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in the Hague, General Radislav Krstic argued that his upbringing showed that he was hardly the type of man to indulge in the ethnic cleansing of Muslims.

Gen Krstic is accused of playing a leading role in the wholesale slaughter of at least 7,500 Muslim men and boys in the now infamous enclave of Srebrenica in the summer of 1995.

It was supposed to be a UN safe haven but the 100-strong Dutch military unit of peacekeepers there to protect the largely Muslim population abandoned the town and its unfortunate inhabitants to the advancing Bosnian Serb army.

Mr Krstic - whose 15,000 strong unit, the Drina Wolves, is said to have played a pivotal role in the ensuing massacres - is the highest-ranking Bosnian Serb military officer to go on trial in the Hague. He is charged with genocide and crimes against humanity.

The prosecution has already shown pictures of mass graves in fields overflowing with corpses and bones, and has claimed that Gen Krstic and his men tried to cover up the atrocities by later exhuming the bodies and burying them elsewhere.

But Gen Krstic protests his innocence and pins the blame on his superior, General Ratko Mladic, who is still at liberty somewhere in the former Yugoslavia. Prosecutors have shown footage of Gen Krstic entering Srebrenica alongside Gen Mladic.

In an attempt to portray himself as a man untouched by ethnic hatred, Gen Krstic, 52, yesterday described how he found the breakup of the former Yugoslavia `horrible' and said he was `emotional' when Muslim and Serb soldiers had to part company to form separate opposing armies.

Dressed in a dark suit and wearing gold-rimmed glasses, Gen Krstic limped to the witness stand.

`We all went to school together, socialised together and had great respect for each other,' he said of the Muslim soldiers. `We hoped we would see each other again and hoped we would work together again.'

He then claimed he had as sumed command of the Drina Wolves almost two weeks after the Muslim enclave had fallen to the Bosnian Serbs. His lawyer also argued there was a parallel chain of command `concealed' from the general.

However, the killings took place between July 11 and July 17 1995, and prosecutors have already produced a copy of a decree signed by Gen Mladic showing that Gen Krstic took charge of the Drina Wolves on July 13.

Gen Krstic's lawyer was yesterday adamant that he would prove that this was not the case. `We will prove that Gen Krstic and the lower-ranking officers did not stain the honour of Serb officers. We will prove that with documents of the VRS [Bosnian Serb Army].'

The Srebrenica massacres are viewed as the worst atrocities of the 1992-95 Bosnian war and have been described by UN judges as a scene from hell written on the darkest pages of human history.

The Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic - also indicted for war crimes but like Gen Mladic still at liberty - has singled out Gen Krstic for praise, calling him `a great commander' who did `an extraordinary job'.

The war crimes case is a real test for the UN since it has so far failed to secure a genocide conviction. Gen Krstic faces life imprisonment if the final verdict, due in the first half of next year, is guilty.