Retired VRS general Ljubomir Obradovic completed his evidence today, and the prosecution called former member of the VRS 10th Sabotage Detachment, Drazen Erdemovic. He pleaded guilty to his part in the execution of Muslim detainees at the Branjevo farm on 16 July 1995. Erdemovic dismissed Karadzic’s suggestion that he had volunteered to perform that task. ‘I cannot explain why that day we were ordered to execute the civilians’, the witness said
In the re-examination of Ljubomir Obradovic, former head of the Operations and Training Administration of the VRS Main Staff, the prosecutor insisted that former Republika Srpska president Radovan Karadzic was kept informed about the events in Srebrenica in July 1995. According to the prosecutor, various intercepted conversations from July 1995 speak to this fact.
The prosecutor showed the witness an intercepted conversation that took place in the afternoon of 16 July 1995. In the conversation a person from the VRS Main Staff talks to a duty officer in the command of the Zvornik Brigade telling him that he is calling ‘from the head of state’, demanding that Vinko [Pandurevic] urgently report to the Main Staff about ‘what is going on’.
Half an hour later, in another intercepted conversation Ratko Mladic tells the duty officer in the VRS Main Staff that he just has ‘sent a telegram to Toso’ and that ‘the president just called me after receiving a report from Karisik that Pandurevic arranged for the Muslims to pass through to that territory’. Obradovic confirmed that the ‘head of state’ at the time was Radovan Karadzic. Toso was most likely Zdravko Tolimir while Karisik was ‘the person from the police’, Obradovic explained, adding that he couldn’t tell if the reports reached Karadzic ‘promptly’.
Prosecutor Carolyn Edgerton argued that Karadzic’s command authority extended beyond the strategic level, down to the tactical and operational levels of command in the armed forces, thus contradicting Karadzic’s claims in the cross-examination. As the prosecution alleges, an intercepted conversation of 8 July 1995 corroborates the claim. In the conversation, Karadzic says to General Zivanovic, who commanded the Drina Corps at the time, that he would send him MUP units from Treskavica as reinforcements.
After Obradovic completed his evidence, the prosecution called Drazen Erdemovic. Erdemovic is a former member of the VRS 10th Sabotage Detachment. In 1998, he pleaded guilty to his part in the execution of about 1,200 Muslim detainees at the Branjevo farm near Zvornik on 16 July 1995. Erdemovic has already testified at six trials before the Tribunal. At Karadzic’s trial, Erdemovic is testifying under his own name but with image and voice distortion as protective measures, in order to prevent his identification in his new place of residence where he had been relocated with his family. Following his guilty plea and after serving his sentence, Erdemovic entered the Tribunal’s witness protection program.
In the brief examination-in chief, the prosecutor read out the summary of Erdemovic’s previous evidence at the Srebrenica Seven trial, where Erdemovic described the mass execution at the Branjevo farm and the massacre of about 500 prisoners in the Culture Hall in Pilica. Erdemovic refused to take part in the massacre but watched it from a nearby cafe. The transcript of Erdemovic’s evidence at that trial has already been admitted into evidence but the accused was later granted his motion to cross-examine the witness in court.
At the beginning of the cross-examination, Karadzic noted that the 10th Sabotage Detachment was not ‘some criminal group’ but an ‘elite unit characterized by chivalrous behavior’, which was supposed to operate behind the enemy lines. Erdemovic replied that it was indeed so until 16 July 1995, adding that he ‘cannot explain why we were ordered that day to execute those civilians’.
Karadzic put it to Erdemovic that he asked the group leader, Brane Gojkovic, if he could ‘volunteer’ to go on this mission. The witness dismissed Karadzic’s claim, explaining that he ‘always made an effort’ not to hurt civilians in combat. His disagreement on this issue with his superiors, Pelemis and Salapura, led to Erdemovic’s being stripped of his rank of sergeant in early 1995.
Karadzic mostly focused on the food and equipment the soldiers in his unit were issued before they went on a mission and if any records were kept. Karadzic also asked Erdemovic when exactly he woke up and what he had for breakfast in the morning of 16 July 1995 before he went to the Branjevo farm.
Karadzic will continue his cross-examination of Drazen Erdemovic tomorrow.