THE HAGUE | 31.10.2013.

MILENKO ZIVANOVIC IN THE HAGUE FOR THE FIRST TIME

Former VRS Drina Corps commander Milenko Zivanovic has appeared for the first time as a witness at the Tribunal after the judges issued a subpoena compelling him to testify at the request of Radovan Karadzic

Retired general Milenko Zivanovic was the commander of the Republika Srpska Army Drina Corps from its inception in November 1992 to July 1995, when he handed over the duty to his erstwhile chief of staff, Radislav Krstic. The handover coincided with the attack on the enclaves in Srebrenica and Zepa. He was replaced in the nick of time: his replacement Krstic has in the meantime been sentenced to 35 years in prison by the Tribunal for aiding and abetting the genocide in Srebrenica. Zivanovic has not been indicted by the Tribunal and has never appeared to testify at the trials of other persons accused of the Srebrenica crimes.

He appeared on the witness stand for the first time following a binding order issued at the request of Radovan Karadzic. Before he started his testimony, Presiding Judge Kwon warned him that had the right to refuse to answer any questions that might incriminate him.

Through Zivanovic’s evidence, Karadzic wanted to prove that there was no plan to execute the prisoners from Srebrenica in 1995. The summary of Zivanovic’s written statement to the defense notes that the former Drina Corps commander ‘did not know anything about any such plan’ and had never sent any reports to Karadzic, as the supreme commander, detailing the preparations for the execution of prisoners, notifying him that the executions were underway or that the prisoners had been executed. According to Zivanovic, Karadzic would never have approved the execution of prisoners. The Drina Corps merely ‘defended the Serb people in the Podrinje area’ after the Muslims expanded the borders of the Srebrenica enclave to link it up with Zepa and to use the corridor to smuggle weapons. The Drina Corps had to respond and launched an operation to separate the enclaves.

In a brief examination-in-chief, Zivanovic showed a map where he had marked 157 Serb villages in Podrinje which had been razed to the ground from May 1992 to January 1993, as he explained. The witness and the accused agreed that it had been necessary to establish the VRS Drina Corps on 1 November 1992, given the developments in the area.

In the cross-examination, the prosecutor showed the witness several documents which indicate, as the prosecution contends, that the VRS intended to cleanse the Podrinje area of Muslims. In November 1992, the former speaker of the Bosnian Serb Assembly, Momcilo Krajisnik, met with the military leaders, including Zivanovic. At the meeting, Krajisnik stressed that the priority task was to ‘cleanse the Drina’ and to ‘achieve a separation from the Muslims’, highlighting the role of the Drina Corps in the effort. Zivanovic did not deny that he had been given that task, but claimed there was nothing wrong with it: ‘no one ever said that Muslims should be killed’. When the prosecutor remarked that the implication was he found ‘ethnic cleansing’ of Muslims acceptable, Zivanovic mentioned a map showing the destroyed Serb villages and insisted he had been on good terms with the Muslims, denying he had contributed to their elimination from Srebrenica and eastern Bosnia.

Zivanovic denied the claim that he had anything to do with the effort to prevent the humanitarian aid and food convoys from reaching the enclaves in order to render the lives of the people there ‘unbearable and lacking a future’ and that the houses of the Muslims who had been expelled from Podrinje were torched on his orders. As he explained, the people in the enclaves did not lack food, and only those houses from which fire was opened on the Bosnian Serbs, and those used as commando outposts were set on fire in Muslim villages.

After Zivanovic completed his evidence, Karadzic called former Bosnian Serb police minister, Tomislav Kovac, whose testimony will continue Friday.