THE HAGUE | 06.02.2007.

WHAT HAPPENED TO AVDO PALIC?

The wife of the missing Zepa defense commander testifies about how "Mladic determined her life". Her husband went missing in July 1995 after the Serb forces took control over the other enclave formally protected by the United Nations

"I live the life Mladic chose for me, not the one I myself chose. Mladic decided to expel us. Mladic captured my husband. Mladic made me be alone with two children at the age of 28. This life is not my choice." This is how Esma Palic described the impact on her of her husband's disappearance and the events she had been through before and during the "deportation from Zepa" in July 1995.

Esma Palic's husband Avdo was a BH Army colonel and the commander of the Zepa defense. He was taken from the UNPROFOR base by Serb soldiers on 27 July 1995. Since then, the only information about him comes from the prisoners of "the secret prison" in Bijeljina. According to the witness, after his kidnapping Avdo Palic was detained there.

Esma Palic took the stand today at the trial of seven Bosnian Serb military and police officers charged with crimes in Srebrenica and Zepa in July 1995. She described how Zepa had constantly been under heavy artillery fire of the Serb forces since 1992. There were also constant air strikes. The attacks became less intense when the enclave was declared a UN safe area in the spring of 1993. The attacks resumed in March 1995, and continued unabated until July 1995. This made life almost unbearable for the residents of "the safe haven" as they were forced to stay in their shelters.

The people in Zepa got very upset when on 12 July they heard of the fall of Srebrenica. They feared they would face the same fate. The witness described how a few days later they heard "a man who said he was Ratko Mladic speak to us over some kind of a PA system”. She quoted his words: "People of Zepa, this is Ratko Mladic speaking. You can't stay in Zepa. Bring your white flags with you and proceed towards Brezova ravan. There are buses waiting for you there that will take you to the territory under Alija Izetbegovic’s control. Don't listen to crazy Avdo. You are his hostages. He will take you to your deaths".

The residents of Zepa listened to Esma Palic’s husband who "thought we had to defend ourselves. If we give up, we will face the same fate as Srebrenica,” she said. Esma Palic, her mother, sister and two daughters - the younger was only 4 months old at the time – took shelter in Stitkov Do, a village near Zepa. Another 2,500 residents from Zepa followed them.

Esma and Avdo Palic saw each other for the last time on 24 July 1994, when the population of Zepa was "deported from the enclave in a humiliating and cruel manner". "Avdo wanted to save the people, but at the same time he felt he was a sacrifice. He thought he will not be forgiven for the role he played", Esma Palic said. They parted near Kladanj. "Women, children and the elderly" continued their journey on foot and reached the BH Army-held territory after five hours of walking. On 27 July 1995 Esma Palic found out her husband had been "arrested". She has been searching for the truth about what happened to Avdo Palic ever since.

Milan Gvero's defense counsel showed a document to the witness in an effort to prove that the witness’s husband was criminally responsible for the role he allegedly played in an incident in June 1992 when a Serbian military convoy en route to Zepa was attacked and a number of soldiers were killed.

The witness confirmed she knew about the criminal report against her husband but said she "couldn't understand how a person defending himself be prosecuted". According to her, the convoy consisted of 40 vehicles. They were allegedly “only bringing food to an observation post at Ozlovrh”. There were only eight soldiers manning the post, though. She said the soldiers in the convoy "panicked and set off their grenades in trucks loaded with weapons". The residents of Zepa hurled stones and logs to block the convoy’s passage in order to prevent the troops “from killing them there and then”.

After Esma Palic, a protected witness took the stand. He is one of the survivors of the Kravica massacre.