THE HAGUE | 21.02.2012.

DID FRENKI CROSS THE DRINA?

Franko Simatovic’s defense witness admitted that the accused visited the Bajina Basta area in the first half of 1993. The witness nevertheless stubbornly denied that Simatovic ever went to Eastern Bosnia, even when the prosecutor confronted him with documents showing that the Red Berets were stationed in Skelani at the time. The documents also show that the Red Berets unit fought side by side with the Bosnian Serb army and for some time even secured the border crossing at Bajina Basta that the witness was in charge of

Franko Simatovic’s defense continued its case today with the evidence of Risto Seovac, who worked in the Serbian MUP and commanded the border crossing between Serbia and BH on a bridge near Bajina Basta. Seovac testified with image distortion as a protective measure. In the examination-in chief, he was questioned by defense counsel Petrovic. Seovac mainly spoke about the war developments in 1993 and the offensive launched by the Muslim forces on the Serb positions in Eastern Bosnia. Franko Simatovic is on trial together with the former chief of the Serbian State Security Service, Jovica Stanisic, for their alleged part in a joint criminal enterprise whose objective was to ethnically cleanse large parts of Croatia and BH. The indictment alleges that the police and paramilitary units under Simatovic’s and Stanisic’s control were involved in the joint criminal enterprise.

As Seovac said, on16 January 1993 the Bosnian army attacked the Serb forces in the Skelani area. Skelani is a village, separated from Bajina Basta by the Drina River. About 60 VRS soldiers, civilians and four or five children were killed in the attack. The witness said that the column of Serb refugees was shelled as they tried to reach Serbia. Several shells hit Bajina Basta. These incidents caused the special police units to be dispatched to the area. Also, a JNA battalion under the command of Mile Mrksic was sent to the other side of the border to help the Bosnian Serb army. A while later, Serbian prime minister Nikola Sainovic visited the border crossing; he was accompanied by Franko Simatovic. The witness saw Franko Simatovic several times in the SUP building in Bajina Basta from January to May 1995.

In the cross-examination, prosecutor Farr tried to ‘provide the context’ for the attack on Skelani by showing a directive issued by the commander of the VRS Main Staff Ratko Mladic on 19 November 1992. In it, Mladic ordered the Drina Corps to ‘exhaust the enemy’ in Eastern Bosnia and to ‘expel them together with the civilian population’. The witness contends he didn’t know anything about it. He ‘cannot confirm with any certainty’ the prosecutor’s argument that the Muslims from that area were expelled during the war.

The documents shown by the prosecutor indicate that a counterattack on the BH Army positions in the village of Skelani and its environs was launched in March 1993. The counterattack was a part of Operation Udar. Franko Simatovic took part in the operation. The entry from Mladic’s diary for 28 February 1993 notes that Simatovic attended a meeting at which Operation Udar was planned. VRS documents say that the Red Berets unit under the command of Franko Simatovic and Raja Bozovic was stationed in the school in Skelani from January to May 1993 and that it took part in the attacks on some villages. The witness claimed he knew nothing about the Red Berets’ presence. This prompted the prosecutor to highlight the part of a VRS report which states that the unit ‘controlled the bridge’, i.e., the border crossing. They may have been deployed on the other side of the bridge, in Republika Srpska, Seovac replied, adding that he didn’t know anything about it.

Risto Seovac will complete his evidence tomorrow.