A protected witness, PW 14, testifies at the trial of Zdravko Tolimir via video link. The witness confirmed that the evidence he gave at the trial of seven Bosnian Serb officers in November 2006 was true. Zdravko Tolimir, former Mladic’s assistant for intelligence and security in the VRS Main Staff, is charged with the same crimes in Srebrenica and Zepa; the seven Bosnian Serbs were all convicted of those crimes.
The witness described how on 11 July 1995, after Mladic’s troops overran Srebrenica, he and his father and brother joined a column of civilians and BH Army soldiers that took off towards Tuzla through the woods. The witness’s mother and sister sought shelter in Potocari near the UN Dutch Battalion base.
As the witness recounted, the Serb forces ambushed the column several times. The witness saw gruesome sights: dismembered bodies and persons whose throats had been cut. Twice the witness got separated from his father and brother but managed to find them before they surrendered to the VRS in the morning of 13 July 1995 in a field near Sandici. They heard people calling on them to surrender from the base of the hill. They also saw a white UN personnel carrier and soldiers with blue helmets; this led them to believe that UNPROFOR troops were there and that ‘it would not be so easy to kill us all’. In the end, it turned out that Mladic’s troops had seized the UN armored personnel carrier and that Serb soldiers wore blue helmets. ‘We realized that they used it to lure us to surrender’, the witness said.
The men who gathered in the field had to surrender all their money and valuables. The witness was allowed to bring water from a nearby house. The witness seized that opportunity to sneak onto a bus with women and children. The buses stopped in Sandici on their way from Potocari towards Kladanj. The witness never saw his father again; his remains had not been found.
In the cross-examination, General Tolimir claimed that the column moving towards Tuzla was a legitimate military target because it contained a large number of BH Army soldiers. The accused contended that the men had been ordered by the BH Army to head into the woods. Tolimir tried to corroborate his claim that most of the victims from the column lost their lives in the fighting as they were trying to break through to Tuzla. According to General Tolimir, a number of Bosniaks were killed ‘fighting each other’.
The witness dismissed all the claims of the accused, explaining that his father and brother had decided to go to the forest ‘on their own’ and that ‘like so many others, they followed the majority’. The witness confirmed that there were armed soldiers in the column but this did not make it a legitimate military target. The witness also dismissed the suggestion of the accused that the mass killings in Srebrenica were a consequence of ‘the collusion between US president Bill Clinton and Alija Izetbegovic designed to bring about NATO intervention by sacrificing 5,000 Bosniaks’. The witness replied that he knew who killed his father; ‘I never heard such stories and I’m not really interested in them’. The presiding judge interrupted this line of questioning, reminding the accused that the witness had been ‘just a boy’ at the time, too young to be able to tell the court anything about the purported agreement between Clinton and Izetbegovic.