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Mladic trial: first witness recounts escape from massacre during Bosnian war

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia heard a first witness today in its pursuit of a genocide verdict to prove ethnic cleansing campaign was 'joint enterprise.'

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Two birds with one stone

Radovan Karadzic, the other main surviving actor allegedly responsible for the Srebrenica massacre and president of the Bosnian Serbs during the war, is standing trial alongside Mladic.

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With Mladic and Mr. Karadzic both on trial, “You can show the Bosnian Serb political leader and military leader … with different responsibilities,” argues Mark Ellis, director of the London-based International Bar Association.

“Together they act as part of a common plan. This doesn’t take away individual responsibility, or … command responsibility. But it adds to the approach of showing a common purpose and design that underlie large scale atrocities.”

The one-sided war left 2.2 million people displaced, more than 100,000 killed, and involved a brutal siege of the multiethnic city of Sarajevo.

Mladic has steadily denied these charges, even calling them “monstrous” at one point. The man once dubbed the "Butcher of Bosnia" and the architect of the Srebrenica massacre sat erect but impassively as Pasic testified. 

Srebrenica is key

“Srebrenica will be the key to this prosecution,” Mr. Ellis added. “It is the event that most seared this conflict into history.”

In their pursuit of a genocide verdict, prosecutors are likely to use Directive No. 7, a document signed by Karadzic directing combat operations to “create an unbearable situation of total insecurity” in which Muslim civilians have “no hope of further survival or life” around the towns of Srebrenica and Zepa.

Mladic’s defense team may also face video footage of the general standing in front of a large crowd of unarmed civilians in the center of Srebrenica, as Serb forces enter and Dutch UN peacekeepers withdraw. He pats the head of a young boy and says, "Don't be afraid. Take it easy. Thirty buses are coming ... to deliver you... No one will hurt you."

But in footage aired on Belgrade TV that was aired later that day, a heavily breathing Mladic states, "... we are giving this town to the Serbian people. The moment has finally come for us after the 19th century rebellion against the Turks, to take our revenge on them..."

Serb forces then tracked down scores of Bosnian men and killed most of them in what the United Nations had declared was one of several "safe havens" to be protected. 

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