Mladić arrest imminent?

Reuters is speculating that the broadcasting by Serbian state TV of video showing Serbian paramilitaries executing six males, apparently civilians from Srebrenica, was aimed at preparing public opinion for the arrest of Bosnian-Serb wartime commander Ratko Mladić. The story's main piece of supporting evidence is in this passage:

"This video will mark a turning point in the minds of our public and make it easier for the government to fulfil its commitments toward the (Hague war crimes) tribunal," said Minister for Human Rights Rasim Ljajić, a Muslim.

His words are code here for the arrest of General Ratko Mladic, former commander of the Bosnian Serb army. He is indicted for genocide in Europe's worst atrocity since World War II, the July 1995 massacre at Srebrenica of 8,000 Muslim males.

This looks like rather flimsy evidence to me, but it's an interesting thought that might put some things in perspective that otherwise don't make much sense.

The most obvious of these concerns the timing of the publication and the arrests. Human rights lawyer Kandić is thought to have dropped the tape off on 23 May. A week later it was shown at The Hague, but with a good number of the faces shown on it identified by first and last names, or in some cases by first names or nicknames only. Was that work done while the tape was in the prosecution's possession? Didn't the prosecution have the obligation to alert the defense to its existence right away? More importantly, how did they manage to put names on faces? It is here that things start getting interesting: just hours after the video airs on Serbian TV, the authorities announce that several of the paramilitaries shown on the tape had been arrested, including one of the executioners. (The numbers are hazy, but most reports put them at seven or eight.)

If, as the defense witness claims during whose testimony at The Hague the tape was shown, the Scorpions were not operating in Bosnia under interior ministry command, how come the government seems to have pretty complete files on these guys, including their current whereabouts? This happened ten years ago, so a good number of them would be retired by now; how does the government have their address? I think there's a fair bit of explaining to be done.

Moreover, there seems to have been some sort of complicity -- perhaps tacit rather than overt -- between Kandić, the prosecution, and the Serbian authorities. Otherwise, action could simply not have been taken so swiftly. I imagine that something like this might have happened: Kandić gets the tape and passes it on to the prosecution. She sits on it while the prosecution, perhaps with her help, is trying to identify the folks on the tape. (Incidentally, nobody seems to have worried too much about identifying the vitcims; Reuters quotes a woman who says she recognizes her son among those executed.) Once they're getting there, she passes it on to the government, perhaps already with names attached. The government is notified by the prosecution that this will be shown at some point during the trial, and the authorities are preparing to make these arrests.

The prosecution and Kandić don't care about the political constellation; their overriding interest is, rightly, to see Mladić in the dock. The Serbian government feels it has to do something to maintain the momentum of the last few months, when droves of indictees "surrendered" to the ICTY, some more and some less voluntarily. Perfect congruence of interests?

[Update, 4 June: a Reuters report (no link available) shed new light on this today. It said, "The video was obtained last December from an unnamed and now protected source by Hague prosecutors and Natasa Kandic, a Serbian human rights activist. They spent months authenticating it and investigating the men it showed. It was shown to Serbian war crimes prosecutors a week ago and its broadcast to a national audience was coordinated with the government of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica."]

But what I don't get is the broader context. The victims seem too young to have been of any intelligence value. The question then is, were they shipped all the way from Srebrenica to Trnovo or Jahorina (again, the details of where the killings took place are hazy) just to be killled? If they were just to be killed, why not kill them right there, in Srebrenica, as happened to thousands of others? Why were these guys special? Why bother to get special police from Serbia to kill them?

Even thought he footage seems clear enough, this tape is hiding a secret -- whatever it may be.


Anonymous said...

B92 reports that, according to the Serbian state war crimes prosecutor's office, all six victims shown being tortured and executed on the video have been identified by name. All of them were Muslims from Srebrenica. Four of the six were just boys, below the age 18, two were young men under the age of 30. It seems very unlikely that they were in any way "special" prisoners. The fact that they have been identified is not surprising, given that there are lists of names and photos of all known victims of the massacres (the latest such compilation being the annex to the RS Srebrenica Commission's report).

As you say, the question is why they were brought all the way to the slopes of Jahorina mountain, near Sarajevo to be killed. My macabre guess is that this was supposed to be a treat, to help the guest fighters from the Serbian MUP to join in the celebration of the good news of the "liberation" of Srebrenica.

Some other foreign fighters, such as the Greek volunteers who were invited to take part in the capture of Srebrenica by Mladic's special request, were also singled out for various kinds of honors. It was a jolly time in Pale:

As with the other 8,000 men and boys killed, there did not have to be any individual reason for killing the six people seen on this video - they weren't picked out as individuals; being a male Muslim from Srebrenica was reason enough to be a candidate for execution.

In fact, much of the killing took place at considerable distances from Srebrenica. There were mass executions north of Zvornik, more than 30 km from Srebrenica, while trucks and buses from as far away as Pale and Sokolac were requisitioned for transport of those to be executed; some may have been sent back with a special load. I vaguely recall having read about other transports of Srebrenica prisoners being shipped south to the Pale area before being killed.


R Byrne said...

Thanks, Teekay for manning the fort in Eric's absence. And, yes, EG: I knew it was a good idea! :) And thanks "anonymous" for persistently fascinating commentary.

I do share the Reuters opinion that this is a shock to the polity that will prepare for an extradition of Mladic -- if there is not a suicide that intervenes; which I believe to be a strong possibility with both the general and Karadzic. In fact, I think it may happen sooner rather than later, before the sok wears off... But I also share Teekay's view that there is much still to shine a spotlight upon in these machinations...

Anonymous said...

p.s. -- In case you're still wondering "why Trnovo," remember that Trnovo was one of the most fought-over sectors of the front line near Sarajevo. It changed hands five times during the war. In June 1995, it was also one of the sectors where the Bosnian army tried to break the siege of Sarajevo. See the map at

By this time the Bosnian Serb army had also gotten so desperately short of manpower, that they had to rely on Serbian police in Belgrade to round up and press-gang Krajina Serb and Bosnian Serb refugees for service as cannon fodder in Bosnia. Which may help explain what those Serbian MUP troops were doing on the slopes near Trnovo in July 1995.

T K Vogel said...

Thanks, AR, for putting things in context and filling in some blanks. One quick update: in an interview with Swiss TV on Friday night, Carla Del Ponte confirmed that the video had been in the prosecution's possession for "several months" but that they needed an opportunity to show it, which came with Stevanovic's testimony. She also mentioned that her office had more footage along similar lines.

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