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Mladic Genocide Trial Reopens in The Hague

  • Stefan Bos

Elvedin Pasic the first witness giving testimony in the case against former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic in the court room in The Hague, July 9, 2012.

Elvedin Pasic the first witness giving testimony in the case against former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic in the court room in The Hague, July 9, 2012.

The war crimes trial of former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic on Monday heard its first witness - a man who escaped a mass execution in 1992. Elvedin Pasic testified at The Hague, where he described the attack by Serb forces on his village in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Pasic was only 14-years-old when he escaped being killed after Bosnian Serb troops overran his village, forcing Muslims and other non-Serbs to leave the area in what became known as ethnic cleansing.

Now, two decades later, he testified at the trial of Ratko Mladic - the former Bosnian Serb army chief who prosecutors say supervised these and other war crimes during the three-year Bosnian war during the 1990s.

At the Hague war crimes tribunal, Pasic now 34-years-old recalled how he as a young Muslim boy played soccer and basketball with his Croat and Serb friends. But that changed when Serb forces attacked and entered his northern Bosnian village of Hrvacani.

Speaking in English, Pasic recalled how he and his mother wandered for weeks as they were turned away from village after village.

Eventually, he said, they returned to their to their home village where they found destruction and human remains, including those of an elderly man.

"The old man was burned," said Pasic. "They found the body. And a little kid was crying because they decided to bury him [or] whatever was left of him. And then soon after that, we found that the rest of the people who stayed there were also [burned to] death, except one who was shot to death."

Pasic said he hoped to find his dog alive, but found it shot where it was chained.

Trying to hold back tears, he explained how his group of displaced Muslims later came under fire in the hills of northern Bosnia and ended up in a detention center in Grabovica. Pasic recalled that he was separated from his father and other relatives, and consequently survived the execution of at least 150 people in November 1992.

Pasic said he was surrounded by angry armed soldiers and villagers and was forced to board a bus.

"We were instructed to walk slowly toward [the] bus," he said. "They had one guard with a gun. He said, 'I will kill, if you run. You can't run; you have to go slow.'"

Pasic struggled as he testified about his experiences in Europe's bloodiest conflict since World War II. At one point, presiding Judge Alphons Orie interrupted the proceedings.

"Mr. Pasic, the chamber observed that it's quite emotional to give your testimony," said Orie. "We also observed that you apparently were able to cope with it. If you at any point in time, you need a short time or are not able to cope with it any more, don't hesitate to address me."

Pasic is the first witness to testify against the 70-year-old Mladic, who was captured after spending 16 years in hiding.

Defense lawyers have questioned Pasic's credibility and plan to continue their cross-examination on Tuesday. Massacre survivors have expressed concern that the frail Mladic might die before he is possibly convicted and sentenced.

Mladic is charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, which carry a maximum penalty of life in prison. Charges against the former Bosnian Serb commander also include the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in which some 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by troops under Mladic's command.