First Mladic trial witness takes stand

Mon, Jul 9, 2012, 01:00

The first witness in the long-awaited trial of former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic testified today,.

Elvedin Pasic described a harrowing escape and scenes of horror in his home village - despite a motion by defence lawyers to adjourn the war crimes case for six months.

UN judges said the prosecution could respond to this latest request for a delay tomorrow and allowed Elvedin Pasic to testify. Mladic faces 11 charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. He denies wrongdoing.

Mr Pasic testified about his family’s escape and separation as his village in northern Bosnia was being shelled in 1992 by Bosnian Serb troops under Mladic’s command. The Muslim, just 14 at the time, described weeks of wanderings with his mother, being turned away from village after village.

Now 34, Mr Pasic spoke in English, carefully describing how he and his mother eventually circled back to their home village despite a warning from two Serb soldiers patrolling nearby who told them: “There is nothing for you to go back to: your home is Turkey, this is Serbia.”

He described his excitement as they entered the village anyway. He raced up a shortcut to his family house - only to find the Serb soldiers had told them the truth about there being little for them to return to.

“The house was burned completely, the fridge, the televisions, the walls - what was left of the walls was stripped,” Mr Pasic said.

Even a stash of clothing they buried when they left had been found and taken. Mr Pasic’s voice choked with tears as he described how he had hoped to find his dog alive but found it shot where it was chained.

Most of the handful of people who had remained in his village, notably one elderly religious man whom Mr Pasic knew, had been burned alive in their homes, Mr Pasic testified; one was shot instead.

Mladic’s lawyers claimed in their written filing demanding more time that trial judges recently changed the rules governing what documentary evidence prosecutors can file. They said the changes would now let the prosecutors file significantly more evidence than previously allowed.

The defence motion said the change “is unprecedented in the history of the tribunal and threatens to be a significant blight to the integrity of these proceedings. Urgent action by the Chamber is required to avoid a very (great) potential miscarriage of justice”.

Mladic’s trial started on May 16th but was almost immediately halted because prosecutors admitted that an apparent clerical error meant they failed to disclose thousands of pages of evidence to defence lawyers. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Mladic nodded his head in agreement at the start of Mr Pasic’s testimony as Mr Pasic told of good relations between Bosnian Muslims, Serbs and Croats before the war.

AP