Mladic trial hears tearful evidence from first witness
THIRTY-FOUR-YEAR old Elvedin Pasic relived the day he escaped a mass execution which claimed 150 lives in the Bosnian village of Grabovica 20 years ago – as he became the first of Ratko Mladic’s accusers to face the former “Butcher of Bosnia” across a courtroom in The Hague yesterday.
Mr Pasic, who was just 14 when his home in nearby Hrvacani was shelled by Bosnian Serb forces commanded by Gen Mladic, broke down as he told judges how a pregnant neighbour begged him to carry a young child to safety and not to let her go – “even if you rip her arm out”. Mr Pasic spoke in English as he described how he escaped the burning village with his family – and how, when he and his mother later tried to return, a Serb soldier turned them away, saying: “There is nothing for you to go back to. Your home is in Turkey. This is Serbia.”
Dressed in a grey suit and striped tie, Mr Pasic never looked directly at Mladic throughout his evidence – and the former general (70) remained impassive as the court was reduced to silence by detailed evidence of elderly Muslim inhabitants burned to death in their homes and others shot as they tried to flee the Serb assault.
Mr Pasic said he remembered most vividly the stench of burnt and rotting bodies.
When they did manage to find their home, all that remained was a shell. “The house was gone, completely burned to the ground. The walls, the television, the fridge, everything was burned. Even a stash of clothes we buried just before we left had been found and taken.” His voice choked as he recounted how he had hoped to find his dog alive – but had found it shot where it was chained.
He told how later he, his parents and other Muslims had been rounded up and brought to a makeshift detention centre in a school outside Grabovica.
As they passed through the village, he said, local people – many of them former neighbours – threw stones and spat at them.
They were beaten with sticks, axes and forks, he recalled.
“When we reached the courtyard of the school it was getting dark. We were ordered to form a line. The soldiers had AK47s. I thought this was going to be our execution.” He later heard that a group of men, including his father, had been taken upstairs in the school. “Some people went upstairs to see their relatives, but I didn’t go. I was afraid. I wish I had gone – but I didn’t.” He never saw his father again. “Your honours . . . there is no doubt in my mind that they were all killed,” he said.
Gen Mladic pleads not guilty to 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide during the Bosnian War between 1992 and 1995.
As yesterday’s hearing began, defence lawyers asked for a six-month adjournment because of recent changes to the rules governing documentary evidence.
The change, they said, was “unprecedented in the history of the tribunal and threatens to be a significant blight on the integrity of these proceedings. Urgent action is needed to prevent a very great potential miscarriage of justice.” The prosecution will respond to that motion today.