The prosecution started its case at the trial of Ratko Mladic, former commander of the VRS Main Staff, with the evidence of Elvedin Pasic, who spoke about the ordeal of the villagers of Hrvacani and other Muslim villages in Kotor Varos municipality in 1992. Pasic’s testimony refers to the counts in the indictment about the crimes in 20 BH municipalities. These crimes, as the prosecution alleges, reached the scale of genocide in Kotor Varos
Elvedin Pasic, the first prosecution witness at the trial of Ratko Mladic, described in his emotional evidence the five-month ordeal he had gone through as a 14-year-old boy. He often broke down, sobbing. He described in detail the terrible fate of the people from the village of Hrvacani in Kotor Varos municipality. Through Pasic’s evidence, the prosecution wants to prove the pattern of ethnic cleansing the forces under the command of accused Mladic implemented in 20 municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina. As alleged in the indictment, in Kotor Varos the ethnic cleansing reached the scale of genocide.
The ordeal of the villagers of Hrvacani began on the second day of Eid Al-Adha in June 1992. In the previous months, the villagers had noticed some military activities in the neighboring Serb villages: trenches were being dug, there were some troop movements and military machinery was brought in. They didn’t expect their neighbors to attack and shell them. After a night spent in the cellar, Elvedin, his mother and other villagers sought shelter first in the nearby Croatian village of Plitska. Five elderly people remained in the village of Hrvacani. The refugees from Hrvacani spent the next few months wandering from one village to another – Garici, Cirkino Brdo, Bilica – and after a while, tried to return to their home village. There, they found that their homes had been looted, destroyed and burned down. They also found the charred bodies of five elderly people who had refused to leave their houses. The cows and dogs had been killed. Realizing they had no place to stay and nothing to live on, the villagers wandered through the villages in Kotor Varos municipality. Finally, they arrived in the village of Vecici where Elvedin and his mother were reunited with Elvedin’s father.
In early November 1992, Elvedin and his family decided to leave Vecici, where hundreds of people from the Muslim villages around Kotor Varos had gathered, and move towards Travnik, to the territory under the control of the BH Army. The women and children set off in a convoy of buses. Elvedin’s father insisted that Elvedin should accompany him in a large group of men: they had heard that the Serb forces took boys of his age away from their mothers in the refugee convoys at check points. The witness cried as he described the parting of his mother and father. The hearing was adjourned for about ten minutes to allow him to compose himself.
Elvedin Pasic recounted how the column with more than 200 men, about a dozen women and a dozen children trekked through the heavily wooded hills for two days in the rain. The column was ambushed twice, and at one point, the people got into a mine field. Some people in the column were killed by mines. Finally, the column was surrounded by Serb troops and they decided to surrender.
After they surrendered, they were forced to pass through a tunnel which was some 50 meters long. On the way out of the tunnel, the soldiers ordered those who had weapons to drop them on a pile to the left, and those who had valuables and money to put them on the right side. The soldiers threatened they would kill those who were found to be in possession of as much as a pin. The captured Muslims had a lot of money and valuables with them, Pasic said, because the women who travelled to Travnik by bus didn’t want to carry the valuables: they were afraid the Serb forces would search them. The prisoners were ordered to lie face-down in three rows in the mud. They were called out one by one, questioned and beaten. Elvedin heard when the soldiers asked his father as they beat him if he had any relatives in the group. His father replied he had no one in order to protect Elvedin. The soldiers then ordered the women and children in the group to form a separate group. Elvedin didn’t want to join them but his father and uncle insisted, so Elvedin joined the other children and women. They were taken to the school in the village of Grabovica. A Serb soldier told them they would ‘live but their men will pay’.
That same night, the captured men from the group were also transferred to the school. Elvedin’s father was among them. The next morning, the women and children were ordered to board the buses parked some 200 meters away from the school. They were told they would be taken to Travnik. On their way to the buses, they passed a gauntlet of men. The men spat at them, hit them with sticks, pitchforks and other things. The soldiers told them that all those who tried to run through the gauntlet would be killed. Immediately before he boarded a bus, a woman put a knife to the witness’s throat. She threatened she would ‘kill the little Balija’ just like her sons had been killed in the village of Vecici. A guard managed to grab the witness and shove him into the bus.
From the bus, Elvedin could see a hand waving at them from a window of the school where the men were detained. ‘I didn’t see the body, just the hand, and in my dreams I always see that hand’, Pasic said at the end of his examination-in chief.
According to the adjudicated facts from previous cases before the Tribunal, all 150 prisoners from the school in Grabovica were executed.
Ratko Mladic’s defense counsel began his cross-examination of the witness by establishing the details about the witness’s stay in each of the places where he and his family had sought shelter. The cross-examination continues tomorrow.