PARIS - Prosecutors at the war crimes trial of Slobodan Milosevic have produced what may prove to be crucial evidence in support of their case that the former Yugoslav president is guilty of genocide in Bosnia.
A document, the first of its kind to be presented in the United Nations war crimes tribunal, is an order from the Bosnian Serb interior minister, Tomislav Kovac, instructing the special police to move into Srebrenica just days before forces under Bosnian Serb command began the execution of more than 7,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys.
The killings in July 1995 were the worst single massacre of the 3 1/2 -year war in Bosnia, occurring after Bosnian Serb forces simply overran what was supposed to be a U.N.-protected haven in eastern Bosnia, guarded by lightly armed Dutch peacekeepers.
Passages in the document before the court refer to the police forces "taking part in combat operations" and, most crucially, spell out that the forces include "Serbian MUP," the secret police controlled by the Serbian Ministry of Interior. The document was briefly referred to in court last week, but its text was first published yesterday by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.
The Serbian leadership and Milosevic himself have always insisted that they bore no responsibility for atrocities in Bosnia because fighting was done by Bosnian Serbs operating independently from Belgrade. Insiders say that Milosevic took great pains to avoid issuing written orders, and there appeared to be no paper trail linking him to the many atrocities inflicted on civilians during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.
But the military order, if given due weight by the court in The Hague, Netherlands, not only puts Serbian special police forces at the massacre site but also provides a direct link to Milosevic, who, as president of Serbia at the time, was formally in charge of all civilian police. But it is not clear whether he actually knew that a group of his police had been sent to the Srebrenica area.
Several witnesses at the Milosevic trial testified earlier this year that Serbian forces operated in eastern Bosnia in the early 1990s, when tens of thousands of Muslim civilians were driven from their homes to create an ethnically pure region for Serbs.
But this appears to be the first known order relating to Srebrenica that confirms the presence of Serbian police. Dated July 10, 1995, it directed four different police units, including the "Serbian MUP," to form "an independent" detachment and move from their base near Sarajevo to Srebrenica "to crush the enemy offensive."
The units were ordered to go first to Bratunac, a village near Srebrenica, on July 11, which was the day that Bosnian Serb troops overran the enclave, which sheltered tens of thousands of Muslims and was protected by about 300 U.N. peacekeepers.
The massacres of civilians did not begin until the next day. From July 12 to July 17, more than 7,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys were executed by forces under Bosnian Serb control. Many were transported en masse to sites near Srebrenica and then killed; others died after being captured when they tried to escape.
Gen. Ratko Mladic, the officer in charge of the assault on Srebrenica, has been charged with genocide in connection with the killings and the Bosnian Serb siege of Sarajevo but remains at large.
Witnesses and even participants have told the tribunal about the roles played by army, police and paramilitary fighters in the Srebrenica massacre. But even during the trial of Gen. Radislav Krstic, who was sentenced to 46 years in prison for genocide, prosecutors had no documents linking the atrocity to Belgrade. All they had were radio intercepts between Bosnian Serb military leaders discussing the killings.
Milosevic has maintained that he heard of the killings only after the fact. He was supported by Zoran Lilic, president of Yugoslavia from 1993 to 1997, who testified for three days this week. Lilic told the court that while it was Milosevic who held the true power, he had "nothing to do with what happened in Srebrenica."