Muslims were my friends, says general accused of Srebrenica massacre

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The Independent Online

The man accused of orchestrating Europe's worst civilian massacre since the Second World War took the stand yesterday, denying responsibility for thousands of deaths at Srebrenica and claiming the friendship of many Muslims before the breakup of Yugoslavia.

The man accused of orchestrating Europe's worst civilian massacre since the Second World War took the stand yesterday, denying responsibility for thousands of deaths at Srebrenica and claiming the friendship of many Muslims before the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Radislav Krstic, the highest-ranking Bosnian Serb military officer to go before the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, told the judges he lived peacefully with Muslims until the outbreak of violence.

General Krstic, who denies genocide, was commander of the infamous Drina Wolves, the unit said to have lead the savage attack on the "safe haven" of Srebrenica during which at least 7,500 men and boys were slaughtered. The massacre, during the bloody war in Bosnia between 1992 and 1995 exposed the impotence of Dutch peace-keepers who had declared Srebrenica a UN-designated safe haven in 1993.

It was targeted by Bosnian Serbs on 6 July, 1995 and five days later Dutch UN peacekeepers gave up.

Since this March, when the trial opened, witnesses and forensic evidence have given evidence. Yesterday General Krstic began his defence.

He told the three UN judges that the war and the destruction in Bosnia and Herzegovina was "very difficult for me. We went to school together, socialised together and had great respect for each other. We never informed about each other's ethnic backgrounds."

The 52-year-old officer, in civilian clothes, said he was "emotional" when Muslim and Serb soldiers were separated to form independent, opposing armies. "I realised there was no place for me any more," he said. "We hoped we would see each other again and hoped we would work together again. The idea was to preserve the brotherhood and unity of Yugoslavia."

Almost all the region's Muslim population was wiped out during the offensive and General Krstic is also accused of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war. He faces life imprisonment if found guilty of any of the charges, which he denies.

The general's lawyer said his client was not responsible for the massacre, adding: "There was a parallel chain of command concealed from sight. The purpose was not to capture Srebrenica, nor to carry out the events that happened afterward." The indictment claims the commander of the 15,000-strong Drina Wolves, reported to Ratko Mladic and through him to then-Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic, both indicted but uncaught.

* Janko Janjic, 42, the Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect who blew himself up when peacekeepers tried to arrest him was given a hero's funeral yesterday by hundreds of his compatriots in his home village of Miljevina.

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