Srebrenica survivor tells of Serb attrocities

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The Independent Online

A 62-year-old survivor of a massacre at the Bosnian Muslim enclave of Srebrenica has told a U.N. court how he played dead and stumbled across a field of bloody corpses after Serb soldiers gunned down columns of refugees.

In the gripping testimony at the genocide trial of Serb Gen. Radislav Krstic, the witness detailed how he escaped the Branjevo farm massacre where he figured up to 1,500 people were executed in July 1995.

"They mowed them down and they fell to the ground," said the witness, whose identity was concealed. "You could hear the bullets hitting the bodies ... the air was filled with dust."

Other refugees who survived the execution and tried to flee were hunted down and murdered, he added.

Toward the end of the 1992-95 Bosnian war, Serb forces broke through U.N. defense posts surrounding the enclave and slaughtered at least 7,500 Muslim men and boys, prosecutors say.

Krstic's indictment alleges that he headed the Bosnian Serb army's Drina Corps, which carried out the slaughter. He has been charged with genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

Krstic, who has pleaded innocent, could spend the rest of his life in jail if found guilty.

The witness testified as the trial, which began March 13, completed its fourth week. Earlier testimony has come from other massacre survivors, forensic experts and U.N. peacekeepers.

The witness said he was held with a group of about 250 men and boys in a tiny room near the town of Pilica, where detainees as old as 80 years old were starved, beaten, killed and intimidated by a handful of Serb soldiers.

"They threw bread crumbs at the people," he said. "One man drank his own urine."

The men were bound and driven by bus to the site of a military agricultural center known as Branjevo farm, where a Serb soldier led an execution squad.

"We were ordered to turn our backs and lined up ... then he ordered us to lie down and, at that moment, a burst of fire came," he said.

Grazed by a bullet, the witness lay quietly among the dead, while executioners finished off those still breathing.

"One said: I'm still alive, kill me," the witness said, adding that the man was killed with a single bullet through the head.

The witness said he remained motionlesally killed.

"I estimate between 1,000 and 1,500 were dead when the shooting stopped," he said. "One man tried to flee, because he preferred a bullet in the back than genocide."

Just before escaping through the woods, he claimed to have heard a Serb soldier saying: "We have committed genocide ... like in 1941."

Earlier, the most senior Bosnian war crimes suspect in custody, Momcilo Krajisnik, pleaded innocent to genocide and other mass atrocities in his first public appearance since his arrest by NATO troops.

Krajisnik, 55, is close associate of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who is also wanted by the tribunal for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Prosecutors consider Krajisnik and Karadzic masterminds of the "ethnic cleansing" campaigns that killed thousands of civilians and sent multitudes of non-Serbs fleeing from wide swaths of northern and eastern Bosnia that now form part of the Bosnian Serb Republic.

The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal was established seven years ago by the U.N. Security Council to prosecute those responsible for atrocities in the Balkans following the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991. It has handed down sentences of up to 45 years to 14 Serb, Muslim and Croat defendants.

Krajisnik is the most senior figure among the nearly 40 suspects in the tribunal's custody, which include three Bosnian Serb generals blamed for some of the worst atrocities in the war. Still at large are the wartime Bosnian Serb military chief, Ratko Mladic, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and dozens of other predominantly Serb suspects.