UNMO Chief Takes Stand in Karadzic Trial
www.slobodan-milosevic.org - September 29, 2010

Written by: Andy Wilcoxson


Hearing Date: June 21, 2010


John Wilson, a retired brigadier general in the Australian Armed Forces, took the witness stand for the prosecution in the Radovan Karadzic trial on Monday, June 21, 2010. This is the third time he's taken the witness stand, previously having testified in the Krajisnik and Perisic trials.


The witness was the Senior Military Liaison Officer to the United Nations Military Liaison Mission to the former Yugoslavia (UNMLO-Y) from January to March 1992. In March 1992 he was appointed the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR)'s Chief Military Observer (CMO) in Sarajevo where he remained until June. From December 1992, he served for one year as the Military Advisor to the International Conference on the former Yugoslavia (ICFY) based in Geneva.

The Prosecution’s Examination-In-Chief


Wilson described the mandate of the UN Military Observers (UNMOs) in Bosnia. He said, “There were approximately 75 military observers when UNPROFOR was first established. Their mission was to deploy to two areas within Bosnia-Herzegovina, and they were the Bihac area and the Mostar area.” He said, “The military observers, as part of UNPROFOR, received a number of mandate enhancements during 1992, and eventually there were some 350 to 400 military observers as part of my group deployed mainly throughout Bosnia-Herzegovina.”


Testifying for the prosecution he explained that “There were two types of military observers. Some were under the direct command of sector commanders and some were under my direct command. That defined their reporting channels. But, in essence, they were there to facilitate communication between the parties, to acquire information and report that back to the UN, and to lend their good officers to perform any tasks that might assist the parties in resolving the conflict; for example, exchanges of bodies or escorting and arranging of humanitarian relief.”




The main focus of Wilson’s testimony had to do with shelling and sniping in Sarajevo. He said, “I have to say that in March, April, and May of 1992, Sarajevo was not a place that you wandered around idly out of tourist interest. It was a very dangerous place, and one only traveled when it was absolutely necessary. So the majority of my observations were confined to the city centre and to the area around the PTT, Dobrinja, Nedarici, and perhaps the airport.”


The witness said, “For the whole period I was there from the 22nd of March to the 24th of June, with one short 10-day break, I observed that the city was subjected to almost constant artillery fire. There was widespread sniping. There was fighting going on in selected areas of the city, heavy fighting. But I would say that a lot of the artillery fire and mortar fire was randomly distributed around the city, and there were very few areas which escaped at least some damage from this activity.”


When asked who was firing on the city the Witness said, “The fire was directed and produced almost exclusively by the Serb forces who were investing the city. Presidency forces had very little in the way of heavy armaments, so any artillery or mortar fire coming into the city was virtually all initiated by the Serbs.”


He said that “presidency forces” were “the combined forces of the Muslim and Croat forces who were residing within the city and who were attempting to defend the city, and who were commanded by the government of Bosnia-Herzegovina, led by President Izetbegovic.” And he hastened to add “I must say there were also significant members of Serb fighters fighting within that organization also.”


The witness told prosecutors, “The weight of fire in Sarajevo against civilian targets was at a scale that I'd not experienced anywhere else in my operational experience” He said, “as a young officer, I deployed to Vietnam for 12 months and fought there as an infantry officer. Certain, in comparison there and also in my later experience in Southern Lebanon, when that area was occupied by Israeli forces, what I was able to observe in Beirut, once again when I was with the UN, none of those experiences came close to the intensity of the fighting that took place in Sarajevo in the six weeks or so that I was there in early 1992. I have to say that the way that artillery, mortars, and other heavy weapons were directed into the city impressed me as being random, widespread, and inappropriate.”


The UNMOs had difficulty traveling around Sarajevo because they came under fire form both sides. The witness explained, “From the 14th of May until the 24th of June, we were only able to sensibly travel around the city in armored vehicles. And then on approximately 70 to 80 per cent of occasions, we would draw fire from one or other of the parties. It would not be fair to accuse any one party of attacking the UN. It was our belief that all parties were actively engaged in the activity.”


The witness confirmed for the prosecutor that on May 25, 1992 “General Mladic made a threat that if JNA personnel from Sarajevo barracks were not evacuated within three days he would engage the city with heavy artillery fire.”


Three days later, when the deadline expired without the safe evacuation of the JNA, Wilson testified that Sarajevo did come under attack. He said, “The shelling took place in the evening of the 28th of May, from approximately at 5:00 in the evening until about 1:00 the next morning. It was particularly heavy even by Sarajevo standards. It was widespread. It did not appear to be related to any conflict on the front-line.”


The next day he said, “The Presidency brought a tape of a radio intercept of General Mladic directing the fire of his artillery units the previous night, the night of the 28th. The tape was in Serbo-Croat, I don't speak that language, so I don't know what the exact contents of the tape were.”


The witness described heavy fighting by the parties after control of the Sarajevo airport was given to the UN on June 5, 1992. He said, “The fighting was mainly concentrated around the airport, Dobrinja, Nedzarici, that sort of area. It was very heavy fighting, involving extensive use of artillery. By the sound of it, a lot of infantry soldiers were involved. It appeared to be both sides attempting to gain tactical advantage of ground which overlooked and perhaps controlled the airport, now that it had been agreed that the airport would pass to the control of the UN. That fighting continued more or less unabated until the 24th of June, when I left the city.”


One of the reports (exhibit P1034) that he sent back to the UN said, “This past week has been marked by heavy fighting in Sarajevo. Serb forces have continued to shell the city and, in particular, have initiated a concentrated attack to capture the suburb of Dobrinja, adjacent to the airport. The attack has been supported by artillery and tanks. A mortar attack on a crowded old city street on the 22nd of June, 1992, resulted in 14 dead and 35 wounded.”


When the prosecutor asked who was responsible for the attack on Dobrinja, the witness said, “That's hard to say exactly. It was my belief at the time that the Serb forces were trying to clean out any Presidency forces that might be in the vicinity of the airport so that they would be able to influence the security and the tactical situation around the airport. However, you could also say that the fighting may have been initiated by the Presidency forces, who were attempting to achieve the same aim. It's impossible to say who was responsible for the attack. Both of them certainly participated most vigorously. But the great majority of fire-power is in favor of the Serb forces.”


When asked who was responsible for the June 22nd mortar attack on the crowded city street the witness said, “I'm unaware of whether a formal investigation was ever conducted into that unfortunate incident and whether any attribution was made.”


The witness described the weaponry used by the opposing sides of the conflict in Sarajevo. He said, “The Presidency forces had only a small number of mortars, very few artillery pieces, two or three tanks, to the best of my knowledge at this time. The Serb forces investing the city, on the other hand, had a large number of heavy weapons, many different varieties. My estimate would be they had at least 200 barrels of mortars and artillery which they could use against the city. We're talking about maybe a dozen heavy weapons on the part of the Presidency forces, and 200 or more with the Serbs, in my estimate.”


When Judge Morrison asked him for the basis of his estimate the witness explained, “I did see some of those weapons later when they were brought under observation of UNPROFOR as part of the demilitarization of the airport, but I'm really referring to my observation of outgoing fire from the city which you could hear, and it was very limited. You can hear the primary noise of a weapon being fired out of the city, and there was very little evidence of that. I did see there was a mortar position established near the PTT building one time by the Presidency forces, who were using us as cover. I did see a mobile mortar once. When I was visiting the Presidency, once I heard mortar fire being fired out from the vicinity of there, but it was not a great weight of fire, and that's why I say their capacity was very limited.”


Judge Morrison asked him, “You mention mortars. Could you assess the caliber of the mortar?” And Wilson replied “I'm assuming they'd be 82-millimetre mortars.”


Morrison followed up asking, “And any long-barreled artillery?” To which the witness responded, “I believe they had a few pieces of long-barreled artillery.”


Detention Centers


General Wilson told the court that he’d “received an allegation from the Presidency representatives that there was a tunnel somewhere to the south of Sarajevo which was being used to hold a large number of non-Serb people, many of them women and children, and the Presidency were concerned about the safety of these people.”


He said that Biljana Plavsic told him “that there were a number of detention camps, but they simply held males of military age who were being taken out of circulation so they couldn't join the fighting. She said that they were well treated and if I wished, I could go to the site and visit that tunnel location at a later date.”


General Wilson did not check to see who was telling the truth. He said, “In the end I did not send a party down to visit that camp or that detention centre.”


Radovan Karadzic’s Cross-Examination


After the prosecution concluded its direct examination, Radovan Karadzic began his cross-examination of the witness.


Not Competent to Testify About Sarajevo


Although Gen. Wilson gave testimony that supported the prosecution’s case in relation to Sarajevo it quickly became apparent during the cross-examination that his testimony was not based on any actual knowledge of the situation in Sarajevo. Although he held positions of senior authority in the UN, he was almost totally ignorant of the topic he was testifying about.


For example, Gen Wilson did not know that the war in Sarajevo was fought between the First Corps of the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Sarajevo Romanija Corps of the Bosnian Serb Army.


When Karadzic asked him a question about the First Corps he said, “I don't know what the 1st Corps is, Mr. Karadzic.” Astonished, Karadzic asked him, “You don’t know that the Muslim forces in Sarajevo were called the 1st Corps?” And Wilson confirmed, “No, I didn't know that.”


The witness was not only ignorant of who the belligerents were, he didn’t know why they were fighting. Karadzic asked, “What were the goals of the Muslim army in Sarajevo and what were the Serb goals? Did the Serbs have any ambitions of controlling the whole of Sarajevo?”


The witness answered, “I have no way of answering either of those questions. I have no intimate knowledge of the strategic aims of either party or the way that those aims may have been derived and agreed.”


Indeed the witness testified that “Prior to the 8th of March, 1992, the focus of my military liaison mission was on Croatia and the UN. I was not even vaguely aware of what was happening down in Bosnia.” He said, “I had no knowledge of the politics or events in Bosnia prior to about the 22nd of March, when my Military Observers' headquarters was deployed to Sarajevo.”


In addition to not knowing who was fighting or why, the witness didn’t know which side held which territory. Karadzic asked him, “What suburbs and neighborhoods of Sarajevo were inhabited predominantly by Serbs?” And the witness replied, “I have no detailed knowledge of the ethnic distribution within Sarajevo at all” He said, “I don't know what the ethnic distribution was within Sarajevo and the surrounds.”


While the witness was in Sarajevo he lived in the Nedzarici area, but he did not know whether it was inhabited by Serbs or Muslims. He said, “Yes, I did live in Nedzarici, but I didn't ask people of what ethnicity they were.”


Karadzic asked the witness if he knew “what neighborhoods were held by Serbs?” And the answer he got was, “No, because I don't know all of the suburbs.”


Karadzic asked the witness, “Did you know what the deployment was of the Muslim forces in town, itself?” And the witness replied “No, I didn't.”


The witness was completely unfamiliar with the geography around Sarajevo and he did not know where the Serbian or the Muslim military positions were at. Karadzic asked him, “If I were to tell you that there were Muslim positions on one hill and Serb positions on another hill what would you say to that?” The witness replied, “It depends which hills. But I've already indicated to you I don't have a detailed knowledge of where the confrontation lines were.”


Karadzic asked, “Do you recall the Hum Hill? There was a major TV relay station there.” The witness replied, “I'm aware of a hill which had a large TV tower on it, but I didn't know what its name was.”


Karadzic asked, “Do you agree that it was held by the Muslims throughout the war?” And the witness replied, “I don't know who held the hill” adding “I have no knowledge of the geography of that area.”


The witness was not familiar with Sarajevo at all. He stated point-blank, “Mr. Karadzic, I don't have a detailed knowledge of Sarajevo, as I indicated to you. I was there for some six weeks.” He said, “I simply do not have such a detailed knowledge of the city that I can talk about specific suburbs.”


Wilson testified for the prosecutor that the Muslims in Sarajevo had very limited military capabilities, but during the cross-examination Karadzic asked him “Is it possible that there were weapons which you did not see?” and Wilson answered, “Yes, of course.”


Karadzic asked, “Are you trying to say that the Muslims did not have any Howitzers in the city?” And the witness answered, “No, I'm not.”


He testified that there was “heavy fighting” in Sarajevo and he freely admitted that “you do need two sides to have ‘heavy fighting’.”


Karadzic asked the witness about the establishment of the front lines in Sarajevo. He asked, “Do you know that on the 5th of April, the local population established the front-line and that it had no assistance whatsoever from the JNA?”


The witness answered, “I've already indicated to you, Mr. Karadzic, I wasn't there on the 5th of April, so I don't know what happened. It was not reported to me, what happened.” He said that he returned to Sarajevo on “about the 9th or 10th of April”.


So Karadzic asked, “On the 9th or 10th of April, when you returned, did you find that the city was divided by the confrontation lines?” The witness replied, “I found that there was, when I re-entered the city, that there was occasional rifle fire about the area. It was reported to me by my UN colleagues that there had been some fighting within the city, that there was -- or there were barricades being put up, that it was very tense. About this time, there was also the talk about the vote that was going on about the secession of Bosnia-Herzegovina from the former Yugoslavia.”


Karadzic pointed out to the witness that “The voting wasn't in April; it was in February.” The referendum was held on February 29, 1992, so it’s interesting that he says he remembers being there while it was happening, when he wasn’t in Bosnia at all until the 22nd of March. 


The witness’s lack of knowledge did not stop him from accusing the Serbs. He told Karadzic, “I've already indicated I don't know which were Serb neighborhoods and which were not. I am saying that the Serbs were firing heavy weapons, large quantities of it, into the urban areas of Sarajevo.”


Karadzic asked if it was “difficult to say who’s firing on whom if you don't know who is holding what areas?”


The witness replied, “I agree it's difficult, but you can observe and you can listen. You know the general area. By the weight of fire, you can -- when you know the distribution of forces, you can determine who is making the major effort. There are a variety of ways of determining what's happening without, necessarily, close observation.” Of course the biggest problem with that answer is his repeated admissions that he doesn’t know the area or the distribution of forces, otherwise it might have made sense.


Karadzic asked him, “If shells are falling on a neighborhood, isn’t it relevant whether this is a Serb or a Muslim neighborhood?” The witness replied, “I don't see the ethnic make-up of the neighborhoods’ got terribly much to do with it.” But it has everything to do with the trial because the Prosecution accuses Karadzic of attacking Sarajevo in order to terrorize and torment the Muslims.


Muslim Activities in Sarajevo


Karadzic asked the witness, “Do you know that UNPROFOR was concerned because of the positioning of Muslim artillery in the vicinity of the hospital, for example, and that they protested?” The witness replied, “Yes, I am generally aware of that.”


Karadzic showed the witness a letter of protest (exhibit D99) that Gen. Morillon sent to Alija Izetbegovic because of this. After seeing the letter the witness confirmed that it was “consistent with some of the oral reports I received out of Sarajevo.” He said, “It does address an issue that was of concern to the UN, not only in Sarajevo but in other places that mortar positions were set up by Presidency forces in areas prohibited under the Geneva Conventions.”


Karadzic asked the witness whether the Muslims did this in order to gain international military intervention, and the witness replied, “I can't say what the wishes and hopes of the Presidency may have been in regard to international intervention, whether it be military or otherwise.” He said, “I don't know why the Muslim forces placed firing units near the hospital or other facilities, as you allege. I can't look into their motivation, whether it was to gain media attention or some tactical advantage. It's impossible to sensibly comment upon that.”


Karadzic put it to the witness that in Sarajevo “The Muslims placed mortars on trucks and fired at civilian targets, the firing the truck was then removed, then you would have the Serb response, and it would appear that there were no artillery pieces or weapons in the area when that response came.”


The witness confirmed that he personally saw “a mortar mounted on the back of a truck, I observed that from the PTT, I observed it fire two or three rounds, and I saw the weight of fire that the Serb forces fired in response.” He said, “I don't know what the motive was of the Presidency forces” and “It would not have been possible for me to know what the target of outgoing Presidency mortar fire was because it was outside the city.”


Karadzic asked the witness, “You confirmed that during your visit to the Presidency, there was fire coming from the vicinity of the Presidency building. If I tell you that happened, for the most part, when some high-ranking guests came to visit the Presidency to provoke a Serb response, does that sound reasonable to you?”


Gen. Wilson replied, “Yes, it does sound reasonable to me. And it was also very successful, because it inevitably resulted in some response; heavy fire from the Serb forces.”


Eventually the witness grew uncomfortable with the line of questioning and said, “The issue here about placing weapons in an inappropriate place or having roving mortars around the city ignores the fact that the response that these provoked was entirely disproportionate.” He said, “It's important to understand that while provocative conduct had been perhaps perpetrated by one side, the response was entirely disproportionate to the threat that was engendered by this activity.”


Since the point of fighting any war is to force the opposing side to surrender. Karadzic asked “What is the point of a proportionate response? Is it to keep the conflict going forever or what?”


The witness replied, “Proportionate response is in the context of the Geneva Conventions.” He said, “If you are going to be involved in conflict where there is a risk of collateral damage or civilian casualties, then you would have with you a military lawyer who is an expert in the Conventions and who would provide advice to you on whether a target should be engaged and with what type of fire. Whether the Serb forces took this precaution, I don't know. The evidence is that they didn't.”


According to the evidence of the previous Prosecution witness, Richard Philipps, the VRS was suffering from a shortage of all kinds of specialized military personnel including engineering, artillery, and communications personnel – so it seems probable that they wouldn’t have lawyers either.


In his defense, Karadzic exhibited an intercepted telephone conversation (exhibit D331) between himself and Danilo Veselinovic in which he expressed his view that civilian casualties in Sarajevo should be kept to a minimum.




The witness said he was unaware of any crimes against Serbs. When Karadzic asked him about crimes committed against Serbs in the Neretva River Valley, Livno, and Pofalici, the witness insisted he knew nothing about it


However, in Bijeljina the witness said that the “JNA would provide perimeter security, whilst the [Serbian] paramilitaries would go in and commit crimes and initiate ethnic cleansing. There were also reports that the paramilitaries would commit demonstration killings and rapes; as examples.”


The witness said he “saw the war damage. I saw the militias controlling movement. I saw the barracks. I saw houses which had been destroyed, burnt, blown up. They’re my physical observations.”


He didn’t directly witness the ethnic cleansing, demonstration killings and rapes. He explained, “Now, in regard to the reports, there were a large number of reports coming into UNPROFOR in -- particularly in April of 1992 from the ECMM, from various humanitarian agencies, from journalists who were able to travel through Bosnia quite widely and successfully, and from the Presidency.”


Karadzic asked, “Do you know whether the ECMM had its people there?” The answer, “I don't know the detailed deployment of the ECMM.”


Karadzic asked him if he had any of the reports he referred to in his testimony and the witness explained, “I don't keep reports, Mr. Karadzic, and I didn't raise reports. I'm simply relating my recollection of written reports which were being passed around within UNPROFOR headquarters during my time there. I did not have a physical possession of reports, nor would I expect to have them.”


Apparently the basis of his testimony is his eighteen year old recollection of some “reports which were being passed around within UNPROFOR headquarters” some of which were written by the opposing warring faction.


Muslims Attack the JNA


Karadzic asked the witness about Muslims massacring JNA troops. He said, “As for Mladic's message regarding the evacuation, do you see it in a different light now, knowing that on the 2nd, 3rd, and 15th of May, although evacuations had been agreed, soldiers of the JNA had been trapped and killed [by the Muslims in Sarajevo and Tuzla]?”


The witness confirmed that he was aware that JNA soldiers had been massacred as they were trying to withdraw from Bosnia. He said, “Yes, I'm aware that that happened. That was part of my briefing when I arrived back from my leave. I'm aware of that. And I thought at the time it was a senseless loss of life.” But he said in his opinion “It was a demonstration of the failure of all parties in the conflict”


Karadzic voiced his dissatisfaction with that opinion. He said, “The withdrawal had been agreed, and the army did agree, but it was attacked by the other side in a bloodthirsty manner. So it's not that there were mutual violations coming from both sides. What could the army do? General MacKenzie supervised the withdrawal, and that's what was happening. Are you trying to say that the JNA did something wrong there?”


The witness gave a cop-out answer saying, “Mr. Karadzic, I was not there at the time. I've told you that.” That answer makes one wonder why he ascribed blame to the JNA in the first place.


Karadzic showed the witness a document (exhibit D332), which was an order issued by Avdo Hebib (the leader of the Patriotic League) on April 29, 1992 to attack the JNA – and then we see what happened on May 2nd, 3rd, and 15th when the JNA was attacked in Sarajevo and Tuzla.


The order said, “Hurriedly plan and begin combat operations in the whole territory of Republic of BH and co-ordinate them with the Territorial Defense staffs of regions, district and with the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.” And “prevent unannounced movements of people leaving barracks.”


After seeing the document the witness said, “It's an order for combat operations in the whole of Bosnia-Herzegovina, not necessarily JNA convoys.”


Karadzic asked the witness, “Who would be the enemy, then?” And the witness replied, “I have no idea. The drafter of this document would know that, perhaps the recipient.”


Karadzic also came to court armed with the transcript of the Bosnian Presidency session from May 6, 1992.


In the transcript, Alija Delimustafic (the BiH interior minister) says, “Avdo Hebib ordered the war to start, people to open fire, occupy the barracks. He sent the order to all centers without my knowledge. He declared war. I told him to issue a statement to observe the proper form. He never came to see me again, he doesn't speak to me.”


Izetbegovic asks, “Who did that?”


Delimustafic says, “Avdo Hebib, He declared war on the army. Four points. Signed the dispatch. Copied it and sent to all centers in the republic. Officially. Signed it and said: kill, steal, attack barracks, item 4.”


Stjepan Kljuic (Bosnian-Croat presidency member) realizes what is being said and he tells the stenographers recording the meeting, “We have finished the recording. Don't record this.” Then he tells Izetbegovic and Delimustafic “Let's not talk about that now, please. We can't deal with everything tonight.”


After reading out the transcript Karadzic asked the witness, “Do you see what the basis of it all is and how the war actually started, and who caused the war and led the war and declared the war? Do you see that from this?”


The witness replied, “If you're testing my English comprehension, I can read the document, I think, successfully, but I can't comment on the background or the accuracy of what's in there, or the likelihood of it being true.”


Because the witness disavowed all knowledge of the document, the trial chamber refused to admit it as an exhibit, but it does make clear that Avdo Hebib’s orders to the Patriotic League constituted a declaration of war against the JNA.


A complete transcript of this hearing is available at http://ictytranscripts.dyndns.org/trials/karadzic/100621IT.htm and http://www.icty.org/x/cases/karadzic/trans/en/100621IT.htm .



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