Wednesday, July 12, 1995, was the crucial day in the harrowing series of events that led to the killing of 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys from the United Nations "safe area" of Srebrenica. At his forthcoming trial in The Hague, Ratko Mladic will be confronted with evidence showing that he ordered the executions of his male prisoners after insisting (see video above) that no harm would come to any of the refugees. Shamefully for the international community, Dutch peacekeeping forces cooperated in the expulsion of the Srebrenica Muslims and the separation of the men from the women.
Evidence collected by the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal shows that Mladic put the plan in motion by requisitioning 50 buses for the transportation of refugees who had taken refuge at the Dutch base at Potocari, two miles north of Srebrenica. During a meeting with Dutch officers at the Hotel Fontana in Bratunac at 11:00, he announced for the first time that the men would be separated from the women and children and "screened" for alleged war criminals. You can see video of that meeting here and a Bosnian Serb report on the meeting here. In an intercepted phone call recorded at 12:50, he said he planned to evacuate all the Muslim refugees -- "those who want to go and those who don't want to."
Mladic spent the entire day in the Srebrenica-Potocari-Bratunac area, as you can see from the map below. Following the pattern established the day before, he was trailed by Bosnian Serb television crews, who recorded his activities for propaganda purposes. In addition to the shots above of Mladic saying goodbye to the refugees as they boarded the buses, the video crews filmed his bodyguards distributing candy to Muslim children.
Click on icons for details. View larger map
Troops under Mladic's command directed the male refugees to a nearby two-story house, known as the White House, a few hundred yards from the Dutch compound (identified by the lower red icon). It was here that the first "opportunistic" killings took place within earshot of the Dutch soldiers nearby. Mladic refused a request by a United Nations military observer, Maj. Joseph Kingori, to visit the White House.
According to Srebrenica survivor Hurem Suljic, Mladic promised the men detained in the White House that they would be exchanged for Serb soldiers captured by Muslims. Suljic says that he saw Mladic a second time as he and other men boarded buses in the early evening that took them to a temporary detention center in Bratunac, three miles to the north.
According to the diary of a Bosnian Serb officer, Mladic held a meeting with his commanders in Bratunac at 22:00. He spent much of this meeting procuring fuel and buses for the transportation of Muslim prisoners and refugees. The yellow icon indicates an event for which there is corroborating documentary evidence; events confirmed by video evidence are marked by red icons.
I will describe the events of July 13 in a future post. Click here for other posts in this series.
Ratko Mladic has been described as "one of those lethal combinations that history thrusts up occasionally-a charismatic murderer." What drove the Bosnian Serb military commander to order Europe's deadliest massacre since World War II? Could it have been prevented? Michael Dobbs, a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum fellow, investigates.