Ratko Mladic trial: Witness recalls Bosnia killings

Mr Pasic described how family members were crying after finding the burned body of an old man from the village

The first witness has taken the stand in the war crimes trial of former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic.

Elvedin Pasic held back tears as he described fleeing his village under fire and returning to find elderly neighbours burned in their homes.

He told the international tribunal at The Hague how Bosnia's ethnic groups lived in peaceful coexistence until the outbreak of war in the 1990s.

Gen Mladic is charged with 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The 70-year-old ex-army chief denies the charges, which date back to the 1992-95 Bosnian War.

He was on the run for 16 years before his arrest and is one of the last key figures wanted for war crimes during the Bosnian War.

The trial was halted in May because of "irregularities" by the prosecution.

Some of the relatives of victims and survivors of the war have expressed concern that if the trial takes too long, Gen Mladic, who has suffered from heart problems, will die before a verdict is reached.

'I was afraid'

Mr Pasic, 34, is a Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) from Hvracani in northern Bosnia. He was a teenager during the war.

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Elvedin Pasic was a schoolboy at the time. But he spoke as though it were yesterday. He made valiant efforts to suppress his tears: conscious that the man accused of being responsible for his suffering was sitting just metres away”

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He told the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia how he was captured by Bosnian Serb soldiers in November 1992, and that after being held in a makeshift detention centre he survived a massacre that left around 150 people dead in the Bosnian village of Grabovica.

Mr Pasic said his life had been saved because his father and uncle insisted he go with the women and children.

"At first I didn't want to go, but my dad said 'Get up'. My uncle insisted, and he said 'Get up, you'll survive'. I was the last boy from our group," he told the court.

He had a brief chance to say a final goodbye to his father - who had told soldiers he had no family - but he did not go to see him, afraid he would give him away.

"I was afraid. I didn't go, I wish I went, I wish I went...," said Mr Pasic, breaking down in tears.

The group of women and children were forced on to a bus and the men were never seen again.

The BBC's Anna Holligan at the court in The Hague says the witness did not look at Gen Mladic once while giving his testimony.

'Don't let her go'

Mr Pasic told the court that before the war, "we had a great time".

"We were playing basketball and football, we used to do everything together. Muslim, Croats and Serbs, we were all having a great time, respecting each other."

Things began to change in the spring of 1992, he said, when as a 14-year-old boy he first noticed a convoy of soldiers in the uniform of the Yugoslav national army giving Muslims the three-fingered Serbian salute.

Mr Pasic went on to describe how his family were forced to flee Hvracani under heavy fire as the village was overrun.

He told the court that his neighbour, who was pregnant, asked him to carry her daughter to safety.

"I remember she said, 'can you please carry her - if you have to rip her arm out, just don't let her go'."

When Mr Pasic returned to the village with his mother a few months later, he said the stench of burnt and rotting bodies was unbearable and found his dog shot in the head.

Later this week, the court is due to hear from the retired British general, Sir Richard Dannatt, who served as deputy commander of Nato's force in Bosnia.

However, the Mladic defence team has called for his expert evidence to be thrown out, our correspondent reports.

There will also be an anonymous witness who survived the 1995 Srebrenica massacre. He is expected to tell the court how he saw prisoners being lined up in groups of 10 and executed.

Around 8,000 Bosniak men and boys from Srebrenica were killed after the town was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces in July of that year - in what was the worst atrocity in Europe since the end of World War II.

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