Peacekeeper Saw Truckload of Corpses
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ A Dutch peacekeeper whose battalion was overrun as Serb forces stormed the Bosnian Muslim enclave of Srebrenica in 1995 told a U.N. court on Thursday of the horrors that followed: mass executions, a truck filled with corpses, and roads littered with victims’ clothing.
The grim testimony came in the trial of Serb Gen. Radislav Krstic, the highest-ranking Bosnian Serb commander before the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
``It’s a smell I won’t forget,″ said the U.N. peacekeeper, Pvt. Andre Stoelinga, describing a vehicle filled with victims. ``The container of the truck was probably full of bodies ... I think they were getting rid of them.″
Around 40,000 Muslims fled to Srebrenica, a U.N.-declared ``safe haven,″ as Serb forces closed in on the enclave in northeast Bosnia during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.
In July 1995, Serbs broke through the weak U.N. defense posts and slaughtered at least 7,500 Muslim men and boys, prosecutors say. The remaining refugees escaped or were deported to Muslim-held territory.
Krstic’s indictment says he headed the Bosnian Serb army’s Drina corps, which allegedly carried out the bloodshed.
Stoelinga told the three judges that his battalion’s defense post was shelled by Serb troops, who confiscated their weapons and held them hostage for almost three days.
They were driven north of Srebrenica near the town of Bratunac, where Stoelinga saw bulldozers, excavating equipment and a half-naked corpse in the middle of the road. He said he believes the Serbs were trying to cover up the massacre.
After passing the truck _ which was overflowing with ``blue and bloated″ corpses _ Stoelinga saw neat piles of clothing and shoes laid by the roadside.
``There was a pile every meter (yard) for about 200 to 300 meters (yards),″ he said. ``I believe these were the bodies of the people who had been forced to strip.″
Another Dutch peacekeeper, Cpl. Paul Groenewegen, testified that while being detained at another Serb holding center he heard repeated gunshots for a whole day.
``There were about 20-40 shots per hour,″ he said. ``They were single shots ... I believe they were being executed.″
Prosecutors intend to prove that Krstic’s men committed wide-scale war crimes as part of a plan to rid the enclave of its Muslim population.
The commander is charged with every crime in the tribunal’s jurisdiction: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.
If found guilty of any of the charges, Krstic faces a maximum life imprisonment. He has pleaded innocent.
Up to 50 Dutch peacekeepers are expected to testify in the trial, which began March 13.
The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal was established in 1993 by the U.N. Security Council. It has sentenced 14 Serbs, Croats and Muslims to up to 45 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Prosecutors have so far failed to obtain a single genocide conviction.