- Elvedin Pasic was 13 when his family fled the advancing Bosnian Serb Army
- Ambushed, they ran into a minefield, he says
- He never saw his father again
- Ratko Mladic, former commander of the army, wipes his eyes during testimony
The first witness in the trial of Ratko Mladic, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb army, testified Monday that the army slaughtered Bosnian Muslims from his village in 1992.
Elvedin Pasic said that he was 13 when his family, anticipating the arrival of the army, decided to split up. Though the family members had signed a truce with their Serbian neighbors, they feared that the village's men and boys would be killed anyway, he said.
So, Pasic and his father fled with about 200 other villagers, including the village imam, he said.
But a combined force of Bosnian Serb army soldiers and Serbian civilians ambushed them, he said.
"It was around midnight," he said. "Suddenly we stopped. And everyone said, 'Hush-hush. We are very close to the Serbs. Don't move, don't make any sounds.' That's when the bullets started firing."
Fleeing the gunfire, the group ran straight into a minefield, where one of the men's legs was blown off, Pasic said. "He was crying and saying, 'Do something, kill me.' My dad grabbed me and said, 'Don't look.' "
After the villagers surrendered, a Bosnian Serb soldier separated the youngest children and a handful of women from the men, said Pasic, who was with his father at the time.
"They ordered all the women and children to get up; I didn't want to get up. I said, 'I don't want to get up.' I didn't want to leave him. 'Get up,' he whispered to me. My uncle said, 'Get up; you will survive.' "
He said his father denied to the Serbs that any of his relatives were among the group in order to save him.
The women and children from the group were then led through a gantlet of Serbian civilians who beat them with sticks, after which the prisoners were put on a bus and taken to the village Grabovica, Pasic said.
During Pasic's testimony, Mladic wiped his eyes.
Mladic is accused of masterminding the army campaign to "cleanse" Bosnia of Croats and Bosnian Muslims. Those atrocities included the Srebrenica massacre in which 8,000 people were executed and the siege of Sarajevo, which lasted more than three years and killed 10,000.
Pasic is the first of hundreds of witnesses expected to testify against Mladic, who is 70.
Pasic, now 34, said he was reunited with his mother but he never saw his father again.
At the end of his testimony, he said that of the more than 100 men he left behind, "There is no doubt in my mind, they were all killed."
Mladic's trial began in May, but was suspended after a single day over the prosecution's failure to disclose evidence against Mladic.
Mladic is accused of orchestrating a campaign of ethnic cleansing during the bloody civil war that ripped apart Yugoslavia. He has been indicted on 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the 1992-95 war.
His trial is taking place in The Hague at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, a court established to try those responsible for atrocities during the war.
In May, prosecutor Dermot Groome laid out details of the case against Mladic, saying that ethnic cleansing was not a byproduct of the war, but a specific aim of the Bosnian Serb leadership.
He said he would show that Mladic was directly responsible for atrocities carried out by his forces, which were fighting for control of land in ethnically mixed Bosnia.
Mladic eluded authorities for nearly 16 years until his capture in May 2011, when police burst into the garden of a small house in northern Serbia.
Though he was carrying two handguns, he surrendered without a fight and was extradited to the Netherlands.
In the three decades leading up to the violent splintering of Yugoslavia, Mladic rose rapidly through the ranks of the Yugoslav army. In 1991, he served as a front-line commander spearheading Serb forces in a yearlong war with Croatia.
By the time he took to Bosnia's battlefields, he had become a hero to many Serbs, seen as a defender of their dwindling fortunes.
In May 1992, Bosnia's Serbian political leaders picked him to lead the assault on their Muslim enemies who clamored for independence.
Mladic wasted no time galvanizing his heavily armed forces in a siege of Sarajevo, cutting the city off from the outside world. Serb forces pounded the city every day from higher ground positions, trapping Sarajevo's ill-prepared residents in the valley below.
As the war ended in the fall of 1995, Mladic went on the run.
Shortly after Mladic was sent to The Hague last year, authorities nabbed former Croatian Serb rebel leader Goran Hadzic. He was the last Yugoslav war crimes suspect at large.
Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic was arrested in 2008. And Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic was arrested in 2001 but died before his trial was completed.