THE HAGUE - Former Bosnian Serb army chief Ratko Mladic's genocide and war crimes trial resumed yesterday with the first prosecution witness describing how Bosnia's ethnic groups lived in peace before its brutal war erupted.
'Before the war we had a great time,' said Mr Elvedin Pasic, who as a 14-year-old boy lived in the village of Hvracani in northern Bosnia.
'We were playing basketball and football, we used to do everything together. Muslim, Croats and Serbs, we were all having a great time, respecting one another,' he said.
But things began to change in the spring of 1992, when Mr Pasic first noticed a convoy of military vehicles with soldiers in the uniform of the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) giving Muslims the three-fingered Serbian salute.
Now 34, Mr Pasic is expected to 'describe the destruction and damage to residential property, attacks on villages (and) the persecution of non-Serbs', prosecutors said in a witness list before the court.
Having previously testified at other trials, Mr Pasic will recall how he was separated from other men in his family and consequently 'survived the execution of around 150 persons in November 1992 in the village of Grabovica', in northern Bosnia.
Mladic, 70, has been indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on 11 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the Balkan country's war.
The trial of the man dubbed 'the Butcher of Bosnia' was abruptly suspended on May 17, only a day after it opened in The Hague, because of prosecution irregularities.
Mladic faces charges relating to the massacre in the enclave of Srebrenica in north-eastern Bosnia, where almost 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered by Bosnian Serb troops under Mladic's command.
He also faces charges over the terrorising of the Bosnian capital Sarajevo during 44 months of shelling and sniping that killed 10,000 people.
Prosecutors also hold him responsible for taking some 200 UN peacekeepers hostage, and for allegedly ordering his troops to 'cleanse' Bosnian towns, driving out Croats, Muslims and other non-Serbs.
He was arrested in north-eastern Serbia last year after 16 years on the run, and subsequently moved to The Hague for trial by the ICTY.
Mladic has pleaded not guilty to the charges. If found guilty, he could face life in prison.
Mr Pasic will be followed on the witness stand by UN adviser David Harland, who will describe the siege of Sarajevo, where 1,000 shells landed on average each day between 1993 and 1995, with the exception of lulls during a 1994 ceasefire.
Also among the first witnesses to testify will be Mr Eelco Koster, one of the 450 or so Dutch UN peacekeepers who were guarding the 'protected' enclave at Srebrenica when it was overrun by Mladic's forces.
The trial resumed ahead of the 17th anniversary tomorrow of the massacre in eastern Bosnia. Thousands lined the streets of Sarajevo yesterday to pay tribute to the remains of 520 victims of the massacre that were carried onboard three trucks ahead of their burial tomorrow.
Last Saturday, about 2,000 Bosnian Serbs commemorated their own civilians and soldiers killed in Srebrenica during the war.
Former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic is also on trial before the ICTY, with both men accused of being the masterminds of a criminal plan to rid multiethnic Bosnia of Croats and Muslims.
Mladic's one-time mentor, former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, died in The Hague four years into his own genocide trial in 2006.
As an indicted war criminal, Mladic spent 16 years on the run until May last year, when he was found and arrested at a relative's house in Lazarevo, north-eastern Serbia, and flown to a prison in The Hague a few days later.