Mladic's Scything Gesture Meant "Execution" – Witness
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||7 June 2013|
|Citation / Document Symbol||TRI Issue 793|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Mladic's Scything Gesture Meant "Execution" – Witness, 7 June 2013, TRI Issue 793, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/51b6e6684.html [accessed 26 July 2016]|
A former officer in the Bosnian Serb army told the Hague tribunal this week how he understood his superior Ratko Mladic was intent on having Bosniak captives at Srebrenica killed.
Momir Nikolic was assistant chief of security and intelligence in the Bratunac Brigade of the Bosnian Serb army VRS when the Srebrenica enclave was captured in 1995. He appeared in the Mladic trial this week as a prosecution witness.
The Bratunac Brigade was instrumental in the execution of the crimes of which Mladic, as commander of the VRS, stands accused.
Mladic is charged with responsibility for crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer which "contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory", which includes the area around the United Nations safe area of Srebrenica.
The indictment says that after the VRS seized control of Srebrenica, over 7,000 Bosniak men and boys were massacred.
Nikolic was himself charged with crimes at Srebrenica, and pleaded guilty to crimes against humanity in 2003. In 2006, he was given a 20-year sentence, which he is serving in Finland.
During his testimony this week, Nikolic said he hoped it was his "last appearance before the Hague tribunal", indicating that as part of his plea agreement he had already been asked to testify for the prosecution in half-a-dozen trials.
He confirmed that the statement he made in his plea agreement about crimes in Srebrenica was accurate, and added some additional details about the relationship between his brigade and the army chief.
The witness told the court that a year before the events in question, in July 1994, Mladic had already "said that the war [against the Muslims] has been won, but the battle is far from over".
According to Nikolic, Mladic told the Bratunac Brigade command that the battle could only be won if "the lives of Muslims were disturbed so much that they would be made to leave the enclaves massively and organisedly, understanding that there was no chance for their survival".
Nikolic told the chamber that on July 11 and 12, 1995,he was present at meetings which the accused had with representatives of UN peacekeepers and Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) refugees from Srebrenica.
He said that at the outset of one such meeting, he spoke to his "colleague" Vujadin Popovic,, who was the chief of security and intelligence for the Drina Corps, which included the Bratunac Brigade.
"Popovic basically said that the women and children would be transferred to Muslim territory as soon as it would be practicable. I then asked him what would happen with the men. He looked at me and said - as if he couldn't care less - that all of them should be killed," the witness said.
Nikolic said the discussion then turned to "Popovic's monologue about places where the execution could possibly be carried out".
The following day, Nikolic said, he was tasked with providing security as Mladic went through Konjevic Polje, where a large number of prisoners were being held.
"In Konjevic Polje, General Mladic decided that he should speak to a group of prisoners. He came up to them and spoke, saying that they had no reason to worry, that they would be safe and would be transferred where they want to go," the witness said.
After Mladic left, escorted by the witness, Nikolic asked him whether what he had said "would be what would really happen to the prisoners".
"Mladic looked at me and just smirked, and made a hand gesture around his hip, showing a line from left to right," Nikolic said, adding that he understood this gesture to mean that "the prisoners would be executed".
"That evening, I was told by Ljubisa Beara, the chief of security from the VRS General Staff, to call and inform Drago Nikolic, my colleague from the Zvornik brigade whose zone of responsibility was just north of ours, that the prisoners would be transferred into their zone of responsibility and executed there," he said.
The witness added that "the local authorities of the [Serb Democratic Party] were opposed to people being executed in their area, so there was an argument between the General Staff and the local authorities".
"I have no idea why this would be the case," Nikolic added.
"I feel horrible. I was only following orders, but I took part in a horrible crime, and I once again have to say how sincerely I apologise to the victims and their families," he concluded.
During the cross-examination, Nenad Petrusic, a member of Mladic's defence team, asked Nikolic whether he had actually seen who committed the crimes, or whether he just heard "talk about executions".
Petrusic also asked him whether it was possible it was not the VRS but the Bosnian Serb police, known as MUP RS, that committed these crimes.
"I cannot deny that the MUP RS members committed crimes," Nikolic said, "but to be honest, these were simply different structures taking part in the same strategy, the same operation and the same goal. It was what we call 'joint activity'."
He added, "The police did not carry out any steps which were not coordinated with the leadership of the operation, which was clearly in VRS's hands."
Petrusic then asked the witness to describe Mladic's hand gesture again, which he did, adding that it looked as though the defendant was "mowing grass with a scythe".
The lawyer pointed out that the witness had never described the meeting where this happened in statements he had given to the prosecution, and that in his plea agreement neither the meeting nor Mladic's gesture were mentioned.
"I can't remember at which of the numerous meetings with the prosecution I mentioned that hand movement," Nikolic replied. "I can't remember why it's not included in the plea agreement, which, however, is not the only drawback of the plea agreement. It's rather badly written. But there was no chance of correcting it afterwards."
At this point, prosecutor Nichols reminded the witness that he had mentioned the gesture in May 2003 during a conversation with prosecutors, and asked him whether he remembered this.
"Of course, now I do, yes, I remember that I described it to the prosecution ten years ago," Nikolic said, concluding his testimony.
The trial continues next week.