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Witness Denies Lying to Court

He dismisses defence claims that he fabricated parts of his statement.
By Goran Jungvirth
A former Bosnian Serb officer giving evidence against former colleagues and superior officers at the Hague tribunal this week denied defence claims that he lied during his testimony under pressure from the prosecution.

Momir Nikolic, who came to a plea arrangement with prosecutors at the Hague tribunal in 2003, was sentenced to 20 years on appeal in 2006 after being convicted of crimes against humanity for his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre.

The witness, who was called to the stand by judges to give evidence in the trial of seven Bosnian Serb officials, continued to testify this week, giving his account of how he came to learn of Bosnian Serb plans to ethnically cleanse the eastern Bosnian town.

Ljubisa Beara, Vujadin Popovic, Ljubomir Borovcanin, Vinko Pandurevic, Drago Nikolic, Radivoj Miletic and Milan Gvero are charged with the expulsion of the Muslim population of Srebrenica and Zepa and the murder of all able-bodied men captured from Srebrenica. Beara, Borovcanin, Popovic, Nikolic and Pandurevic are accused of genocide in relation to the massacre.

Last week, defence lawyers accused Momir Nikolic, a former security and intelligence chief for the Bratunac Brigade of the Bosnian Serb Army, VRS, of lying in his testimony in order to secure the plea agreement he reached with the prosecution six years ago.

Popovic’s lawyer, Zoran Zivanovic, asked him if he had introduced certain facts into a statement given to prosecutors “to play up to the prosecution office in order to successfully conclude [his] plea agreement”.

This week, Jelena Nikolic, the lawyer of Drago Nikolic, accused Momir Nikolic of “[making] up parts of [his] statement under the prosecution’s pressure”.

She specifically referred to the part of Momir Nikolic’s testimony in which he said that while in Zvornik, he received orders from Beara, then chief of security of the VRS main staff, to “transfer the imprisoned Muslims from Bratunac to territory under the Zvornik brigade and then to execute them”.

The witness said during his appearance in court, and in a statement he gave to prosecutors, that he then transmitted these orders to Drago Nikolic, then chief of security of the Zvornik brigade.

The defence lawyer attempted to prove that the witness wasn’t in Zvornik at that particular time.

She confronted him with photographs of the so-called Standard factory – a building where the Zvornik brigade command was stationed – and then drew on the fact that he said he couldn’t remember details about the building or conversations he said he had there to argue that he was lying about having been there.

However, Momir Nikolic denied all suggestions that he had given false testimony.

He then said he wanted to take responsibility for his role in the events at Srebrenica, which he claimed was limited to helping to force the Bosniak population out of the enclave.

“I thought that I would take on a part of the responsibility… [for] what happened with the forcible transfer [of Bosniaks]… From my position [in the VRS] I helped this happen,” he said.

During his testimony, he elaborated on his involvement, admitting that he took care of the logistics for the detention of some 1,000 men in the town of Bratunac.

However, he said that he took no responsibility for killings or mistreatment of prisoners.

“I never accepted that I played any major role in the expulsion [of Bosniaks from Srebrenica], that I participated in planning and organising… that, God forbid, I killed or ill-treated someone. I didn’t do that and no one can pin this on me,” he said.

Momir Nikolic told judges that the initial Bosnian Serb plan of attack on Srebrenica, then a United Nations-designated safe haven, “was to reduce [the size of the safe haven, which covered the entire enclave, to the area immediately around the town]”.

However, finding no serious resistance, the Bosnian Serbs took it over entirely, he said.

When Judge O-Gon Kwon asked him if it would have been possible for Bosniak civilians to remain in Srebrenica at that time, Momir Nikolic said no.

He explained that even though the Bosnian Serb leadership had proclaimed that Bosniaks could stay in the area, this would have been too dangerous.

“Practically, there wasn’t any possibility that anyone could stay there. There was so much hate and so much blood by then… Practically no one could stay there,” he said.

After Momir Nikolic concluded his testimony, the prosecution called to the stand Dusan Janc, a former Slovenian police inspector, who delivered a report on the exhumation of mass graves and the identification of victims.

The trial continues.

Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR-trained reporter in Zagreb.

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