SENSE Tribunal / BIRN / Hague Tribunal– Former Serbian security officer in the Bratunac Brigade is testifying at the trial of Radovan Karadzic.
As the witness said, the fate of the citizens of Srebrenica had already been decided before the third meeting in the Fontana Hotel in Bratunac even started on 12 July 1995. Before the meeting, Vujadin Popovic and Svetozar Kosoric used more or less the same words telling Nikolic that ‘all balijas must be killed’ [balija is a derogatory name for Bosniaks] and their women and children deported. The witness later saw it happen.
Momir Nikolic is testifying at the trial of Radovan Karadzic. During the Srebrenica operation in July 1995, Nikolic was chief of security and intelligence in the VRS Bratunac Brigade. In 2003, Nikolic and the prosecution reached a plea agreement and Nikolic was sentenced to 20 years. At the request of the Trial Chamber, Nikolic is testifying viva voce about the events in the summer of 1995 which lead to the genocide in Srebrenica.
In the first part of the examination-in chief, prosecutor Nicholls showed a document sent by the Bratunac Brigade commander Slavko Ognjenovic to his subordinate units on 4 July 1994, instructing them that ‘the enemy’s life must be made unbearable and their temporary stay in the enclave impossible so that they leave the enclave en masse as soon as possible, realizing that they can’t survive there’. In Nikolic’s view, the part of the document about ‘making the enemy’s life unbearable’ is ‘not controversial’. What is questionable is Ognjenovic’s instruction about ‘creating unbearable living conditions for civilians’. This could be tied with the events in 1995 when the enclave really was ‘emptied’, Nikolic said. Distributing the document containing such orders ‘legalized disorderly conduct’ along the separation lines. This meant increased sniper activities, incursions into the enemy territory and other combat activities.
The prosecutor then brought up an order issued by the VRS Main Staff 20 days later, to ‘carry out detailed checks of convoys’ and prevent anyone from leaving the Srebrenica enclave. Commenting on the document, Nikolic said he had intelligence at the time that there wasn’t enough food in Srebrenica. There were many sick people and for some families the situation was hopeless. In a word, the people there ‘lived terrible lives’, Nikolic added.
Nikolic confirmed that the civilians moving in a column from Srebrenica towards Potocari on 11 July 1995 were shelled from the Serb-held positions at a location called ‘the cockade’, or ‘the star’. After the Serb troops entered Srebrenica, Nikolic was in charge of security at the meetings in the Fontana Hotel in Bratunac. On 11 July 1995, Mladic first met the Dutch Battalion commander, Colonel Karremans, in the hotel. That same evening, Mladic had a meeting with the representatives of the civilians from Srebrenica.
Before the third meeting in the Fontana hotel, on 12 July 1995 at 10am, Nikolic spoke to Vujadin Popovic and Svetozar Kosoric. Popovic was the security officer and Kosoric was the intelligence officer in the Drina Corps. They told Nikolic that the women and children from Potocari would be deported to the Bosniak-controlled territory and that the men of military age would be separated from the women and children. Nikolic asked Popovic and Kosoric what would happen to the men. Popovic told Nikolic that ‘all balijas must be killed’. Kosoric repeated the same words to Nikolic almost literally.
When Nikolic went to Potocari that same day, he saw the Serb army separating men from women and children. This is when Nikolic ‘realized evil was afoot’. Describing the ‘triage’, the witness said that the soldiers mistreated the men: first they took away the bags the men carried and threw them on a pile, then stripped the men of their rings, bracelets, necklaces and other personal belongings. Finally, the soldiers detained the men in nearby houses where they kicked them, hit them with rifle butts and insulted them.
As Nikolic said, he didn’t dare ‘stand up against’ what was happening before his eyes in Potocari because of his past ‘bad experience’ and the fact that he was surrounded by the soldiers from the 10th Sabotage Detachment and the 65th Protection Regiment. ‘At the time hardly anyone could control them’, Nikolic remarked, adding that if he could go back in time, he would have done things differently. He would have tried to do something and help the people who were taken from Potocari before his own eyes and later killed at various execution sites around Srebrenica.
Continuing his testimony at the trial of Radovan Karadzic, Momir Nikolic, former Serb officer with the Republika Srpska Army, VRS, says that, two days after the fall of Srebrenica, July 13, 1995, it was known that the captured Bosniak men would be “killed”, adding that it happened that way.
Nikolic, former Security Officer with the Bratunac Brigade of VRS, said that Colonel Ljubisa Beara, Security Officer of the VRS Main Headquarters, told him on that day that all the Bosniaks would be killed. He said that VRS Commander Ratko Mladic had previously indicated the existence of such an intention.
“What I know is that all men, who had been separated from women and children in Potocari, as well as those who had surrendered on the road between Bratunac and Konjevic polje, were transferred to Bratunac on July 13 and then, on the following day, to Zvornik municipality, where they were executed,” Nikolic said.
He expressed his regrets for having participated in the “horrible crime” and conveyed his apology to the victims’ families. In 2003 Nikolic admitted guilt, before The Hague Tribunal, for persecuting Bosniaks from Srebrenica. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison. He is serving his sentence in Finland.
Karadzic, former President of Republika Srpska and supreme Commander of VRS, is charged with genocide against 8.000 Bosniak men and the persecution of thousands of women and children from Srebrenica. Besides that, The Hague Prosecution charges Karadzic with the persecution of Bosniaks and Croats throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina, terror against civilians in Sarajevo and taking members of the UN’s peace mission hostage.
In 2010, The Hague Tribunal passed down a first instance verdict, sentencing Ljubisa Beara to life imprisonment for genocide in Srebrenica. Mladic is awaiting his trial before The Hague Tribunal for genocide and other crimes in Bosnia and Herzegovina to begin.
During his testimony Nikolic said that, while Bosniaks were coming from the nearby forests and surrendering to the VRS in the vicinity of Konjevic polje on July 13, 1995, Mladic indicated to him that the captives would be killed.
“Mladic spoke to Muslim prisoners. He told them not to worry. He said that everything would be OK and that they would be transferred to a desired destination. When he moved towards his car, I followed him. I asked him what would happen to the captives. He did not say anything, but he just looked at me and made a gesture with his hand,” Nikolic said, moving his hand from left to right, with his fingers extended and hand palm facing down, while showing the gesture to the judges.
Nikolic said that, while he was in Bratunac in the evening on that same day, he met Ljubisa Beara, who told him what was going to happen to the prisoners.
“Beara ordered me to go to the Zvornik Brigade Command, tell them that prisoners would come and that they should get the buildings ready for them. I think that Beara said that they would be killed,” Nikolic said.
When he returned to Bratunac at around midnight on July 13, 1995, Nikolic said that he saw thousands of Bosniak prisoners and attended a meeting at which Beara and Miroslav Deronjic, Karadzic’s commissioner for Srebrenica, “quarreled” as they could not agree whether the prisoners would be killed in Bratunac or Zvornik.
“They said openly that the prisoners would be killed. They were just not sure whether it would happen in Bratunac or Zvornik. Deronjic insisted on having received instructions from Karadzic, saying that the prisoners should be sent to Zvornik. He said that he did not want the murders to be committed in Bratunac,” Nikolic said.
In 2003 Deronjic admitted guilt, before The Hague Tribunal, for crimes against Bosniaks in Glogova village in 1992. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He died in 2007, while serving his sentence in Sweden.
During the course of his testimony Nikolic expressed his regrets for having participated in “the horrible crime” in Srebrenica.
“I feel particularly responsible, because I was a school teacher to many of the killed men and I had no way or power to help them. I wish to apologise again to all the families and victims. I am sorry for having been there and executed the orders, thus contributing to the commission of the crime. I feel sorry for not fleeing from that place, when it became clear that the crime was going to happen,” Nikolic said.
According to the International Criminal Tribunal at the Hague:
In July 1995, the Army of Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s intelligence units intercepted General Radislav Krstic ordering the killings of Srebrenica men and boys. In the intercept, Krstic stated that “Single one must not be left alive!”. Krstic’s instructions to his troops echoed the order that Radovan Karadzic gave to Miroslav Deronjic, “Miroslav, they must all be killed… All and every one you find there.” The excerpt from the Krstic intercept follows:
General Krstic: Are you working down there? [executing men and boys]
Major Obrenovic: Of course we’re working.
General Krstic: Good.
Major Obrenovic: We’ve managed to catch a few more, either by gunpoint or in mines.
General Krstic: Kill them all, God damn it!
Major Obrenovic: Everything is going according to a plan.
General Krstic: Single one must not be left alive.
Major Obrenovic: Everything is going according to a plan. Everything.
General Krstic: Way to go, chief. The Turks are probably listening to us. Let them listen, the mother-f—–s. (Turks is a derrogative name for Bosnian Muslims)