The trial of Momcilo Perisic, former chief of the VJ General Staff, started today with prosecution’s opening statement. Perisic is charged with providing personnel, material and logistic support to the VRS and the SVK forces in the shelling of Sarajevo, the massacre in Srebrenica and rocket attacks on Zagreb

Mark Harmon, heading the prosecution team in the Perisic caseMark Harmon, heading the prosecution team in the Perisic case

‘The war which had lain dormant on this continent for half a century was reawakened again in the nineties and its scourge was visited upon the peoples of Bosnia and Croatia. New benchmarks of human depravity were added to history’s long list of horrors: Srebrenica, the siege of Sarajevo, ethnic cleansing”.

Senior trial attorney for the prosecution Mark Harmon said this at the start of the trial of Momcilo Perisic, former chief of the VJ General Staff. The indictment and its thirteen counts charge Perisic on the basis of personal and command responsibility with murder, inhumane acts, attacks against civilians, persecution and extermination, qualified as crimes against humanity and violations of laws and customs of war.

The indictment against Perisic stems from the shelling campaign in Sarajevo that lasted several years, the massacre of more than 7,000 and forcible transfer of more then 25000 Bosnian Muslims from the Srebrenica enclave in July 1995, and the rocket attacks on Zagreb in May 1995. As alleged in the indictment, Perisic was aware of the crimes that were committed or were about to be committed. He failed in his duty to prevent them and to punish the culprits.

[IMAGE]3673[/IMAGE]As the chief of the General Staff, Perisic had the authority and was responsible for the functioning of the army and the exercise of command over it. He received reports about the crimes committed by his subordinates. Perisic furthermore decided on the organization and establishment of units, and set up the 30th and 40th Personnel Centers to ‘cover up the fact that the 30th Personnel Center was used to transfer officers to the VRS and similarly, the 40th Personnel to send officers to the SVK forces’, the prosecutor alleged.

Apart from providing the officers, Perisic was responsible for providing material and logistic support to the VRS and the SVK. According to a document shown today, as the JNA ‘pretended to withdraw from BH’, as the prosecutor put it, it left behind 70,000 pieces of weapons and ammunition with FRY markings. The empty shells were found in Srebrenica. As the prosecutor alleged, so many arms and so much ammunition were supplied to Bosnia that Perisic himself noted at one point that it ‘threatened the combat readiness of the FRY’.

Prosecutor Harmon indicated the prosecution would ‘unveil in this case the very complex attempts at deception’ on the part of Slobodan Milosevic; he wanted to convince the international community and the world that Serbia was not taking part in the war in BH and Croatia. The prosecution will also try to show Perisic’s role in the effort to established ‘a single state for all Serbs’, Harmon went on to say. Perisic was Milosevic’s close associate.

Among the documents the prosecution intends to use to prove Perisic’s responsibility are the decisions and minutes from the meetings of the Supreme Defense Council. The documents are confidential; during the opening statement today, the prosecutor repeatedly requested that the court go into closed session.

The presiding judge in the Trial Chamber hearing the Momcilo Perisic case is South African judge Bakone Moloto. Other members are two ad-litem judges, Pedro David from Argentina and Michele Picard from France.

Before the opening statement started, there was a brief pre-trial conference. The prosecution has been allotted 355 hours for the examination-in chief of 150 witnesses. The accused Perisic will address the Trial Chamber tomorrow with a statement he will deliver without making the solemn declaration.