At the end of his closing argument, the prosecutor called for a life sentence for the former chief of the VJ General Staff Momcilo Perisic. Perisic was on trial for aiding and abetting crimes perpetrated by the VJ soldiers serving in the VRS and the SVK in Sarajevo, Srebrenica and Zagreb. According to the prosecution, Perisic failed to prevent crimes or punish perpetrators

Momcilo Perisic in the courtroomMomcilo Perisic in the courtroom

‘General Perisic never fired a bullet, never killed anybody or expelled anyone from their house. General Perisic nevertheless is charged with aiding and abetting the persons who did such things, who killed and forcibly transferred people and conducted sniper and shelling campaigns’, prosecutor Mark Harmon said as he asked the Trial Chamber to sentence the former chief of the VJ General Staff to life in prison.

The worst crimes, both in terms of gravity and scale, in Sarajevo, Srebrenica and Zagreb were committed while Perisic headed the VJ, the prosecutor recalled. The crimes were committed by the VJ soldiers who had been transferred to the VRS and the SVK through the 30th and 40th Personnel Centers of the VJ General Staff. Perisic’s command position, his ability to issue and implement orders, to discipline those who committed crimes and to promote and discharge soldiers showed that he had effective control, the prosecutor argued.

The prosecutor quoted from a number of judgments of the Belgrade Military Court which established that VRS officers such as Vidoje Blagojevic, Dragomir Milosevic and Ratko Mladic were entitled to receive from the Yugoslav Army compensation for unused annual leave, injury compensation and family separation allowance, and were also entitled to receive salary arrears, since they were still ‘professional military officers of the VJ’ and were on its payroll.

The prosecutor quoted from the minutes of the Supreme Defense Council meetings, where its members discussed the promotion of VJ officers serving in the VRS and the verification of their ranks. The contents of the minutes of the Supreme Defense Council meetings are discussed in public before the Tribunal for the first time after they were unsealed last week.

In an effort to prove the existence of a parallel chain of command, the prosecutor quoted from an intercepted conversation between Slobodan Milosevic and Perisic. In the conversation, Milosevic ordered Perisic to contact Mile Mrksic, commander of the SVK Main Staff. Milosevic said that Mrksic ‘shouldn’t receive orders from Milan Martic’. Perisic replied saying that ‘for quite some time now Mrksic has not been receiving orders from that address’, i.e., from the RSK president. This, in the prosecutor’s view, shows that Perisic exerted control over the VJ personnel serving in the Serbian Army of Krajina.

At the beginning the hearing, prosecutor April Carter spoke about the direct involvement of the VJ units in Operation "Pancir", a code name for an attack on Mount Zuc near Sarajevo, launched in December 1993. The VRS troops participated in the attack together with the Guards Brigade, the 72nd Airborne Brigade, and the 63rd Parachute Brigade of the VJ. The prosecution alleges that the operation was conceived by generals Perisic and Mladic and the objective was to take the hills dominating Sarajevo and establish better control over it. Thus, according to the prosecution, Perisic contributed to the ‘campaign of continuous shelling of Sarajevo.’

At the beginning of the defense closing argument, Perisic’s defense lawyer Guy Smith noted that the prosecution had the burden of proving the responsibility of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. Smith added that many documents admitted into evidence could be interpreted in various ways; some of the language in those documents ‘could be seductive’.

The evidence clearly showed that the VRS received assistance not only from the VJ but from other sources too, the defense counsel said. ‘Perisic didn’t have control’ over those other sources – such as the ministries of the interior and defense. Guy-Smith argued that the Trial Chamber was asked to speculate; he hoped that the judges ‘surely will not do it’.

Perisic’s defense lawyer also stressed he disagreed with the prosecutor’s claim that ‘Perisic should be held responsible just because he knew some things’. There is no causal connection between those two facts, just as there is no cause and effect between ‘winding up an alarm clock and dawn’, Guy Smith pointed. The closing argument continues tomorrow.