Momir Nikolic continues his evidence at the trial of Zdravko Tolimir. When the accused suggested in the cross-examination that the people of Srebrenica ‘were free to choose whether they wanted to stay or to leave the zone’, Nikolic said that the people of Srebrenica were transferred by force. The zone was under the nominal protection of the UN but fell to the Bosnian Serb troops

Momir Nikolic, witness at the Zdravko Tolimir trialMomir Nikolic, witness at the Zdravko Tolimir trial

‘I don’t believe that anyone really wants to leave everything they have from one day to the next’, Momir Nikolic said. Based on what he saw in Potocari in July 1995, when he was the security officer in the VRS Bratunac Brigade, Nikolic concluded that the ‘people of Srebrenica were free to choose their gate only in theory’. In practice, they had no choice, Nikolic says. In light of the ‘hatred, clashes, the killings that had already happened, and the thirst for revenge... for all intents and purposes, they could not have stayed and survived’, Nikolic insisted.

According to Tolimir, this answer contained Nikolic’s ‘personal view’ which was different from ‘actual events’. In July 1995, as Mladic’s assistant for security and intelligence, General Tolimir was Nikolic’s superior.

Tolimir tried to prove his claim that the people left Srebrenica voluntarily by bringing up various documents like the UNHCR report from July 1995. The document says that 70 to 80 percent of the refugees ‘expressed their desire to leave Srebrenica’. According to Tolimir, the testimony of witnesses at previous Srebrenica trials also serves to underpin that claim. Those witnesses described how the refugees in Potocari jostled each other in their haste to get on the buses and leave the area as soon as possible.

Nikolic however stuck to his assessment repeating that the evacuation was the result of necessity. The population of Srebrenica was forced to agree to it although ’95 percent of them didn’t want to leave the enclave’.

In the two days of the cross-examination, the witness disagreed with many of Tolimir’s suggestions. General Tolimir nevertheless ended by thanking Captain Nikolic for his answers. Tolimir apologized to Nikolic for having possibly contributed to ‘something that may have bothered’ Nikolic, blessed him and wished him a pleasant trip and to return home soon.

Nikolic in turn thanked the general for his ‘fair examination and respect’ adding that he too had a great deal of respect for Tolimir as an officer and a general.

In a brief re-examination, Nikolic repeated that the objective of the VRS operation in Srebrenica was to ‘cleanse’ the enclave ‘of Muslims’, by ‘forcing them to leave’. Nikolic, who pleaded guilty to crimes in Srebrenica, is currently serving his 20-year sentence in Finland.

Zdravko Tolimir’s trial continues tomorrow with the evidence of another prosecution witness.