In his evidence at Ratko Mladic’s trial, Dutch general Cornelis Nicolai said that he and other UNPROFOR commanders wrongly concluded in July 1995 that the VRS attack on Srebrenica would stop after they took the southern part of the enclave. The UNPROFOR commanders were reluctant to call in close air support because they feared how the Serb side would react

Cornelis Nicolai, witness at the Ratko Mladic trialCornelis Nicolai, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial

Dutch general Cornelis Nicolai, former UNPROFOR chief of the staff in BH, gave evidence at the trial of Ratko Mladic today. Nicolai admitted that he and other UNPROFOR commanders spent several days in early July 1995 trying to figure out the objective of the Serb attack on Srebrenica.

At the time, various UNPROFOR commanders, including the Dutch Battalion commander Thom Karremans, estimated that the VRS’s objective might be to occupy the southern part of the enclave in order to disrupt the supply lines, or to take over the entire enclave in order to be able to redeploy its troops from the enclave to the other front lines.

‘For a long time we thought that the VRS would stop after taking the southern part of the enclave. However, when I look back at what happened I know that we were wrong’, Nicolai said. Nicolai noted that on 9 July 1995, the UNPROFOR command still refrained from calling in close air support as it feared the Serb forces’ response.

Nicolai explained that the VRS reacted violently when close air support was called in earlier, on 24 and 25 May 1995. The VRS heavily shelled all the enclaves. In one of the artillery attacks on Tuzla on 25 May 1995, about 80 civilians were killed and around 200 were wounded.

‘Colonel Karremans was worried that the air strikes might cause a similar reaction of the VRS. The VRS would use all its available assets to attack the enclave, with terrible repercussions for the civilians, and possibly even for the military forces in the enclave’, Nicolai explained.

From 8 to 12 July 1995, Nicolai talked several times to generals Gvero and Tolimir from the VRS Main Staff. While Nicolai insisted that the Serb army should stop the attacks, Gvero and Tolimir ‘constantly and erroneously’ denied that the VRS was involved in an offensive. When the air strikes were finally launched against the VRS positions around Srebrenica, General Gvero threatened Nicolai, saying that Nicolai would ‘personally be responsible for the fate of everyone in Srebrenica’, ‘if he doesn’t order the planes back to their bases’.

As the hearing today drew to a close, Mladic’s defense began cross-examining the Dutch general. The trial continues tomorrow morning.