In his reply to Mladic’s defense counsel, former commander of the 2nd Battalion in the VRS Zvornik Brigade Srecko Acimovic said that although there was every indication that the detainees would be executed he had hoped it wouldn’t happen ‘because it defied human dignity and all principles of humanity’

Srecko Acimovic, witness at the Ratko Mladic trialSrecko Acimovic, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial

In his testimony at the trial of Ratko Mladic, Srecko Acimovic, former commander of the 2nd Battalion in the VRS Zvornik Brigade said that in July 1995 he refused to obey the order to provide a platoon for the execution of Bosniaks captured after the fall of Srebrenica. The Bosniaks were detained in the school in the village of Rocevic near Zvornik.

Acimovic said he didn’t remember who had sent him the order in an encrypted cable; he did know that Drago Nikolic and Vujadin Popovic, the security chiefs in the Zvornik Brigade and the Drina Corps respectively, pressured him into completing the task. Nikolic told Acimovic that the order had come from ‘above’. This led Acimovic to conclude that the Main Staff was behind the order. The Main Staff was under the command of the accused Mladic.

As he answered the questions posed by Mladic’s defense counsel Branko Lukic, the witness said that Popovic was visibly ‘edgy’ and in a ‘hurry’ to secure the vehicles to transport the detainees. Popovic asked Acimovic to get in touch with the drivers Milivoje Lazarevic, Radivoj Jekic and Djoko Nikolic and to order them to come to Rocevic.

Acimovic contends that he had ‘sabotaged’ Popovic’s order too. The witness contacted the drivers but ‘warned them’ that Popovic wanted them to transport the prisoners. The first two drivers didn’t show up. Djoko Nikolic, who was ‘probably too scared to defy the order’, arrived eventually in the school yard in Rocevic with his vehicle.

Although there was every indication that the detainees would be executed, Acimovic said he had hoped until the very end that it wouldn’t happen. In Acimovic’s view, it ‘defied all human dignity and all principles of humanity’. No one asked Acimovic why he ‘sabotaged’ Popovic’s order to find drivers to transport the detainees if he had really believed that nothing would happen to them.

In the cross-examination, the defense noted that in his statements to the OTP investigators Acimovic didn’t mention his meeting with Vujadin Popovic in front of the school in Rocevic. Acimovic first spoke about it at the trial of the Srebrenica Seven. In 2001 and 2002 the OTP investigators interviewed Acimovic as a suspect. Acimovic replied that in his first interviews with the investigators in The Hague, six or seven years after the events in Srebrenica, it was difficult for him to remember everything.

After Acimovic completed his evidence, the prosecution called a witness who testified under the pseudonym RM 279 and with image and voice distortion to protect his identity. The witness was an operator in the BH Army 2nd Corps and his statement was tendered into evidence under seal. In his statement, the witness explained the procedure involved in the interception and surveillance of the VRS communications during the Srebrenica operation. The witness also explained how the transcripts of the intercepted conversations were handed over to the Tribunal’s OTP.

Intercepted conversations were recorded on audio tapes and then transcribed in notebooks. They were then sent as reports to the Intelligence Department of the BH Army 2nd Corps. According to an entry from a notebook kept by a BH Army operator, by the evening of 13 July 1995 the VRS captured about ‘6,000 men fit for military service’. When one of the two unidentified men carrying the conversation mentioned the figure, the other, obviously aware that their conversation could be intercepted, said ‘be quiet, don’t say that again!’

Protected witness RM-279 will returns to court on Thursday when the defense will complete his cross-examination. In the meantime the Trial Chamber will hear the evidence of yet another prosecution witness.