In the cross-examination of the Tribunal’s first penitent witness, Ratko Mladic’s defense counsel tried to contest parts of Erdemovic’s testimony by using the statements made by his fellow fighters and accomplices in the crime at the Branjevo farm, Franc Kos and Aleksandar Cvetkovic. They gave the statements to the OTP investigators after their arrests in Croatia and Israel, respectively

Miodrag Stojanovic, defence attorney of Ratko MladicMiodrag Stojanovic, defence attorney of Ratko Mladic

Drazen Erdemovic, former member of the 10th Detachment of the Republika Srpska Army, the first person accused before the Tribunal to plead guilty to the crimes he was charged with, concluded today his evidence at the trial of Ratko Mladic. This was the tenth time he testified, and he probably won’t have to do it again in The Hague.

In May 1996, Erdemovic pleaded guilty to the execution of Bosniaks on 16 July 1995 at the Branjevo farm near Zvornik. The Bosniaks were captured after the fall of Srebrenica. Erdemovic estimated that about 1,000 or 1,200 detainees were executed that day.

In the cross-examination, Ratko Mladic’s defense tried to contest parts of Erdemovic’s testimony by invoking the statements made by Erdemovic’s former fellow fighters and accomplices in the Branjevo crime, Franc Kos and Aleksandar Cvetkovic. They spoke with the OTP investigators after their arrest in Croatia and Israel, respectively.

Mladic’s defense counsel Miodrag Stojanovic first confronted Erdemovic with a statement given by Franc Kos in May 2010, while he was in custody in Osijek. In a long statement, extending on over 150 pages, Kos claimed that on 16 July 1995 Erdemovic volunteered to participate in the task ordered by the detachment commander Milorad Pelemis. Erdemovic denied the allegation, claiming that Brano Gojkovic had read out his name and the names of six other detachment members who were picked to carry out the task. Pelemis appointed Gojkovic the group leader.

Defense counsel Stojanovic noted that in his interview with the OTP investigators Kos estimated that ‘650 to 700 persons’ had been killed that day at Branjevo. The figure is significantly lower that Erdemovic’s assessment of 1,000 to 1,200 executed victims. Erdemovic said he couldn’t say whose estimate was correct, stressing once again, ‘I don’t know and don’t want to know how many people were killed, not because of those people…but because of my conscience’.

In his previous statements and testimony before court, Erdemovic said that at one point, the group leader Brana Gojkovic and one of the group members Aleksandar Cvetkovic started firing at the detainees from a machine gun to ‘speed up the process’. The OTP investigators confronted Cvetkovic with the allegation. Cvetkovic is currently awaiting extradition to Bosnia and Herzegovina in an Israeli prison. According to the statement quoted by the defense counsel, Cvetkovic said Erdemovic’s allegations were ‘nonsense’.

Kos’s and Cvetkovic’s statements that contest parts of Erdemovic’s testimony were admitted into evidence as defense exhibits. The judges noted those were ‘not witness statements but interviews with suspects’. They also took note of the prosecutor’s remark that those ‘are not the most reliable documents in the world’ since it is not really in the interest of Kos and Cvetkovic, and indeed of all the other members of the 10th Sabotage Detachment who have been arrested in the meantime, to corroborate the evidence of the Tribunal’s first penitent witness. It was Erdemovic’s evidence that has put them all behind bars.

Finally, defense counsel Stojanovic had Erdemovic confirm that he hadn’t participated in the execution at Branjevo with a genocidal intent to ‘annihilate the entire Bosniak nation’. Erdemovic also confirmed that he wasn’t able to identify the VRS lieutenant colonel who had brought the execution squad to Branjevo and that he heard rumors in Bijeljina that their commander, Milorad Pelemis, had been ‘promised money and gold’ for the ‘services’ his unit had provided.

Ratko Mladic’s trial continues tomorrow with the evidence of a new witness.