In his first appearance before the Tribunal, Milorad Pelemis, commander of the 10th Sabotage Detachment, tried hard to discredit Drazen Erdemovic. On 16 July 1995, members of Pelemis’s unit executed about 1,000 captured Bosniaks at the Branjevo farm. Erdemovic pleaded guilty to his involvement in the crime

Milorad Pelemis, defence witness at Rako Mladic trialMilorad Pelemis, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial

As the hearing at Ratko Mladic’s trial drew to a close, commander of the VRS 10th Sabotage Detachment Milorad Pelemis began his evidence. When Drazen Erdemovic pleaded guilty to the Srebrenica crimes, he said that about 1,000 Bosniaks captured after the fall of Srebrenica were summarily executed on 16 July 1995 at the Branjevo farm near Zvornik.

This is Milorad Pelemis’s first appearance as a witness in The Hague. In his statement to Mladic’s defense, Pelemis states that he participated in the Srebrenica operation up until 12 July 1995 when he was injured in an accident involving an armored personnel carrier. He was taken to hospital and did not learn until later that members of his unit had taken part in the killing of Muslims at the Branjevo farm. Pelemis claimed that ‘no one in the chain of command of the 10th Sabotage Detachment, including myself, my superior Petar Salapura, all the way up to Mladic, exercised command over the group that executed people in Branjevo".

In the examination-in-chief, Pelemis challenged the evidence of the Tribunal’s first ‘penitent’ Drazen Erdemovic, who was a member of the 10th Sabotage Detachment, and tried to discredit him. In 1996, Erdemovic pleaded guilty for his involvement in the killing of Bosniaks at the Branjevo farm. He testified at all of the Srebrenica trials, and he always claimed that on 11 July 1995 in the center of Srebrenica Pelemis ordered one of the unit members to kill a Muslim as he passed him by. The soldier slit the Muslim’s throat.

Pelemis claimed that Erdemovic couldn’t have been in the center of Srebrenica where the controversial incident had allegedly taken place. Erdemovic was deployed at least two and a half kilometers away from the location, Pelemis said. Also, according to Pelemis, in March 1995, Erdemovic started his transformation from an exemplary soldier into a problematic person. Erdemovic took to drinking and crime. Pelemis was forced to intervene several times. Erdemovic threatened that he would take his revenge on Pelemis. That was the reason why in his testimony Erdemovic incriminated him for the murder in Srebrenica, Pelemis explained.

At the beginning of the cross-examination, the prosecutor noted that Erdemovic spoke about those events in Srebrenica almost 20 years ago, and Pelemis has never before contested the statement. Asked if he, like Erdemovic, had given a statement about the events to the Belgrade police in 1996, Pelemis replied that he was told there was no need for him to do it. Pelemis presented documents showing that from 12 July 1995 on, he was absent from his unit, and the others confirmed that he hadn’t issued the order for the execution in Branjevo, the police told him.

The prosecutor first asked the judges to caution the witness that he did not have to answer any potentially incriminating questions. Then he played a recording showing a man lying face down in a pool of blood, dead, in the center of Srebrenica. The prosecutor alleged that the man had been killed on Pelemis’s orders. Confronted with the footage Pelemis first said that he thought he saw a gunshot wound in the man’s back, but then he agreed that it wasn’t possible to tell where the wound was located because of the victim’s position. Also it was impossible to say if the victim was killed by a bullet, shrapnel or something else.

Milorad Pelemis will continue his evidence on Monday.