DEFENSE: NIKOLIC INVENTED STORY ABOUT MLADIC'S HAND GESTURE
In his evidence at Ratko Mladic's trial as well as at several other trials before the Tribunal, Momir Nikolic claimed that after the fall of Srebrenica the accused general had made a hand gesture to let Nikolic know that the Bosniak prisoners would be killed. Nikolic was the chief of security in the Bratunac Brigade. In the examination-in-chief of former OTP investigator Bruce Bursik the defense suggested that Nikolic had invented the story
Ratko Mladic's defense denies that he was involved in the planning and execution of the Srebrenica genocide in July 1995. The defense argues that Mladic only commanded the military operation to capture the enclave. Mladic was in Belgrade during the mass executions of Muslim prisoners, the defense contends. There are some flies in their ointment, though, first and foremost the testimony of Momir Nikolic. The Bratunac Brigade chief of security testified as a Bosnian Serb military insider witness and pleaded guilty to the Srebrenica crimes. Nikolic claimed that on 13 July 1995 in Konjevic Polje he asked Mladic what would happen with the captured men and boys. Mladic made a gesture with his hand 'from left to right at hip height', making it clear to Nikolic that the detainees would be executed.
The defense denied the authenticity of Nikolic's admission and testimony, particularly the claim about the hand gesture. Today the defense called Bruce Bursik, former OTP investigator, to the witness stand to corroborate its case. Nikolic first mentioned the non-verbal communication of the accused about the execution of the prisoners in front of Bursik in late May 2003. The witness wrote a report about the interview on 23 June 2003.
Defense counsel Branko Lukic noted that in the document entitled the Statement of Facts and Acceptance of Responsibility dated 6 May 2006 Nikolic made no mention of Mladic's hand gesture. The witness agreed and confirmed that Nikolic never mentioned the detail, not even when he was interviewed by the investigators a couple of days before the statement was signed. As the hearing drew to a close, prosecutor Abeer Hasan cross-examined the witness briefly. As he noted, the witness wrote in his report that Nikolic was interviewed in late May 2003 to provide additional information to the Statement of Facts and the Acceptance of Responsibility. The two documents should therefore be read as one, the prosecutor suggested and the witness agreed.
The defense went on to suggest that in his interviews, statements, acceptance of responsibility and testimony Momir Nikolic provided questionable information. Nikolic often changed and amended his claims, the defense noted. The witness confirmed that the investigators had to contend with that. The witness was under the impression that the 'most of what Nikolic said was true, but he didn't say all that he knew'.
One of the things Nikolic first confessed to and then recanted was that he had ordered the execution in Kravica. About 1,000 captured Bosniaks were executed there on 13 July 1995. In an interview in late May 2003 Nikolic told the investigators that he had personally ordered the execution and Bursik duly wrote it down in his report. Now he knows that Nikolic later denied his own claim. As arranged in his plea agreement, Nikolic was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Other high-ranking officers in the VRS security service: generals Tolimir and Beara in the Main Staff and Vujadin Popovic in the Drina Brigade, were sentenced to life imprisonment in separate trials. Drago Nikolic, chief of security in the Zvornik Brigade, got 35 years in prison.
The trial of Ratko Mladic continues on Tuesday.