PAINTING THE PENITENT BLACK
The defense of Vidoje Blagojevic, former VRS Bratunac Brigade commander, is doing its best to impeach Momir Nikolic and challenge some of the facts he admitted and plead guilty to; Nikolic expressed his repentance and accepted responsibility for the massacre in Srebrenica
Michael Karnavas, defence attorney of Vidoje Blagojevic
At the beginning of its case, the defense of Vidoje Blagojevic, the former VRS Bratunac Brigade commander who is accused of complicity in the Srebrenica genocide, focused on impeaching Momir Nikolic, the former security chief in the Bratunac Brigade.
Nikolic was indicted together with Blagojevic, but he pleaded guilty last year, repented for his crimes, agreed to cooperate with the prosecution and appeared as a prosecution witness at the trial of his former commander.
Through witnesses he called in the previous two days, Blagojevic's defense counsel, Michael Karnavas, tried to challenge two statements in Nikolic's admission of guilt and to discredit him personally.
The first statement he challenged is Nikolic's admission that on 12 and 13 July 1995, he "organized and coordinated" the deportation of more than 20,000 civilians, mostly women and children, who were taken in buses and trucks to territory controlled by the BH Army.
Defense witnesses Jovan Nikolic and Perica Vasovic, both from Bratunac, testified yesterday and today that on 13 July 1995, they went to Potocari together with Momir Nikolic "out of curiosity" to see what was happening. They both claim that Momir Nikolic had gone there "out of curiosity," that he did not issue any orders and that he was "mostly greeting other people and talking to them.” According to the witnesses, he was a mere observer, not the "organizer and coordinator" of the operation.
Challenging the other Nikolic's claim is even more important for Blagojevic's defense. In his Statement of Facts and Guilty Plea, Nikolic listed, among other things, the names of several members of the Bratunac Brigade who he claims took part in the massacre in the co-op warehouse in Kravica; according to the indictment, between 1,000 and 1,500 people were killed there on 13 and 14 July.
Both defense witnesses claim that they were in Kravica on 14 July, that they saw the killing of the people detained in the warehouse but were unable to recognize any of the executioners since they all wore masks. Despite that, they categorically state that there were no members of Blagojevic's brigade among them. Witness Vasovic supposes that the soldiers wearing camouflage uniforms without any insignia and with masked faces "were not from Bratunac" but most probably from the "Sarajevo area" since they spoke with a characteristic accent.
Blagojevic's defense counsel finally asked his witnesses to say something about "Momir Nikolic's character." They both described him as an "overly ambitious and arrogant man" who "did not have many friends" because of the way he treated people. They both said he was frequently in conflict with the other inhabitants of the town, although they admitted that, in truth, "Nikolic did not exhibit such traits in his dealings with them."
The fact that about two weeks after his arrest and transfer to The Hague Momir Nikolic sent Perica Vasovic a postcard from Scheveningen testifies to their former friendship. The contents of the postcard were discussed in closed session. In public session, it was only said that the postcard mentions Deronjic, with whom, the witness claims, Nikolic "had some accounts to settle.”
Vidoje Blagojevic's defense will, by all appearances, be going after Miroslav Deronjic next. He also pleaded guilty and testified at the Srebrenica trial.