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Ex-Bosnian Serb Officer Testifies that Srebrenica Massacre was Planned

A former Bosnian-Serb army officer has told judges at the U.N. war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia that the 1995 mass murders of more than 7,500 Muslim men and boys after the fall of Srebrenica was planned.

Testifying in The Hague at the genocide trial of his former commander, Momir Nikolic also said his superior knew all about the orders given the day after Bosnian Serbs captured the U.N.-protected area.

This is the first time under oath that a senior Bosnian-Serb officer has said that what happened at Srebrenica was planned.

Former Captain Momir Nikolic described to war-crimes judges the orders he received on July 12, 1995. They concerned Muslim refugees who had sought safety in what was supposed to be a U.N.-protected area. "Quite simply, the position was that all civilians would be evacuated, that the men would be separated, detained, and killed," he said.

Mr. Nikolic could be considered the ultimate insider witness. He coordinated the now infamous separation of men from women and children in Srebrenica. He even chose the sites where they would be held until they were killed.

Originally charged with genocide, Mr. Nikolic pleaded guilty to one count of persecution instead, and is now testifying against his former commander, Colonel Vidoje Blagojevic.

The colonel took notes as Mr. Nikolic talked about what he called the innumerable cases of abuse committed by his men, and he named those giving the orders. Although the decision to kill the men did not come from Colonel Blagojevic, Mr. Nikolic testified that the colonel was well aware of the plan.

Mr. Nikolic said he asked the commander of the Bosnian-Serb army, General Ratko Mladic, what would happen to another large group of Muslim men trying to leave the area. Mr. Nikolic said the general was silent, but made a gesture with his hand that confirmed they would all be killed.

General Mladic is charged with genocide, but is still at large.

Mr. Nikolic's testimony, along with one of his colleagues who has also agreed to testify, is crucial to the prosecution's Srebrenica case. He said he did exactly as he was ordered. He added that he did not try to stop the abuse, and that he did not take any action when one of his men executed about six Muslim prisoners of war in an act of revenge.

Mr. Nikolic conceded that his dereliction of duty perpetuated the crimes. Senior officers, he said, are supposed to lead by example, but that he failed to do so.