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Hague Prosecutors Ask for Lengthy Sentence for Bosnian-Serb Army Officer - 2003-10-29

War crimes prosecutors have asked judges to sentence a former Bosnian-Serb army officer to between 15 and 20 years in prison for his role in the Srebrenica massacres. But lawyers for Momir Nikolic, who admitted his role in the execution of more than 7,500 Muslim men, want him to serve no more than 10 years.

It was a dramatic end to three days of hearings to help judges decide what kind of sentence to give Momir Nikolic, the first Bosnian-Serb army officer to admit that the Srebrenica massacres were planned and that he played a part in them.

A tearful Momir Nikolic addressed the court to express, he said, his sincere remorse and regret, and to apologize to the victims, their families, and the Bosnian-Muslim community at large. He spoke through an interpreter.

"I am aware that I cannot bring back the dead, that I cannot mitigate the pain of the families by my confession. But I wish to contribute to the full truth being established about Srebrenica and the victims there," he said. No one doubts that Nikolic's confession and subsequent testimony against his superior has contributed to the truth about Srebrenica. Prosecutors say he has cooperated fully, his testimony has been credible and reliable, and that his decision to be the first insider to come forward and take responsibility for the worst crime of the war is courageous.

They even learned about two new mass graves because of him. He has moved the historical record forward, say prosecutors.

Prosecutors also agree with defense lawyers that Nikolic's guilty plea will help lead to reconciliation in the region, which is part of this Tribunal's mission, and that it is significant that he came forward at a time when politicians in the Bosnian-Serb Republic still would not admit that the crimes occurred.

But where prosecutors differ with the defense is on sentencing. Defense lawyers have asked for not more than 10 years, pointing out that even the former president of the Bosnian-Serb Republic, Biljana Plavsic, got 11 years for her crimes, and, they say she was an architect of the ethnic-cleansing campaign, while Nikolic himself only followed orders.

But prosecutors are asking for a jail term of between 15 and 20 years, arguing anything less would be unjust. The judges will decide by the end of this year.

As to Nikolic, he says when his punishment is over, he hopes to return home and live in peace with all the ethnic groups in Bosnia.