COURTSIDE: Drina Delivers Evidence

Tribunal hears how Bosnian Serb victims were fished out of the river Drina.

COURTSIDE: Drina Delivers Evidence

Tribunal hears how Bosnian Serb victims were fished out of the river Drina.

Saturday, 22 September, 2001

Witness Mevsud Poljo gave an explicit testimony to the tribunal last week about how he and others had removed up to 180 corpses from the river Drina, several kilometres downstream from Visegrad, during June and July 1992. The bodies recovered included those of two babies, as well as many mutilated adults. Poljo's gruesome account came as part of the evidence being presented against Mitar Vasiljevic, a Serb waiter from the town.

Amongst the crimes Vasiljevic is accused of are the murders of five Muslim men, shot on the banks of the Drina in the summer of 1992. The accused has not denied his presence at the scene of this crime but claims he did not shoot any of the victims.

Last week saw the prosecution call witnesses, such as Poljo, who lived in the Visegrad area, to give details of the general context of violence in Visegrad during 1992. This involved a campaign of terror by the Serbian paramilitary unit the "White Eagles" and local Serbs, which included looting, arson, torture, rape, killing and abduction.

Poljo demonstrated on a large aerial photograph where the corpses he found had come from. He then showed where he and others had caught them as they drifted downstream. Working at night and early in the morning to avoid shelling, the men would fish for bodies and hook them to their boat up to five at a time.

Poljo reckoned the teams only managed to pull out every fifth corpse that was floating down the Drina. In addition, many bodies were so decomposed that it was impossible to drag them to the river's edge. Thus the number of actual corpses dumped in the river would far exceed the 180 that Poljo actually retrieved.

Once removed from the river, the bodies were searched for documents or objects that might help with identification. They were then buried in a mass grave. Poljo gave descriptions of some of the injuries evident on bodies removed from the river, which included some whose genitals had been cut off. His description of the discovery of two several month-old babies in plastic bags floating down the Drina was particularly horrific.

This week will be devoted to proving Vasiljevic's participation in the most horrific crime in the Visegrad indictment: the burning of at least 65 people, mostly women and children, in a house on Pionirska Street, Visegrad. Aside from Vasiljevic, two others, Milan Lukic and Sredoje Lukic, are also accused in relation to the above crime but are both still at large. Several survivors of the "Pyre in Pionirska Street" will testify before the tribunal.

The case continues.

Mirko Klarin is IWPR senior editor for the war crimes tribunal and editor-in-chief of SENSE News Agency.

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