COURTSIDE: Visegrad Trial

Vasilijevic claims he was in hospital when Pionirska massacre took place.

COURTSIDE: Visegrad Trial

Vasilijevic claims he was in hospital when Pionirska massacre took place.

Saturday, 24 November, 2001

Mitar Vasilijevic last week produced an alibi to contest his alleged role in crimes committed in Visegrad, which included the burning alive of 65 Bosnian Muslims in Pionirska street in June 1992.

Vasilijevic claims on the afternoon of June 14, 1992, he fell off a horse, broke his leg and was transferred to hospital in Uzice in eastern Serbia, and could not have participated in the notorious act of arson that evening.

Vasiljevic has passed the buck for the Visegrad crimes on to Milan Lukic, with whom he had close family ties, and his relative Sredoje Lukic. Both are indicted but still at large, probably in Serbia.

Three defence witnesses last week claimed they had seen Vasiljevic's accident and his transfer to Uzice. One claimed responsibility for the fall, saying he had shouted his name after seeing him ride through the town.

He said Vasiljevic turned round abruptly, causing the horse to slip on the wet pavement and throw him off before falling on top of him and breaking his leg.

Prosecutor Dermoth Groome, however, maintained the defendant's guilt, saying the alleged fall took place later than Vasiljevic claimed, and in a different place.

Groome said that on the day in question, Vasilijevic, presenting himself as a Red Cross representative, persuaded Bosniak refugees from Koritnik village to stay in a row of abandoned houses in Pionirska street.

The prosecution claims later that day Vasiljevic robbed victims, was involved in their transfer into the buildings where the crime occurred and took part in the act of arson itself.

The prosecutor agreed Vasiljevic may have broken his leg but suggested it did not take place in the town centre in the afternoon but at the scene of the crime that evening, while chasing victims escaping from the flames.

The prosecutor said he would prove the defence witnesses and the medical documentation submitted by the defence counsels were untrustworthy.

Vasiljevic's counsel, Vladimir Domazet, however, announced last week a "reserve defence option" of drunkenness, implying the accused was not accountable for his actions.

Several witnesses, especially Vasiljevic's wife, Milojka, told the court Vasiljevic was an alcoholic and had received hospital treatment for this problem up to four times.

The defence alleges Vasiljevic was admitted to the psychiatric ward of Uzice hospital for mental problems during treatment for the broken leg.

The judges adopted a defence request for Vasiljevic to be subjected to psychiatric examination to establish to what extent he was accountable at the time for the Visegrad crimes.

He would not be the first indictee to plead drunkenness. Zoran

Zigic, accused of crimes at the Omarska, Trnopolje and Keraterm camps, vainly adopted a similar defence: he was recently sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment.

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

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