COURTSIDE: Visegrad Trial

French S-For 'lodgers' arrested key suspect in Visegrad trial

COURTSIDE: Visegrad Trial

French S-For 'lodgers' arrested key suspect in Visegrad trial

Saturday, 27 October, 2001

A Bosnian Serb, accused of war crimes against the Muslim population of Visegrad, eastern Bosnia, in June 1992, wept last week as he described being arrested by French UN soldiers who had rented his house.

Mitar Vasiljevic and Sredoje and Milan Lukic are accused of executing seven Muslim civilians on the banks of the river Drina and burning 65 people to death in a house in Pioneers St, on June 14, 1992.

All three men were secretly indicted on October 21, 1998. Sealed indictments are frequently used by the court to expedite arrests, since the defendants are not aware that they are being sought. The latter two indictees have not been caught.

Vasiljevic, a former waiter, broke down while recalling his arrest in January, 2000, by S-For troops who had stayed for six months in the house he had been building in Visegrad for 15 years.

At the time of his secret indictment, Vasiljevic was living in the town, in the French S-For sector. Instead of arresting him, however, the French rented his newly-built house in the summer of 1999 and became its first lodgers.

Vasiljevic lived yards away with his wife and a daughter, socialising almost daily with the French and taking them to restaurants and even swimming pools. He helped them procure food while his wife sometimes cooked for them. Occasionally the troops entertained the couple in their house.

This continued until January 25, 2000, 15 months after the sealed arrest warrants were issued, when Vasiljevic, while returning home, spotted a French military vehicle with his lodgers inside. He asked for a lift and got in with them.

When they reached the house, one of his lodgers said something was wrong with the radiators. Vasiljevic went upstairs to check, upon which masked soldiers grabbed him, put a hood over his head and ear-plugs into his ears, tied him up and carried him away. Hours later, he was in The Hague.

Vasiljevic said the saga of the rented house demonstrated his "conscience was clear", since if he had been guilty he would have been in hiding from S-For and not renting them accommodation.

In interviews with prosecution investigators in November 2000, he claimed that on June 7, 1992, he happened "by chance'" to be on the bank of the river Drina, where another of the accused, Milan Lukic, had brought seven Muslim civilians.

He said he was an '"unwilling witness" to their execution and that on June 14, 1992, he broke his leg after falling from a horse, proving he could not have been present with Milan Lukic and several others when they burned 65 people to death in Pioneers St.

Shifting all the blame onto Lukic, godfather to his child, Vasiljevic denied belonging to the former's paramilitary group, known as White Eagles or Avengers. He claimed he only saw Lukic occasionally in 1992, and only reluctantly.

Vasiljevic attributed the fact that he was recognised at the site of the crime by survivors who escaped from the burning house on Pioneers' Street to "mistaken identity". He said they had confused him with Mitar Knezevic, known as Chetnik, who was Lukic's right-hand man and who has since died.

In the opening address, Vasiljevic's counsel Vladimir Domazet said the defence would summon witnesses and submit evidence that will show beyond doubt that the French arrested the wrong man.

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

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