COURTSIDE: The Visegrad Trial

Witness ashamed of her nationality and home town.

COURTSIDE: The Visegrad Trial

Witness ashamed of her nationality and home town.

Saturday, 29 September, 2001

A protected witness last week declared herself ashamed to be Serbian at the start of her testimony, in the trial of Mitar Vasiljevic and Milan Lukic, both accused of crimes in Visegrad in 1992.

As she took the stand, the witness, known simply as "VG 115", was asked by the prosecution what nationality she was, to which the witness answered, "Serbian nationality, unfortunately." A few hours later, under coss-examination from Vasiljevic's defence counsel, the witness was asked what "unfortunately" meant? To this the witness replied that she was ashamed to be the same nationality as the defendant and was ashamed of her town Visegrad, because of what happened there.

VG 115's testimony covered what's come to be known as "The Pyre of Pioneers Street", the most serious crime in the Visegrad indictment, which saw 65 Muslim civilians burnt alive in a house in Visegrad on June 14, 1992. The witness described how on that day she had come across a column of people, mostly women and children, who were being escorted down Pioneers Street - where she herself lived - by the defendants Vasiljevic and Lukic. At around 8.00 pm that evening, the witness said she heard explosions and shooting from one of the neighbouring houses. She then began to smell smoke and burning flesh. Screams came from the burning house for the next two hours.

In their indictment, it is alleged that on June 14, 1992, Vasiljevic and Lukic came across several dozen refugees who had been expelled from the nearby village of Koritnik. Pretending to be representatives of the Red Cross, the pair took the refugees to an abandoned house on Pioneers Street, telling them they would be transported the following morning to territory under the control of the Bosnian army. Vasiljevic and Lukic then threw grenades into the house, shot through the windows and doors and finally set it on fire.

VG 115 also provided testimony about other killings she witnessed involving Vasiljevic and Lukic, but not cited in the indictment. These included the murder of an old man by Vasiljevic, Lukic and two other paramilitaries. According to the witness, one of the accomplices, Slobodan Roncevic, a student, bragged about the killing to her and another woman over coffee a few days later.

VG 115 also described how, in June 1992, she saw Vasiljevic and Lukic at the head of a column of armed boys, between 12 and 14 years of age. They were escorting a Muslim man towards the old bridge in Visegrad. When they reached the bridge, the Muslim was shot in the back of the head as part of a lesson for the boys on how to kill.

The prosecution case this week will include the testimony of victims who survived the massacre in Pioneers Street.

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

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