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COURTSIDE: Visegrad Trial

Prosecution in Vasiljevic case closes with calls for defendant to be given life.
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The prosecutor last week said Mitar Vasiljevic should receive a life sentence for his part in the crimes committed in Visegrad, eastern Bosnia.


In his closing arguments in the first trial dealing with crimes in the town, prosecutor Dermoth Groom said the accused took part in the killing of five Bosniaks on the bank of Drina river on June 7, 1992 and actively participated in the burning alive of 65 Bosniaks in Pionirska street in Visegrad, seven days later.


"It is beyond doubt that the accused was present on the bank of Drina and that he was in Pionirska street just a few hours before the crime," Groom said.


The issue to be resolved by the court is whether Vasiljevic was an unwilling and insignificant observer of the crimes in Visegrad, as he claims, or was a member of a paramilitary group led by his best man Milan Lukic, accused of the same crimes but who is still at large.


The prosecution claims Vasiljevic was "very important member of the group", because he could tell Lukic and members of paramilitary units from Serbia who the Bosniaks in Visegrad were and show them their houses.


Vasiljevic consistently claimed he was present at the scene of the crime on the banks of the Drina river by chance, and could not have been present when the prisoners in Pionirska street were burned alive because of a fall from a horse that day, which broke his leg.


The defence witnesses claimed the accused was received into the orthopaedic ward of a hospital in Uzice, western Serbia, that evening. The court was presented with admission documents and X-rays of a broken leg. The prosecutor holds that "it is beyond reasonable doubt" that the latter was not that of Vasiljevic.


On the basis of testimonies of survivors of the two crimes and other documents, the prosecution alleges the story of the horse and the broken leg was invented and the court "should not believe the witnesses who confirmed this story".


The prosecutor questioned their credibility by pointing out that up to 18 defence witnesses requested so-called safe passage - a promise that they would not be arrested - if they come as witnesses to The Hague.


The closing arguments in the Vasiljevic case have not been completed. The defence has only started its presentation and will conclude it next week.


Vjera Bogati is an IWPR special correspondent at The Hague and a journalist with SENSE News Agency.


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