COURTSIDE: Visegrad Trial

Defendant charged with possibly 'the single most horrific affront to humanity' in the war.

COURTSIDE: Visegrad Trial

Defendant charged with possibly 'the single most horrific affront to humanity' in the war.

Friday, 11 November, 2005

Ever since former chief prosecutor Louise Arbour withdrew charges against 14 "small fry" accused in the Omarska and Keraterm indictments (see Tribunal Update No. 75) some three years ago, Hague prosecutors have focused on trying persons who were in positions of authority, and those who personally carried out extremely serious offences.

Mitar Vasiljevic belongs to the latter category, prosecutor Dermot Groome said in his opening statement at the beginning of the trial for crimes in Visegrad.

"Vasiljevic is not the most infamous among the tribunal's indictees. He is no powerful politician accused of the grand plans behind the carnage in Bosnia, " Groome said. " He is a simple waiter - one generally liked by Muslims and Serbs alike. But he is one who by his own hands committed an act which is perhaps one of the single most horrific and egregious affronts to humanity in the war - to the most innocent of victims."

This crime took place on June 14,1992, when at least 65 people, mostly women and children, including a two-day-old baby, were burnt alive in a house in Visegrad. According to the indictment, Vasiljevic, along with Milan and Sredoje Lukic - also charged, but still at large - as well as a number of unidentified members of the paramilitary formation "White Eagles", took part in the atrocity.

Vasiljevic denies any involvement and intends to produce an alibi. He claims he had broken his leg that day after falling from a horse.

The first week of the trial was dedicated to another incident included in the Visegrad indictment: the shooting of seven men on the banks of the Drina river on June 7, 1992.

Last week, the prosecution shed light on that incident, when two men who survived the shooting talked of Vasiljevic's role. Two protected witnesses, VG 32 and 14, described how, together with five other Visegrad Muslims, they were picked up by Milan Lukic and two more members of "White Eagles" from the flats and cellars where they were hiding. They were told they were going to be "exchanged" for Serbs detained by the Muslims.

They were first taken to Hotel Viline Vode, where they met Mitar Vasiljevic, dressed in uniform with a black hat bearing an emblem of a two-headed eagle and armed with an automatic rifle. After that, the seven Muslims and four "White Eagles" were driven in three cars towards a place called Sase on the banks of the Drina. They stopped close to an abandoned house, about 100 meters from the river, and the detainees were ordered to walk towards the Drina one behind each other.

Lukic, Vasiljevic and the other two Serbs accompanied them. When they reached the bank, they were ordered to form a line, facing the river. The Serbs proceeded to open fire on the Muslims. The two survivors threw themselves into the river when they heard the first shot. They waited for the executioners to leave and then made their escape.

In June this year, VG 14 returned to the site of crime escorted by Hague investigators and SFOR troops. He retraced his route to the site from the hotel where Vasiljevic joined them to the execution site. The judges were shown a video footage of their trip. Both survivors will have to testify about their suffering once more, when Milan and Sredoje Lukic finally surrender to the tribunal.

Apart from the two survivors, whose accounts coincide, a man who was on the other bank of the Drina on day of the execution also testified. From the distance of some 500 meters, with the help of binoculars, he followed what was happening from the moment when the cars stopped in front of the abandoned building to the execution and subsequent flight of the two survivors. His testimony supported the survivors' statements.

Vasiljevic was identified before the court by the two survivors as one of the participants in the shooting. Indirectly, he has also testified about the event. In a statement he gave to the investigators last November, whose recording was shown to the court last week, Vasiljevic did not deny he was at the site of the crime that day, but claimed he was there "accidentally".

He claimed he had followed Lukic and the others to the river to reason with Lukic, not to execute the men, but had failed. When the shooting began, Vasiljevic claimed he "turned his head away because he could not watch the execution".

The two survivors claimed the contrary. They said Vasiljevic responded coldly to the pleas of a Muslim acquaintance and colleague Meho Dzafic to spare him, saying "I don't know you". Then, together with the others, he opened fire.

The prosecution will continue its case in the coming weeks.

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

Support our journalists