Visegrad Warlord Makes Tribunal Debut

Milan Lukic pleads not guilty to war crimes against Muslim residents.

Visegrad Warlord Makes Tribunal Debut

Milan Lukic pleads not guilty to war crimes against Muslim residents.

Bosnian Serb Milan Lukic, a paramilitary leader accused of instigating a campaign of terror against the Muslim inhabitants of Visegrad during the early stages of the Bosnian war, appeared defiant as he made his first appearance at the Hague tribunal.

Refusing to address the judge as “your honour”, Lukic pleaded not guilty to 12 counts of crimes against humanity and nine of violations of the laws or customs of war in the southeastern Bosnian town between 1992 and 1994.

Michael Karnavas, who will represent Lukic until a permanent lawyer is found, summarised the defence position. “Just to be clear, we are pleading not guilty to everything,” he said with a broad smile.

The indictment alleges that in the spring of 1992, Lukic formed a paramilitary unit known as the White Eagles or the Avengers. According to the prosecution, this group worked with local police and military units to commit acts of violence against Muslims and those of non-Serb origin, including murder, cruel treatment, unlawful detention and confinement, harassment, humiliation, terrorisation and psychological abuse.

The victims are said to have been aged from two days old to 75.

Lukic, first indicted in October 1998, was arrested in Buenos Aires six months ago following a joint operation by Interpol and the Argentine police force. He is being tried jointly with his cousin Sredoje Lukic, another White Eagles member, who has been in The Hague since September 2005.

Sredoje, who is included in the same indictment, is charged with eight counts of crimes against humanity and five of violations of the laws or customs of war. He pleaded not guilty to all 13 counts last week.

The prosecution initially argued that the case of the Lukic duo should be referred back for trial at the war crimes chamber in Sarajevo. Both the accused strongly oppose such a move.

Last December, presiding judge Alphonse Orie ruled that the decision on transfer should be delayed until Milan was installed in The Hague and could appear before the referral bench in person. It is thought that this may have been a key concession in negotiating his transfer to the tribunal.

A third member of the paramilitary corps, Mitar Vasiljevic, who is described in the indictment as a “close family friend” of the Lukic brothers, was sentenced at the tribunal to 15 years’ imprisonment in February 2004.

Milan Lukic, who had strong links with Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, is alleged to have been involved in a series of criminal enterprises since the end of the war, including a lucrative narcotics smuggling business that may have provided the funds to support the White Eagles leader during his seven years as a fugitive.

Helen Warrell is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.
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