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Witness Blames Lukic Cousins for Murders

Two men accused of responsibility for murdering 70 of witness’s relatives and neighbours.
By Simon Jennings
A Bosniak who lost his mother and two sisters in the torching of a house in Visegrad in 1992 said this week that Hague tribunal defendants Milan and Sredoje Lukic were among those responsible.

Huso Kurspahic gave evidence at the tribunal this week about events at a house in Pionirska Street in the eastern Bosnian town during the war of 1992-1995.

Prosecutors say that on June 14, 1992, 70 Bosniak women, children and elderly people were locked inside the house and burnt alive.

The Lukic cousins are charged on a total of 21 counts of persecution, murder and cruel treatment in their alleged effort to rid Visegrad of Bosniaks between 1992 and 1994.

The indictment against the two cousins includes the incident in Pionirska Street, where it alleges, “Milan Lukic, Sredoje Lukic and others… barricaded the people in one room of the house… and placed an incendiary device in the room, engulfing both them and the house in flames.”

Kurspahic told the court that both the accused had set fire to the house, inside which as many as 50 of his relatives were burnt alive.

“This was done by Sredoje Lukic, Milan Lukic, [and] Mitar Vasiljevic… there were a total of seven men who arrived in front of the house on Pionirska Street,” the witness told the court.

Vasiljevic, a friend of the Lukic cousins, was sentenced at the Hague tribunal to 15 years in prison in 2004 for acts of murder and persecution in Visegrad during 1992, but was acquitted on charges related to the Pionirska Street fire.

Kurspahic was the commanding officer of the police administration in Visegrad until he fled the town on April 6 1992, he said. He added that he worked alongside the accused Sredoje Lukic for approximately 10 years.

Kurspahic’s evidence is based on conversations he had with his father, who survived the Pionirska Street fire and whose dying wish was to expose the truth about the incident.

“During my first encounter with [my father] after the fire, he started crying when he saw me and he said, ‘I leave it up to you to tell about what happened on that day in Pionirska Street in Visegrad, since I am sick and old and probably won’t live long enough to see freedom [from paramilitaries’ wartime control of Visegrad]’,” said the witness.

The prosecution also alleges that around June 27, 1992, both the accused forced approximately 70 Bosniaks into another house in Bikavac near Visegrad, before setting fire to it with explosives.

Kurspahic described his meeting with a survivor of the Bikavac fire.

“Her body was an open wound. Everything – face, hands, body – were covered in wounds that exuded such a bad smell we could not come close to her,” the witness told the court.

The woman is due to testify before the tribunal as a protected witness.

When prosecutor Stevan Cole asked whom the woman held responsible for the Bikavac fire, Kurspahic replied, “She only mentioned Milan Lukic, Sredoje Lukic and Mitar Vasiljevic, saying it was them who had set the house on fire.”

Kurspahic – who appeared as a protected witness in the Vasiljevic trial, but testified in open session this week – also sought to shed light on events at Visegrad’s Uzamnica barracks, where it is alleged that both the accused mistreated detainees at a prison camp there between August 1992 and October 1994.

Kurspahic said he heard that his own son was executed at the camp.

“As I learned, he was taken to the Uzamnica military barracks in Visegrad and that was where he was executed,” said the witness. “If you want to know from whom I learnt it, it was Milan Lukic.”

In his cross examination, Milan Lukic’s defence lawyer Jason Alarid sought to undermine Kurspahic’s evidence as “coming completely from someone else’s understanding” of events rather than being based on personal observation.

“Excluding what people told you or what you heard, you really know absolutely nothing about the Pionirska Street fire or the Bikavac fire. This all came second-hand to you, isn’t that true?” asked Alarid.

The witness agreed, confirming that he was not actually present at either incident.

Alarid also referred to a television interview given by Kurspahic’s father after the Pionirska fire in which he made no mention of the Lukic cousins.

“That is true,” replied the witness. “But you have to look at this man and how he looked after this tragedy in which 70 of his neighbours and relatives, including his wife, were burnt… what kind of statement would you give if you were in his shoes?”

Alarid also pointed out inconsistencies in the witness’s statements to the tribunal, saying he had not mentioned the woman who was injured in the Bikavac fire in a statement he gave in 2000.

“Isn’t it true that over time, your statement has changed and you have added names to your father’s statement since he gave it in 1992?” Alarid asked the witness.

“I gave a statement in which I repeated what he told me. I don’t know what he said earlier,” said Kurspahic.

The defence counsel for Sredoje Lukic used his time for cross examination to dwell on the friendly relationship the witness shared with his client over the ten years they worked together in Visegrad.

Asked by the counsel if he ever asked himself whether Sredoje Lukic, as a friend and colleague, could really have been a part of these crimes, Kurspahic replied, “I would not be able to do to him what he did to me… To a real man, it is not logical.”

Pressed further by Judge Patrick Robinson as to how he felt when he heard Sredoje Lukic was responsible for the crimes, Kurspahic said, “It was hard to believe. But I did believe and it actually happened.”

The witness concluded that the woman who told him about Sredoje Lukic’s involvement at Bikavac had no reason to lie and that “no person would tell you a story that did not happen”.

“Well, I am not sure about that,” replied Judge Robinson.

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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