Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Witness Describes Encounters With Milan Lukic

She places accused in area at time of Bikavac house-burning in which 70 civilians were killed.
By Rachel Irwin
A protected witness testified that she saw Milan Lukic in a neighbourhood of Visegrad when a house was burnt down with 70 Bosniaks trapped inside.

The witness told judges in the trial of Lukic and his cousin Sredoje Lukic – both Bosnian Serbs – that she saw the former in the Bikavac area before and after the house was set alight.

According to the indictment, Milan Lukic is charged with 21 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws of war, which include murder, extermination and severe physical and psychological abuses that claimed the lives of at least 150 Bosniaks in Visegrad alone.

Sredoje Lukic is charged on 13 counts.

The indictment says that on or about June 27, 1992, Milan Lukic, Sredoje Lukic and others went to Bikavac, near Visegrad, and forced approximately 70 Bosniaks into a house.

“Milan Lukic, Sredoje Lukic and others then barricaded the exits, and threw several explosive devices into the house which injured the people inside and ignited the house. The fire quickly engulfed the house and the people inside thereby causing the death of all of the people in the house except for one survivor,” said the indictment.

This week, the Bosniak witness, known as VG-119, said that on the evening of June 27 she and other female family members were hiding in an abandoned house in the Bikavac neighbourhood.

“Someone knocked on the door,” said the witness who testified via video link, her face and voice distorted.

“A group of Serbs entered the house. I recognised Milan Lukic at the door.”

Milan and his men told the women that no one should leave the house. The witness said they returned later that night, blaring loud, “vulgar” music and “dripping with sweat”.

“When they came back, Milan said [to me], why are you dressed like that?” she said, explaining that she wore a skirt over her trousers and a kerchief tied under her chin to appear less attractive.

“Milan walked up to me and pulled the kerchief off my head,” said the witness, who was 19 at the time.

“I was so scared I couldn’t hear a word [of what he said]. I fell down onto the floor and [pretended to be] unconscious.”

At that point, she said, Milan doused her with cold water and ordered his men to leave the house.

“I saw Milan leaving, [then] started vomiting and fainted for real.”

The witness also said she saw Zehra Turjacanin, the only survivor of the Bikavac fire, who testified last week that Milan Lukic forced her relatives and her into the house which was then set alight.

“There was the sound of knocking [at the door] at around midnight. We heard a woman scream and we walked towards the door, and…saw Zehra [Turjacanin],” said the witness.

The witness said Turjacanin was in “a horrendous condition”.

“She said she had fled another house further down the road that had been set alight. She said Milan Lukic was the one who had done this. [The fire] was [during] the time period when they [Milan and his men] were away from our house. We put two and two together ourselves,” she said.

The witness and her family members decided to leave Bikavac early the next morning.

When she left, she said she could see smoke and smell “the dreadful stench of human flesh burnt alive”.

Both defendants appeared unmoved during VG-119’s testimony, as they have through much of the trial.

Earlier in her testimony, the witness described meeting Milan Lukic on the afternoon of May 29 when she, her husband, mother-in-law, father-in-law and sister-in-law were driving back into Visegrad.

As they entered the town, three cars blocked their path, she said.

“Milan left one of the vehicles and ordered us out of the car,” she said. He asked to see ID cards, and frisked the group, taking her husband’s wedding ring and her father-in-law’s watch.

“Milan was holding the rifle with his finger on the trigger,” said the witness.

The group was ordered back into their van and driven to their home, where the women were forced inside the house, while the men were taken away for questioning.

The witness said her husband went in Milan’s car – and that was the last time she ever saw him.

Later that evening, Milan returned to the witness’s home and ordered her and a relative, referred to as VG-094, to go with him.

The witness said that Milan drove her and VG-094 to the Vilina Vlas Hotel, which served as the headquarters for Milan’s paramilitary group, the White Eagles, and where women were reportedly kept prisoner and subject to repeated rape.

There the witness said she spotted her former schoolmate, a soldier named Sasha.

Milan and Sasha, she said, took the women upstairs. The witness went into one room with Sasha and VG-094 went into another with Milan.

“Sasha said nothing would happen to me,” she said.

When Milan appeared at the door a half hour later and told Sasha to leave, she said that Sasha “touched Milan’s arm” on his way out.

“I asked [Milan] where my husband was,” the witness said. “He said I would find out. I told him I was pregnant, which wasn’t true. I thought he would abuse me.”

The women were driven home a short time later unharmed.

During cross-examination, Milan’s defence lawyer, Jason Alarid, questioned the witness about her experience at the hotel.

“You were taken to the hotel, but not sexually assaulted, correct?”

“Correct,” the witness answered. “I’m grateful to Sasha. I think the original intention was something else altogether.”

However, she acknowledged that Milan Lukic did not mistreat her.

Alarid also challenged the witness’s statements and memory regarding the Bikavac fire in an attempt to prove that his client was not in Visegrad at the time of the massacre.

“You didn’t see a glow in the sky from the fire even when it was so close to you?” he asked.

“I didn’t look outside because the doors and shades were closed,” she responded, adding that she lacked the courage to go outside.

Alarid then asked the witness to describe Turjacanin when she turned up at their door after fleeing the burning house.

“I saw her flesh dangling from her arms,” said the witness. “Her hair was singed… You could see the terrible state her hands were in… This woman was burnt all over.”

The trial continues next week.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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