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

Witness Links Milan Lukic to Crime Scene

He said he saw paramilitary leader take detained Bosniaks to river where they were murdered.
By Rachel Irwin
A witness in the trial of the Lukic cousins said he saw Milan Lukic lead seven Bosniak men to the banks of the Drina River where they were shot and killed.



However, the protected witness, referred to as VG-017, added that he did not witness the actual shooting, and merely heard the gunfire.



The prosecution witness, testifying in the trial of the former paramilitary leader and his cousin Sredoje Lukic, told judges that he saw Milan arrive in a vehicle at the Varda factory in Visegrad on the morning of June 10, 1992.



VG-017, a Bosniak who testified with his face and voice distorted, said he hid behind some barrels as Milan Lukic and his men left their vehicles.



“First, they went down to the workshop,” he said. “They brought out one man, a mechanic. They took him to the guardhouse.”



After that, he said, Milan and his men – all of whom carried weapons – went into the factory and brought out “six or seven” men who were made to stand outside the guardhouse.



“What happened?” asked prosecutor Stevan Cole.



“[Milan] took them to the banks of the Drina River and killed them,” replied the witness.



According to the indictment, Milan Lukic and “another uncharged individual” entered the Varda sawmill and furniture factory in Visegrad and “forced seven Bosnian Muslim men to go to the bank of the river by the factory. Milan Lukic then shot them repeatedly with an automatic weapon thereby causing [their] deaths”.



Milan Lukic – the former leader of Serbian paramilitary group the White Eagles – is charged with 21 counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws of war, including murder, extermination and severe physical and psychological abuses that claimed the lives of at least 150 Bosniaks in Visegrad alone.



This week, the witness testified that Milan brought the men to the river in two groups. He said he lost sight of Milan and the workers as they drew closer to the river because an outhouse blocked his view.



VG-017 did note, however, that Milan “put his arm around one man” as they walked.



“After you lost sight of Milan and the workers, what did you hear?” asked Cole.



“I heard shooting. Automatic fire,” he answered.



The witness said that after the shootings, Milan walked back to his car and drove away.



VG-017 said that the next day, he helped the mother of one of the victims bury the body of her son, which had washed up by the banks of the Drina. He added that the victim’s corpse was riddled with “more than 10” bullet wounds.



During his testimony, there was some confusion as to what the witness actually saw, versus what he heard from his hiding place. For example, VG-017 said that Milan “forced [the second group of workers] into the river and then he shot them in the back”.



When the prosecutor asked if he saw this happen, the witness replied that he only heard the shots.



The witness also seemed to contradict himself on several occasions, especially when asked about the first time he saw Milan Lukic.



He first told the prosecutor that when Milan exited his car, he didn’t recognise him and “only heard later it was Milan”.



But when Cole questioned him again, he responded, “Yes, I knew it was Milan”, adding he had seen him “two or three times” prior to June 10.



Milan’s defence counsel Jason Alarid seized on the witness’s answers during his cross-examination.



Alarid pressed the witness to provide the names of Milan’s family members with whom VG-017 claimed to have worked years earlier at the forestry department.



“I can barely remember my own name, much less the names of people from 17 years ago,” replied the witness.



The car that Milan allegedly drove to the factory was also a point of contention.



The witness had told the prosecutor that he had seen the car before, explaining that it belonged to his neighbour prior to her murder.



He could not remember the colour or make of the car, but said that he heard from the women in his neighbourhood that it was a new Passat.



“You can’t tell us the colour, but you can tell us it was new?” asked Alarid.



“Yes,” responded VG-017. “I can’t tell you the colour, but I know it was new because my neighbour used to drive it.”



Throughout the trial, many witnesses have described a “cherry red Passat” that Milan drove around town and to the sites of his alleged crimes.



Most have mentioned, as this witness did, that the Passat belonged to a woman called Behija Zukic before she was shot and killed.



According to the prosecutor’s pre-trial brief, Milan Lukic is “alleged to have stolen this red Passat after killing Behija Zukic”.



Alarid pressed VG-017 to explain why he made no mention of the make of the car in earlier statements, and also asked him repeatedly about the first time he saw Milan.



“Isn’t it true that you didn’t witness the Varda incident, but heard about it from other people and just wanted to help those people get justice?” asked Alarid



The witness denied this and said he was “certain” of everything he said during his testimony.



“You lost your mother, two sons and son-in-law in the conflict, yes?” asked Alarid.



“Yes,” responded the witness.



“Did you ever receive justice for [their] disappearance?”



“No,” responded the witness. “But my son-in-law was found and he was buried in Visegrad.”



The trial continues next week.



Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.