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

Witness Speaks of Visegrad Ordeal

Protected witness describes prelude to mass execution in eastern Bosnian town.
By Goran Jungvirth
A witness in the trial of Milan and Sredoje Lukic said this week that she was nearly burned alive by Bosnian Serbs in Visegrad with the rest of her family and other civilians.

Protected witness VG-101 is one of seven people who escaped execution in Pionirska Street in the eastern Bosnian town on June 14, 1992. She said she fled with her sister just before Milan Lukic and his men forced around 70 Bosniaks into a house and then set fire to it.

“I wasn’t afraid of dying. I was only afraid of rape,” witness VG-101 told the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague.

Prosecutors say Milan Lukic, who had lived in Germany before the war, returned to his hometown of Visegrad in 1992 and formed a group of paramilitaries known as the White Eagles or the Avengers. His cousin Sredoje, a local policeman, became a member of the group, which then worked with police and military units to terrorise the local Bosniak population, said the indictment.

According to the indictment, the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, withdrew from the town on May 19, 1992 after which local Serb leaders established the so-called Serbian Municipality of Visegrad and took control of all municipal government offices. Then began one of the most notorious campaigns of ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian conflict, it said.

This week, protected witness VG-101 described her experience. She said she arrived in Visegrad after fleeing her village of Koritnik as Serb forces advanced.

“Serb neighbours said they couldn’t protect us any longer from the approaching [Serb] army,” said the witness, recalling how Serbs and Muslims had previously lived in peace, visiting each other regularly.

She said that about 50 members of the witness’s extended family arrived in Visegrad to wait for a bus that the Serbs had apparently organised to take them out of Serb-occupied territory. The town was full of Serb soldiers and some of them started to insult and abuse the Bosniaks.

But the bus never arrived. Instead, Milan’s godfather Mitar Vasiljevic sent them to Pionirska Street to an empty house, promising them that they would leave on a bus in the morning. Vasiljevic was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment on appeal at the tribunal after being convicted of aiding and abetting persecutions and murder.

Milan Lukic and three members of his unit hammered on the door half an hour later demanding they put “money, gold, everything on the table”, the witness told the court.

The witness, who was 23 at the time, said she knew Milan Lukic well because they were in the same class in elementary school and also went to the same high school.

Although the Bosniaks gave them everything they had, one of the Serbs ordered the women to get undressed, saying he was looking for concealed money or jewellery, she said.

“He wasn’t trying to find the money at all. It was an act of degradation. He didn’t search the clothes, but sat on a chair laughing and saying we needed to take off everything. It was one big humiliation,” she said. The men were not forced to strip, she added.

According to the witness, one of the guards told Lukic, “I’ve found one for you.” They took the girl, who was only 15, out of the house.

The witness, clearly shaken, described in a trembling voice how the men returned after raping the first girl and took out another.

The first girl, in tears, reportedly told the witness that she had been raped and that Milan Lukic had told her the same thing would happen to all the women.

After raping the second girl, Lukic and the other Serbs returned to the house and ordered the prisoners to stay where they were while they went to eat roast lamb.

“They said, ‘We are going to come back’, and threatened … that later everybody would get their turn. How did I feel? Terrible. I wouldn’t wish that feeling on anyone,” said the witness.

According to her testimony, a few hours later at around midnight, Milan Lukic, Vasiljevic and some others returned in a car. They ordered the prisoners to leave the house and not take anything with them. The witness said she panicked and wanted to escape by jumping from the second floor of the house, but realised it was too high.

When the man who was taking them to another house looked away for a moment, the witness and her sister – who testified earlier in the week – hid in a shed and then ran into the forest from where they heard the sound of screams and shooting.

“I told my sister, ‘Those men are now killing our mother and sister-in-law with her two children’,” said the witness, crying.

To make sure the defence could not claim mistaken identity, prosecutor Laurie Sartorio asked the witness to identify Milan Lukic in the courtroom.

“I don’t need [any extra] time to do it. [I recognise] Milan Lukic who is sitting here. This is Milan Lukic – the man who sits next to this man here,” said the witness, correctly identifying the accused

The two sisters were not asked to identify Sredoje Lukic, but the first witness this week, VG-18, said that both cousins were in the courtroom.

VG-18, who escaped from the burning house with her 13-year-old son, dismissed the defence’s suggestion that their Serb neighbours from Koritnik were responsible for the mass murder in the Pionirska Street house.

During cross-examination, the defence said the witnesses had wrongly identified the defendants because they were far away and the light was poor.

Although the defence also told witness VG-101 that Vasiljevic was not there when the murders took place because he had a broken leg, the witness dismissed the possibility that she saw somebody else.

Vasiljevic also took the stand this week. At his own trial in 2001, he put all the blame on Milan Lukic, claiming he was only a helpless bystander.

On September 10, he asked for his evidence to be heard in a closed session out of concern for his family’s safety.

The trial continues next week.

Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR-trained reporter in Zagreb.

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.


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