Witness Disputes Milan Lukic Alibi Claim

She says she watched accused murder Bosniaks in Visegrad on date he denies being in city.

By Rachel Irwin in The Hague (TU No 575, 31-Oct-08)

A protected witness told judges at the tribunal this week that she saw a Bosnian Serb paramilitary leader kill some Bosniak civilians in Visegrad on a day when he claims to have been elsewhere.

The witness’s testimony contradicted the claim of Milan Lukic’s defence team that neither he nor his cousin Sredoje, who is also on trial, was in the eastern Bosnian city on June 10 and 14, 1992, when the alleged crimes in the indictment took place.

Milan Lukic is charged at the Hague tribunal 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.

According to the indictment, on the morning of June 10, Milan shot and killed seven Bosniak men by the banks of the Drina River, near the Varda sawmill and furniture factory in Visegrad.
On the evening of June 14, he and Sredoje are accused of setting fire to a house on Pionirska Street, killing 70 Bosniak women, children and elderly men who were trapped inside.

The protected witness, referred to only as VG-133, this week testified that on the afternoon of June 10, Milan parked his red Volkswagen Passat outside her mother-in-law’s apartment building in Visegrad. She said that he then forced about four Bosniak male residents from other apartments in the same block to go with him, before ringing her doorbell.

According to the witness, he proceeded to question her and her mother-in-law on the whereabouts of other Bosniak men who lived in that apartment building. Her own husband had already gone into hiding at that time, she told judges.

“How long did the encounter last?” asked prosecutor Stevan Cole.

“Perhaps 15 or 20 seconds, but it struck me as a whole 15 minutes at the time,” she answered.

Witness VG-133 said that while Milan “herded” the men into his car, the father of one of those detained happened to arrive home.

“The father asked if he could hug his son,” said VG-133. “[Milan] said that he, too, should get in the car.”

The witness said that she saw Milan drive the group to the Old Visegrad Bridge. From the balcony of her mother-in-law’s apartment, she said she watched as he shot and killed them.

Those alleged killings, however, are not included in the indictment.

VG-133 said she recognised Milan because she had treated him at a health clinic in Visegrad, where she worked as a nurse for many years. Milan had come into the clinic with another soldier in mid-May of that year, she told the prosecutor.

After she and the doctor had bandaged the soldier’s hand, she said that Milan turned to the witness and said, “What about me?”

“His hands were covered in blood,” she recalled. “But when he washed the blood off, there were no injuries.”

The prosecutor questioned the witness at length about the red Passat that Milan drove around town and to the site of his alleged crimes.

VG-133 said, as have many other witnesses, that Milan’s red 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”.

The witness said that on the night of Zukic’s murder, she saw the red Passat following the ambulance carrying Zukic’s body to the clinic.

“Milan was at the wheel,” she said.

“After the death of Behija, did you ever see anyone else in the driver’s seat of her car?” asked Cole.

“Never did I see anyone else except Milan Lukic driving it,” she answered.

The prosecutor also questioned the witness about what she saw on June 14, the day of the Pionirska Street fire.

On that day, the witness said she saw Milan Lukic checking identification cards on a bus waiting to leave town. Later, she said she saw him in the town square getting out of his red Passat. A group of Bosniak civilians had assembled in the area hoping to find a convoy into Bosniak-held territory.

“There were soldiers, and they took [the group] down the main street of Visegrad towards the Mahala neighborhood,” she said.

According to the pre-trial brief, Milan and Sredoje “intercepted” the group on their way to Mahala, eventually forcing them into the Pionirska house that would then be set alight.

When asked if she recognised anyone in the courtroom, the witness said that she did.

“I can recognise two persons here,” she said. “The first person is Milan Lukic, who is smiling so nicely at me now.” She also identified Sredoje Lukic, who she said she had known “for over 20 years” when he was a police officer in Visegrad.

During cross examination, Milan’s defence lawyer, Jason Alarid, questioned the accuracy of VG-133’s memory. He claimed that in previous statements, she did not give dates for the events she described.

She explained that her husband and mother-in-law had later reminded her of the correct dates.

Alarid exclaimed that it was “coincidental” that she remembered the dates of June 10 and 14, which are both mentioned in the indictment. The defence counsel then asked if she had read the indictment.

“No,” she answered.

“Do you know that some of the crimes [listed in the indictment] involve June 10 and June 14?”

“No,” she said.

The trial continues next week.

Rachel Irwin is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.