In his opening statement at the beginning of the trial of Milan and Sredoje Lukic, the prosecutor noted the ‘unprecedented level of cruelty’ of the crimes committed personally by the two accused. Among other crimes, the accused are charged with burning of about 140 women, children and old men alive in two houses in Visegrad in June 1992. Both accused will present an alibi defense

Milan i Sredoje Lukic  in the courtroomMilan i Sredoje Lukic in the courtroom

‘Only Srebrenica was worse than Visegrad’, the prosecutor Dermot Groome stated today at the start of the trial of Milan and Sredoje Lukic. The accused are charged with some of the gravest crimes committed in the course of the war in BH. As alleged by the prosecutor, in the spring of 1992 Visegrad saw ‘what was unfortunately one of the most successful ethnic cleansing campaigns in which 13,000 Muslims were either killed or expelled’. Milan and Sredoje Lukic and a handful of their followers made their own contribution by directly committing crimes of ‘unprecedented level of cruelty’.

In his opening statement, the prosecutor briefly presented a summary of crimes the accused are charged with, sketching the way in which the prosecution intended to prove their responsibility. The prosecutor started with the shooting of seven Muslims on the bank of the Drina river on 7 July 1992; the two survivors will testify at the trial. Three days later, Milan Lukic took seven Muslims from the detention facility in the Varda factory and again killed them by the Drina river. The two ‘living pyres’ followed: on 14 June 1992 in the Pionirska Street and on 27 June in the Bikavac neighborhood when some 140 women, children and old men were shut up in two houses which were then set on fire by Milan and Sredoje Lukic and several of their followers. A mother and son who managed to escape from the burning house in the Pionirska Street will testify, as will the sole survivor from the house in Bikavac. As the prosecutor indicated, she will give evidence without any protective measures about ‘what it feels like to be burned alive’.

As Groome said, the prosecution intends to prove that the two Lukic cousins committed crimes of persecution and murder related to general attacks against the civilian population. Some political figures will be mentioned along the way; they, as the prosecutor stated, ‘worked on the perpetration of crimes in BH on a strategic level’. In this context, the prosecutor today named Slobodan Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic, Biljana Plavsic and Momcilo Krajisnik.

At the beginning of his opening statement, set to continue tomorrow, Milan Lukic’s counsel, US attorney Jason Alarid, expressed his hope that the judges – once they see the complete picture – would acquit his client of the crimes he is charged with. Noting that Milan Lukic is a common and frequent name in BH, the defense counsel said that the case is built on ‘rumors’ and ‘mistaken identity’. According to Alarid, Mitar Vasiljevic, who was tried in The Hague for the same crimes, blamed Milan Lukic for the killings by the Drina River and in the Pionirska Street to exonerate himself. ‘Vasiljevic had the motive to lie in order to play down his responsibility for these crimes’, the defense counsel contends.

Both Milan and Sredoje Lukic indicated they would be presenting an alibi defense, contending they were on elsewhere when the crimes were committed. The Trial Chamber is presided by Judge Robinson from Jamaica; the other members are Judge Van den Wyngaert from Belgium and Judge David from Argentina. The prosecution was allowed to call forty-five witnesses and was allotted 60 hours for their examination. The prosecution case should be completed by 9 October 2008.