Interview – Milan Lukic: ‘I did not rule Visegrad’
By Aida Mia Alić
16 March 2011 The former Serbian paramilitary leader, awaiting judgment in The Hague, talks about crimes in Visegrad and accuses the ex-director of the Republika Srpska police of protecting those “most responsible”.
Milan and Sredoje Lukic went on trial in July 2008 before the International Criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, for crimes committed against non-Serb civilians in Visegrad, eastern Bosnia, in 1992.
Milan Lukic was sentenced in July 2009 by first-instance verdict to life imprisonment for the murder of 130 women, children and elderly persons whom he trapped in houses in Pionirska street and Bikavac village near Visegrad and which he then set on fire, shot at with an automatic rifle and into which he threw grenades. The same verdict found Lukic guilty of murdering 13 persons in various parts of Visegrad, and of beating prisoners in the Uzamnica camp in the town.
For assisting in the murders of 59 persons in Pionirska Street and the harassment of prisoners in Uzamnica, the tribunal sentenced Sredoje Lukic to 30 years in prison.
After the first instance verdict both the Hague prosecution and defence lawyers of the accused appealed. Milan Lukic was arrested in August 2005 in Argentina, and transferred to the Hague detention unit in February 2006.
Q: Is it true that you negotiated with the Hague Tribunal before you were arrested?
A: I never negotiated with anyone from the Hague Tribunal regarding my possible surrender. Not only did I not negotiate with them, but also with any other international or national institutions. My [first] contact with a representative of the Hague Tribunal was in Argentina after my arrest in 2005. A man from the Office of the Prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal and Dragomir Andan from the Republika Srpska police visited me in the prison in Argentina. The Hague Tribunal representative asked me to testify against some accused who were awaiting trial before the Tribunal, but I categorically rejected it. When Andan walked in, he gave me a piece of paper, which said that I should not say anything bad about Brane Savovic and Risto Perisic, who decided about life and death during the war in Visegrad. They spoke to me separately, the Tribunal representative on his own and Andan on his own, although I was aware that the conversations were being secretly recorded and documented. So, all this can be checked in the records of the prison in Argentina.
(BIRN-Justice Report was unable to make contact with Dragomir Andan, former director of the Republika Srpska Police, Branimir Savovic, former president of the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, in Visegrad or Risto Perisic, former commander of the police in the town.
Q: Why did you not surrender and what were the conditions of your surrender?
As I have already said, I never and nowhere negotiated my surrender with anyone, so that I could not set any conditions in this respect. It is obvious that you have also fallen for the propaganda that Savovic and Perisic spread so as to portray me in the most negative light possible to the Serbian people, knowing what people think about the Hague Tribunal. As far as I know, while I was in Serbia, no one surrendered voluntarily. To tell the truth, why would I surrender voluntarily when I know that my indictment was set up by Savovic and Perisic who are most responsible for all the crimes in the Visegrad area. Should I really have reported myself voluntarily and done time for those two? During the war, those two criminals made lists of Muslims
who were to be arrested, and after the war had ended, they made lists of Serbs who should be convicted for the crimes that they had committed. Given that I was very well aware of all this, did I have the right, for the sake of my personal honour and for the dignity of my family and myself, to do time for someone else?
Q: When you were arrested under the name of Goran Dukanovic, you had a Serbian passport. Why did you choose Argentina and that name? Did anyone help you while you were in hiding?
A: First of all, I would like to initiate you into the method of obtaining a forged passport. When I got in touch with an individual who forges personal and other documents, he showed me a passport of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the name of Goran Dukanovic and, of course, with his photograph. Since the other details (in the first place, the year of birth) were more or less the same as mine and the passport was undamaged, I decided to take it. The forger then took off Dukanovic’s photograph and pasted mine instead. From that moment on, I had in my hand a passport with my original photograph in the name of Goran Dukanovic. This scheme cost me 300 euros. This name is pure coincidence and it could have been any other name.
If you knew how beautiful Argentina is, you would probably also go and live there. A beautiful country, beautiful women, beautiful people, a cheap and civilised country, everything is superlative there. I would go there tomorrow and take my whole family with me to settle permanently in that beautiful country. With such beauty around, there was no need for anyone to help me. It was God who helped me, as well as the hospitable people of Argentina, and in particular the beautiful women of Argentina.
Q: How long did you hide and in which countries? Why did you hide if you think you are innocent?
A: In 1998, since I was under direct threat of liquidation organised by Savovic and Perisic, I left Visegrad and Bosnia and Herzegovina. I secretly stayed, with false documents, in Belgrade. When, in 2004, my brother Novica was killed in a pre-planned action in Visegrad before the very eyes of his children and wife and without him offering any resistance or having any weapons, I decided to leave Serbia, Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia. Using a false passport, I first went to Brazil via Macedonia and Bulgaria, and then to Argentina, where I was arrested.
When you ask me why I went into hiding although I am not guilty, I have to answer by quoting that popular saying when they asked a rabbit why he was running when it was horses who were under threat (I do not want to be vulgar, but you know what I am referring to). The rabbit replied: ‘By the time I have proven I am not a horse, my b… are gone.’ If we add to this what my favourite writer, Mesa Selimovic, once said, ‘It is not important what somebody has done, but what people say he has done.’ It will become clear to you why I went into hiding.
Q: You said earlier that you know a lot about the crimes committed in Bosnia, but were afraid to talk about them. Has the situation changed? Do you think you should talk about the crimes that you are aware of so that those responsible can be arrested and prosecuted?
A: I refused to talk about crimes committed by others and I did so until the moment my life and the life of my loved ones came under direct threat. This was obviously not enough for some people who, in order to keep me silent for good, killed my brother. Since then, I have had nothing to hide and I am prepared to state the facts regardless of whether they incriminate somebody or not, or how they will be qualified. I simply feel obliged to speak about the events that I know of personally and thus make my contribution to justice and the truth.
Q: The available information suggests you were a member of a network that supported Radovan Karadzic. Is this true and how did this network operate?
A: I want to tell you straight away that I was never a member of a network that supported or assisted Radovan Karadzic in his hiding. As you can see from my previous answers, I was in another part of the world and he was in the centre of Belgrade. How could I have helped anyone while I was in Belgrade when I was also trying to avoid arrest and liquidation? For someone to be able to help somebody, he must be able to move around freely and to communicate freely with people. Moreover, don’t you think I was a small fish compared to such a bigwig?
Q: Are you satisfied with the way you have been treated in Scheveningen and with how the trial was conducted? Did you have enough resources in your defence team or should additional lawyers have been engaged?
A: The attitude towards me and the way I have been treated at the Detention Unit in Scheveningen have been highly professional, the same as in the case of any other detainee, without any incidents. As for the trial, I cannot talk about it now because appeals proceedings are currently under way. As for the resources of my defence team, this issue is for legal annals. I should say right from the start that the capacity of the defence team was insufficient both because of the inadequate number of attorneys and also because of major problems.
At the beginning, I had an attorney from America, who was to be the leader of my defence team. However, after he took the money from the pre-trial stage, it turned out that he could not be my permanent counsel because he was already working in another case and the trial in this case was under way. So, he lied to me. He suggested I take one of his colleagues, who had no experience, who avoided any kind of communication and who did nothing for the preparation of my defence for a year.
I then asked the Registry to appoint my lawyer, Milomir Salic, from Belgrade, as my defence counsel,
but the Registry refused and put me in a situation where I had to take a lawyer from their list. Having no choice, I took Bojan Suleic, who was on the list, but very soon it turned out he was a drug addict and a swindler, so with great difficulty and the opposition of the Registry, I finally managed to revoke his power-of-attorney. It was only at the beginning of the trial, without any preparations, that I managed to engage real counsel, Jackson and Ivetic. Their struggle, with my assistance, stood no chance against the many members of the Prosecution team and their resources. But I hope that the Appeals Chamber will find strength to correct the injustice done to me.
Q: You were accused of crimes committed in Visegrad. Did you take part in these crimes? Who is responsible for the crimes committed in the town and do you know where Savovic and Perisic are now?
|Visegradski most mala
A: I did not take part either directly or indirectly in any of the crimes of which I stand accused nor did I contribute in any other way to their commission. Savovic and Perisic decided on everything that happened in the town of Visegrad so they are the persons who should explain every crime that happened there. According to my information, both of them are living in Serbia, more precisely, in Cacak, Dragise Micovica Street 227. Just as they did during the war, when the war ended, they continued selling all sorts of goods on the black market with the help of, among others, the brother of an important politician in Cacak who protects them. People see them in Serbia, in cafes, often in the company of some members of the Beli Orlovi [“White Eagles”] unit.
Q: Some members of the army have accused you of crimes in Srebrenica. Were you or your unit in Srebrenica in July 1995? Did you participate in the killing of prisoners in Kravica?
A: I have never been to Srebrenica, including the period that you are asking me about. This story – which I have also heard – was spread by some generals and the police of Republika Srpska who did so in order to shift their own responsibility and the responsibility of their subordinates onto someone else. That’s why it was easiest for them to accuse Milan Lukic, no matter who it referred to. It was important for them to have the story spread. However, when I met some of them here in Scheveningen, they apologised to me and asked me to forgive them, because they had thought I would never be arrested and, consequently, would never be able to deny anything in this respect. In any case, no judgments in trials relating to Srebrenica have confirmed my participation in any crimes in Kravica, Potocari or Srebrenica. It was impossible to find anything of the kind, since I was never there. As far as I know, there are video recordings of the killing of prisoners in Kravica that were used as evidence before this Tribunal. I am not in these video recordings.
Q: You were called to testify before the court in Bosnia and Herzegovina in trials relating to Visegrad. Why did you not testify?
A: It is true that I was called to testify. I refused only because my trial had not even begun, let alone ended, because I personally had to make a lot of effort and work hard to prepare my own defence, in view of the many problems that I had with my lawyers, about which we have already spoken. It is never too late to hear the truth.
Q: Some of the victims from Visegrad have said that you were the ruler of the town. Is this true and what do you think about this?
I was not the ruler of Visegrad town, either during the war or in peacetime. Let me remind you that I arrived in Visegrad in May 1992 after working in Switzerland for several years. I was forcibly mobilised when, following a call from my parents, I arrived there in order to move them and find accommodation for them in Serbia because the situation in Visegrad and its surroundings had become unbearable for the Serbs. All those who had somewhere to go did so. I was only 24 at the time. Don’t you find it a little strange that someone who arrived after so many years and was mobilised into the reserve police force as an ordinary policeman and then assigned to the VRS as a scout would rule the town? What’s too much is too much. Ask Avdija Sabanovic, Fikret Cocalic and others who ruled the town. Except for Savovic and Perisic, neither I nor anybody else could have that ‘privilege’. It was they who spread this story and used it extensively to camouflage their own responsibility.
Q: Your brother, Novica Lukic, was killed in April 2004 in his family home. On the basis of your information, why was he killed? Were you supposed to have been liquidated that day instead of him?
A: The killing of my brother was ordered by Savovic and Perisic and carried out by Radomir Njegus and Dragomir Andan. My brother was the target because they knew very well that after 1998 I had never been in Visegrad, not for one minute. Their plan was to liquidate me when I came to the funeral and, to this end, ambushes were set up at places where it was possible to cross illegally from Serbia to the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina. When my brother was killed, he was in his pyjamas, he had got out of his bed to open the door. He was first wounded and while he was lying on the floor, they came close to him and fired into his heart. I know for sure that a meeting was held at Zlatibor, attended by Savovic, Perisic, Andan, Njegus … where the action to kill my brother was planned. Isn’t this example enough for you to conclude what kind of monsters they are and what they are prepared to do? You can imagine what they were prepared to do during the war. This can mean only one thing: they were promised absolute protection from any kind of responsibility.
(Radomir Njegus, former director of the Republika Srpska police did not want to comment on the comments made by Milan Lukic)
Aida Mia Alic is a journalist with BIRN – Justice Report. email@example.com Justice Report is one of BIRN’s weekly online publications