The man who burned children

Serb War Criminal Mitar Vasiljevic. Commited Crimes Against Bosniak Muslims in Visegrad.

But it was in the south-eastern city of Visegrad one year earlier, say prosecutors, that a different ethnic campaign was maybe even more successful. In Courtroom Two, Bosnian Serb Mitar Vasiljevic is being tried for extermination and murdering Muslims while he was a member of the White Eagles paramilitary group. Before the war, over half of Visegrad’s residents were Muslim. After it, there wasn’t a single one left, and prosecutors say that following Srebrenica, Visegrad has the highest number of people who “simply disappeared.” “Mitar Vasiljevic is not the most infamous among the Tribunal’s indictees,” Prosecutor Dermot Groome told the three judges hearing the case. “But he is one who by his own hands committed an act which is perhaps one of the single most horrific and egregious affronts to humanity in the war, to the most innocent of victims.”

Those victims were some 70 Muslims — mostly women and children — who prosecutors say were trying to leave Visegrad. Posing as a Red Cross worker, Vasiljevic is alleged to have led them to a house on Visegrad’s Pioneer Street, where he said they’d be safe. Instead, he and two other men charged with him are said to have burned them alive, shooting at people as they tried to escape through windows. “There was a small baby among them,” said Groome. “She had yet to see her third day on this earth. Anguished cries from the dying echoed … for two hours after the match was first struck.” Five people managed to survive. They will come to The Hague to testify against Vasiljevic, who says he wasn’t there when the fire was set.

There will also be other survivors: two Muslim men who survived a mass execution along the Drina River. One of them, a protected witness, Witness 32, testified Tuesday. The 36-year-old dental technician told how he was one of seven men forced to line up on the banks of the Drina River. Vasiljevic was there with a Kalashnikov automatic weapon. Witness 32 remembers hearing a voice asking whether they were going to “shoot individually or in bursts of gunfire.” The answer, said Witness 32, was individually. He recalled, with his voice choking, the interminable walk down to the river. “These last ten meters of my life I just wanted to spend them with my two-year old daughter. While I was crossing these 10 meters, I didn’t see a thing … I just saw the image of my daughter running into my arms.” He, along with one other, survived by jumping into the river and pretending to be dead. Vasiljevic is charged, in part, with murder as a crime against humanity for being one of the executioners in that massacre.

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