Serb Volunteers Accused of Further Crimes
Witness tells judges about Serb paramilitary attack on Bosnian village in 1992.
By Denis Dzidic in The Hague
A protected witness in the trial of Vojislav Seselj testified this week that Serb volunteers attacked his village, murdering around 20 residents before imprisoning the rest.
Testifying in the Hague tribunal trial of Serb Radical Party, SRS, leader Seselj, the witness said a group of volunteers led by local man Vasilije Vidovic attacked the village of Ljesevo, killing some 20 civilians. He said that he was among the surviving villagers sent to prison camps, where they were kept in harsh conditions and subjected to forced labour.
Known only by the pseudonym VS 1055, the witness said that the group of Serb volunteer fighters came to the Ilijas region in central Bosnia in the early Nineties.
“I knew Vidovic very well from before the war. In 1991, he went to fight with the Yugoslav People’s Army on the Croatian front, and he came back with about 20 volunteers from Serbia who were under his command,” stated the witness.
The witness then drew a connection between Vidovic and Seselj, saying that several years after the war, he saw the former serve as the politician’s bodyguard, in a report on a Republika Srpska, RS, television station.
“There were riots in Belgrade and a mob wanted to attack Seselj. I saw Vidovic there as one of Seselj’s security guards. He drew his gun to protect Seselj,” said the witness.
Prosecutors charge Seselj with inciting Serbs to fight Bosniaks and Croats as part of a “joint criminal enterprise” to force non-Serbs out of parts of Croatia and Bosnia, and with encouraging the creation of a homogenous “Greater Serbia”.
Seselj is also accused of “recruiting and funding SRS party volunteers” who allegedly committed crimes against non-Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia.
According to VS 1055, ethnic tensions between Serbs and Bosniaks in the Ilijas region near Sarajevo “reached a climax” in May 1992, and the Serbs decided to form their own government – the Serbian Autonomous Region, SAO, of Romanija.
“This effectively meant that all non-Serbs were fired from their jobs and positions and replaced with Serbs,” said the witness.
Ilijas and the wider Sarajevo region were not the only places affected, said the witness. He told the court that he saw a report on the Sarajevo television station which said that forces attached to Seselj and notorious Serb paramilitary leader Arkan had taken over the northeastern town of Bijeljina.
“I remember there were bodies on the streets,”said the witness.
Zeljko “Arkan” Raznatovic, whose “Tigers” are suspected of committing numerous crimes during the 1992-95 conflict, was murdered in Belgrade in January 2000.
According to the witness, many non-Serbs – himself included – tried to leave SAO Romanija because they feared for their lives. However, they were stopped by Serb police barricades.
“I managed to get my family out over a hill nearby, not through the roads. I stayed behind, and on June 4 1992, the Serb forces’ attack on Ljesevo began,” said the witness.
“There were no Bosniak fighters or any units inside the village. However, the Serb forces attacked us with every type of weapons – shells, grenades and infantry. A group of us hid inside a basement of a neighbour nearby and the attack lasted several hours.
“When the attack finished, we heard a group of Chetniks [Serb volunteers] outside the basement and were ordered to get out and lie on the ground. I remember that Vidovic was in charge of those men. They arrested us and took us away.”
According to him, the detainees were first transferred to the Iskra camp in Podlugovi and after a few months, to the Planjina Kuca camp in Vogosca.
“In Iskra, we were subjected to terrible conditions. There were 130 of us there, without water or anything to sleep on. In August, they took us to Planjina Kuca. There we had water, however, we were forced to work. They would take us to dig trenches or bury their dead.”
Seselj objected to the entire testimony of the witness. He repeatedly called him a liar and was reprimanded several times by the judges.
The accused then produced a signed statement from Vidovic saying that although he had a group of fighters in the Ilijas region, they were all “natives from that area”.
“None of them were from Serbia,” said the statement.
But the witness replied that he was sure of what he saw and would be willing to come to the court again and “confront Vidovic”.
Seselj then presented the judges with the official notebook of the group, which Vidovic kept personally, and which contained a list of its fighters. The defendant vowed they were all from the Ilijas region.
“Vidovic is also expected to appear as a defence witness,” said Seselj.
Seselj also challenged the witness’s claim that as there were no Bosniak fighters in Ljesevo, there was no need to attack the village.
He read a statement from former general of the RS army Dragan Josipovic which said that the Serb village of Odzaci near Ljesevo was attacked by Bosniak forces a “month prior to the Serb retaliation on Ljesevo”.
“One of the directions from which the Bosniak forces attacked Odzaci was Ljesevo,” it said.
However, the witness dismissed the statement as a “lie”.
“We heard fighting somewhere, but it had nothing to do with our village and we took no part in that,” he said.
The witness also said that when he came back to the village after the war, the Serbs who had remained said its mosques had been destroyed by Vidovic and his men.
But Seselj rejected this claim.
“Vidovic’s own sister is married to a former Libyan diplomat in Belgrade who is a Muslim and his sister is now a Muslim as well. I met all of them and they get on very well. How can you accuse this kind of man of destroying a mosque?” he asked.
The witness said he only knew what he had heard “from his neighbours”.
When asked whether he ever saw Seselj in the Ilijas region, the witness replied he had not. However, he said he saw him “on television in 1993 or early 1994” when Seselj came to visit Ilijas and made a speech.
The trial continues next week.
Denis Dzidic is an IWPR-trained reporter in The Hague.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.