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Four state Prosecution witnesses in the trial of Marko Samardzija changed their preliminary statements on March 9.
Judge Zorica Gogala, prosecutor Vesna Ilic and even defence counsellor Zlatko Knezevic warned the witnesses several times that they are under oath and that perjury is a criminal offence, but to no avail.
The witnesses said either that they had no recollection of the events in question or of their previous statements.
As a commander in the Bosnian Serb army, Samardzija is accused of evicting Bosnian Muslim civilians from their homes in the Brkici settlement and then separating the men from the women, as part of a large-scale systematic persecution of civilians in the Biljani village, located in the Kljuc municipality of north-western Bosnia.
The prosecution claims Samardzija ordered the women to march towards a primary school in Biljani. At the same time, men aged from 18 to 60 years of age were allegedly detained in the school and a nearby cultural centre before being executed in groups of five and ten.
Other men, the indictment reads, were first beaten up and then taken by bus to the Laniste area where they were executed.
In a preliminary statement given to the prosecution last year, witness Mile Pesevic said that he saw Samardzija at the location from which the victims were taken for execution and that he saw the accused line up the troops that executed the victims in front of the school.
“I might have made a wrong statement at that time. There were other commanders there and I now can’t remember whether I saw him at all,” Pesevic told judges on Thursday.
After he was warned that his testimony was in discord with his preliminary statement, Pesevic went on to say, “I did see him, but I can’t remember where.”
When asked by the Judicial Council’s President why he was changing his testimony, Pesevic replied his previous statement was based on what people had told him in Biljani.
Another witness, Dragan Vukic, also contradicted his original statement that he saw Samardzija at the crime scene. “I did say that in my preliminary statement but I don’t think he was there,” Vukic told the chamber.
Even more controversial was the testimony of Dusan Samardzija, a distant relative of the accused, who said he realised belatedly that he was a witness for the prosecution and not for the defence.
Before he took the oath, he said, “If I had known this, I would never have come to the trial.”
The following day, on March 10, the prosecution brought four Bosniak women who witnessed the events in Biljani.
They testified that Serb troops carrying rifles arrived in the village on 10 July 1992 and took away the men from the village, executing them near the primary school.
According to Hasiba Mulahmetovic, the troops wore olive green raincoats because it was raining, had stockings over their heads and were carrying rifles.
Mulahmetovic said that the men taken to the primary school never returned.
“My brother was slaughtered. He was found in the Laniste mass grave in 1996, near the village of Biljani. I still know nothing about the fate of my brother-in-law and his grandson,” she said.
Zuhra Avdic, whose 11 male relatives were killed, was among the women forcefully taken to the area near the school.
“Soldiers came to us and ordered us to do the Serb three-finger salute and cross ourselves. In the school backyard, they set on fire a red fez and a flag they took off the mosque. They cursed our mothers. I saw Marko Samardzija in front of a house near the school,” Avdic recollected.
The detained men were executed near the school and their bodies – according to the witnesses – were taken away in trucks, armoured vehicles and bulldozers.
“When we went to collect the bodies in the evening, I saw Marko Samardzija near the primary school. He was on an armoured vehicle with a rifle in his hand,” Sefika Domzet, a third witness told the trial chamber.
She said the women had gone to the school after they were told to collect belongings that the men had left behind.
“I found no remains of my husband until 1996 when he was discovered in Laniste mass grave,” Domazet said.
The trial of Marko Samardzija continues on April 3.