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Belgrade Higher Court. Photo: BIRN.
The high-profile Strpci train massacre case suffered another setback on Tuesday at Belgrade Higher Court as a hearing was postponed yet again due to the illness of one of the defendants accused of abducting 20 people from a train in Strpci in Bosnia and Herzegovina in February 1993 and killing them.
The court decided that the case against defendant Jovan Lipovac should be separated from the others because of his poor health and will continue independently when he is well enough to attend court.
Of the five original defendants in the trial, only three now remain, because one other defendant died last year.
Lipovac’s lawyer Djordje Dozet told the court that his client supposed to go to surgery on Tuesday and therefore could not attend the hearing. The previous hearing on May 11 was postponed because Lipovac was admitted to hospital. The hearing before that, in mid-April, was halted when he became ill.
Lipovac was a Bosnian Serb Army soldier at the time of the crime, according to the indictment. The remaining three defendants, Gojko Lukic, Dusko Vasiljevic and Dragana Djekic, were members of the Avengers paramilitary unit, led by Milan Lukic, who was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Hague Tribunal in 2012 for war crimes in the Bosnian town of Visegrad, but not for the Strpci deaths.
According to the indictment, the non-Serb captives who were seized from the train at Strpci station were taken to a school in Prelovo, where they were physically assaulted, and then to a burned-out house in the village of Musici, where they were executed.
The last witness in the case was heard in January 2021 and the months since then have been marred by delays because of postponed hearings and debate over a psychological analysis of a witness that in the end was dismissed by the court for procedural reasons.
The witness, Mitrasin Glisic, was an assistant cook at the Prelovo school, testified in July and October 2020 that he knew all the defendants and saw them participating in the beating of the victims at one of the crime scenes in 1993. Several hearings were spent discussing the analysis of his mental health before it was dismissed by the court.
Of the other postponed hearings, a court session in June 2021 did not go ahead because one of the five original defendants in the trial, Ljubisa Vasiljevic, did not came to court because he had a high temperature. He died the following month.
Meanwhile, the presiding judge retired in 2021 and so, due to the change in the judging panel, the whole trial had to start over again, causing another delay in progress.
At the trial’s restart in April 2021, defendant Lipovac fell ill. After he was given medical help, a doctor concluded he is not able to participate further in the hearing.
The trial in the Strpci case in Serbia started in March 2019. Although the first year of the proceedings was mostly effective in terms of witnesses and testimonies, the first major delays began with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
A separate trial of ten other Bosnian Serb ex-fighters for the Strpci crime is currently ongoing in Sarajevo.
Two Bosnian Serb fighters have already been convicted of the crime – Nebojsa Ranisavljevic, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in Montenegro, and Mico Jovicic, who received a five-year sentence after pleading guilty before the Bosnian state court.