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Strpci railway station. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Anjci.
After a high-profile seven-year trial, the Bosnian state court found seven former soldiers of the Bosnian Serb Army’s Second Podrinje Brigade guilty on Friday of involvement in the abductions and murders of non-Serbs from a passenger train in Strpci on February 27, 1993.
Obrad and Novak Poluga, Petko Indjic, Radojica Ristic, Dragan Sekaric, Oliver Krsmanovic and Miodrag Mitrasinovic were sentenced to 13 years each for participating, as co-perpetrators, in the murder of 20 civilians who were seized from a train that was travelling from Belgrade to Bar in Montenegro.
The verdict found that the defendants drove in a truck together with members of an armed group to the station in Strpci, where some of them entered the train and, after checked their identity documents, took 20 passengers out.
The captives included a ticket collector, Muslims and Croats, as well as one unknown person of Arabic origin.
They then drove them by truck to a school in Prelovo, where the Second Podrinje Brigade’s First Battalion command was located.
They ordered the civilians to enter the school gym and take their clothes off, then beat them up and tied their hands with wire.
They then drove the civilians, who were covered with blood, by truck to a destroyed house in Musici, where they were shot dead.
Their bodies were then thrown into Drina River. The remains of four of the victims were later found in Lake Perucac; the rest have never been found.
Presiding judge Vesna Jesenkovic said that Milan Lukic, a Bosnian Serb paramilitary leader who was jailed for life for war crimes by the Hague Tribunal, took part in the execution of 18 of the captured civilians.
The two others were killed while attempting to flee. One of them was killed by Nebojsa Ranisavljevic, who was jailed for 15 years by a Montenegrin court, and the other by an unknown soldier.
In 2020, Lukic was also indicted in Bosnia for the Strpci crimes.
Giving a brief explanation of the verdict, judge Jesenkovic said that the court found that the evidence and witnesses’ testimonies showed, beyond reasonable doubt, that the seven defendants committed a war crime against the civilian population.
“When we analyse the witnesses’ testimonies, they lead us to the conclusion that all the defendants were present at the key points of movement of the civilians,” she said.
“They were present when the civilians were taken out of the train for no reason, taken to the school, tied up with wire and beaten and then transferred to the location where they were executed,” she added.
All seven defendants acted with direct premeditation, Jesenkovic said.
An eighth defendant, Luka Dragicevic was acquitted of giving an order to take the passengers away in his capacity as commander of the Second Podrinje Brigade from Visegrad.
The case initially included two other defendants. The proceedings against defendant Boban Indjic were separated from the others, while defendant Vuk Ratkovic died.
Another Bosnian Serb ex-soldier, Mico Jovicic, who was charged with participating in the abduction and murder of the passengers from the train in Strpci in 1993, reached a plea bargain with the prosecution, admitted his guilt and was sentenced to five years in prison.
The trial in Serbia of five Bosnian Serb paramilitaries for the Strpci crime began in 2019 but their case has been plagued by delays. One of the five defendants has died since the trial began and another became too ill to participate in proceedings so his case was separated from the others.
Friday’s verdict can be appealed.