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August 3, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 252
Strpci Investigation

The Key Witness Disappears

by Velizar Brajovic

Reports of the disappearance of the main witness to the abduction of passengers from a Belgrade-Bar train at Strpci station in 1993 came from a press conference by the Montenegro Social Democrat Party (SDP) on Tuesday, July 20. SDP deputy leader and chairman of the parliamentary commission to investigate the abduction, Dragisa Burzan said he would publish the witnesses statement on video tape unless the police disclose his whereabouts in two days. When this article was written (Wednesday, July 31) there was no news on the witness.

Burzan wouldn’t disclose the identity of the witness or details of his testimony. He said the people to blame for the abduction were not in Pale but on this side of the Drina river. He didn’t exclude the possibility of the witness being a plant but added that the testimony is credible because he spent a lot of time with the kidnappers and abductees and because the "testimony fits into the mosaic of information we and the families of the abductees collected".

He said the witness was afraid for himself and his family and asked for protection from the people he accused. SDP leaders also feared for his safety and they immediately informed Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, police Minister Filip Vukanovic, Public Prosecutor Vlada Susovic and the Podgorica security center. Soon, every trace of the witness disappeared.

Well informed sources told VREME that the police and authorities knew the witness was in Podgorica. He stayed in room 121 of the Crna Gora hotel unregistered. Hotel staff, other guests and the plain clothes police guarding him could not have failed to notice him. The man is a Serbian citizen, a volunteer who fought in most places in Bosnia and spent time in Visegrad as commander of a volunteer unit. He was exiled to Serbia last year but wasn’t left alone by the people who feared he could disclose any of the things he saw and heard. VREME sources said he contacted the Burzan commission himself six months ago. Burzan and his people won’t say anything more on the abduction and there was no way to check if the witness was one of the people the commission wanted the police to interview. Police sources said the witness came to Podgorica when summoned by the police with the knowledge of his lawyer. He was ordered not to leave his room but he sometimes ate in public restaurants, angering his security. His wife came to see him and he once managed to get away from his guards in order to escort her to the railway station but was caught and brought back to the hotel.

Burzan did not know the witness was in Podgorica when he reported the findings of his commission to parliament. The report which said the investigation was faked by the authorities was adopted, the commission was dissolved and Vujanovic and federal justice minister Uros Klikovac convinced parliament that an intense investigation was underway. Days later, the witness appeared in the SDP offices. That meeting was probably organized by his lawyer but it’s not clear whether the police knew about it. One police officer said Montenegro police chiefs went to Belgrade after meeting the witness but came back angry because the Serbian police wouldn’t cooperate. That was just before the opposition SDP taped the testimony.

One conclusion that imposes itself is that FRY President Zoran Lilic was right when he fingered Milan Lukic as the organizer of the abduction.

"Volunteer units in Visegrad were supplied at the time by the Yugoslav Army (VJ) 2d Corps," one source reported the witness as saying. "Milan Lukic told several meetings that a train robbery had to be organized to get money for cigarettes. That was the only goal at first at least the way Lukic planned it."

"They took some army trucks and headed for Strpci. Lukic didn’t have the permission of the military authorities and the convoy avoided army checkpoints and was late. Serbian police checkpoints weren’t avoided on the way to the station in Serbia."

The sources said the witness did not take part in the operation but says he heard the kidnappers had someone on the train, i.e. that some policemen helped them. On the way to Visegrad, four of the abductees tried to escape and were killed."

"When they got to Visegrad, I saw seven of the abductees lined up. A man called Crni stood in front of them, shouting threats which everyone thought was just empty words until he opened fire from his assault rifle and killed them. Some people protested saying the abductees could’ve been exchanged for our people. The others, I learned later, were shut in an empty arms depot. I’m sure none of them survived."

There are a lot of things that have to be cleared up including the motives of the witness and claims by VREME sources that the Serbian police wouldn’t cooperate on the case. The Montenegrin police had valuable information on the abduction earlier when two police inspectors went to Visegrad. Perhaps the information they brought back was the reason why prosecutor Susovic fiercely protested when the Serbian police released Lukic.

The investigation is continuing but obviously there’s no agreement to disclose the facts.


Latest reports said the Montenegrin police reported the witness was in a safe place.

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