At last, the man I hunted for years has been caught
by Nerma Jelacic
Thirteen years ago yesterday, stripped of childhood, identity and nationality thanks to Milan Lukić, I arrived in Britain from Višegrad to start a journey with no end. I was 15 years old, and remember the sense of shame when TV cameras and radio microphones surrounded me - ‘the refugee’ - to ask how it felt.
I was ashamed because I felt betrayed by my friends, most of them Bosnian Serbs. Because in April 1992 they had abandoned me, like thousands of others, without a word of warning. Because, in their name, my people had been killed in, or driven out of, what was for us the most beautiful town in the world.
All this had seemed inconceivable the previous New Year's Eve, as we - Muslims and Serbs - celebrated together the arrival of 1992 at my house. But three months later, in the deep of a warm spring night, a light and a crackling sound awoke me. Through a blind, I saw dozens of houses belonging to my Muslim neighbours on fire, male inhabitants rounded up by men in uniforms. Some would come back beaten and bruised; others were never heard from again.
Checkpoints sprang up across town, manned by a mix of drunken paramilitaries and regular army units. The war was not official yet - but in Višegrad it had started, with murders in surrounding villages and beatings of influential Muslims from the town.
The name most often mentioned in connection with detentions, beatings, rapes, torture, executions, plunder and destruction was always the same - Milan Lukić. If not him, his followers, later a paramilitary unit under his command that went under various names: the White Eagles, the Avengers, the Wolves. By then, Lukić was 25. His subsequent biography was written in the blood of his neighbours, among them my friends and family.
It was before the horror of human torches locked into houses that my mother decided to get us out. Were it not for Serb friends, we would not have been able to flee across the border into Serbia, but instead would have ended up in the hell of the besieged enclaves of Goražde, Žepa or Srebrenica, like many others from Višegrad.
I spent 10 years in Britain trying to begin a new life, but my roots were stronger than I was. In 2003, I returned to Bosnia and spent much time trying to track down Lukić. When everyone was running away from him, I was desperate to speak to him, combing eastern Bosnia and Serbia in hope of finding him. The first time I went home to look for him in Višegrad, the town was derelict and rotting in its recent past. I even forced myself to sleep in the Vilina Vlas hotel, the rape camp, to try to grasp the horror of where (who knows) I might have been, had we stayed. I watched some stranger's child playing on the swing at what had been my home and realised, like thousands of others, I would never live here again.
I got close to finding Lukić - a friend passed me his mobile number - but unfortunately failed to meet him. I felt it was only by talking to Lukić that I could unravel the myth about him, and the planning of the murder of 3,000 of my townsfolk and the ethnic cleansing of the rest. It could not have been done by one man only.
This is why the arrest of Lukić, although welcome, will not bring justice to Višegrad. Nor does his arrest end the now 13-year-long journey on which he inadvertently sent me. The journey of thousands of Višegrad's victims will not end until the murderers who remained in the shadow are brought to justice too.
This article appeared in The Guardian (London), 11 August 2005. Nerma Jelačić is Bosnia country director of the IWPR/BIRN.