Courtside: Bosanski Samac Case

By Vjera Bogati in The Hague (TU No. 290, 18-22 November, 2002)

Accused of ordering crimes against Croats and Bosniaks in the town taken over by the Serbs in April 1992, Simic took the witnesses stand to deny knowledge of the abuses.

He was among the first witnesses as his defence team began their side of the case last week.

Three accused, Simic, Simo Zaric and Miroslav Tadic - former political leaders in the area - will each present their defence against allegations made not only by the prosecution, but also by two of their former co-accused, Stevan Todorovic and Milan Simic.

Both men have already pleaded guilty and thus admitted that war crimes happened in the town.

Explaining the take-over of the town by the Serbs in 1992, Simic said that people had lived in fear earlier in the year. There were rumours that a Croatian entity in northern Bosnia was being established, and another rumour that several officials of the Bosnian Serb Democratic Party, SDS, were arrested, tortured or killed. There was also talk that ethnic Muslim and Croat units were planning to take over Bosanski Samac.

The indictment alleges that Bosnian Serbs, with the help of the Yugoslav army and paramilitary units, took control of the town as part of a wider plan for the SDS to take control of a large part of the country.

Persecutions, detention, killings and deportations of non-Serbs were the next steps in these areas including Bosanski Samac, it is alleged.

Simic told the court that, as the leader of crisis staff - an ad-hoc Serb local government - he had heard about the detention of a "small number" of Croatian civilians in the village of Crkvine, but he claimed they had been released quickly with an apology.

Former detainees have already testified about the grim conditions, killings and torture in the Crkvine camp.

Todorovic, the former police chief, has already testified for the prosecution to say that a Serb paramilitary leader, Slobodan Miljkovic, executed several detainees in Crkvine, and that the crisis staff was told all about it.

Simic said the killings were a "shameful and ruthless act". However, he said Todorovic was an unreliable person, who was an "alcoholic and drug addict". Simic said Todorovic had given a hard time even to Serbs in the crisis staff.

Todorovic testified that on one occasion he took Simic to Belgrade to discuss the appointment of a Serbian paramilitary to the position of Bosanski Samac army commander.

Another co-accused, Zaric, confirmed the trip to Belgrade and said Simic had spoken by phone from there to Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic - who disapproved of Simic's meddling in military matters.

The accused denies this, and claims he only went to Belgrade to seek humanitarian help.

The issue of Belgrade's involvement in the conflict was important for the prosecution because it seeks to prove that the conflict in Bosnia was international in character, involving outside forces from Yugoslavia. This allegation is rejected by the defence.

In addition to that, the defence will try to refute charges that the accused played key role in the ethnic cleansing of Bosanski Samac. But they will not deny that serious crimes happened.

Vjera Bogati is an IWPR correspondent in The Hague and a journalist with SENSE news agency.


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