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Court Hears of “Awful” Serb-run Camp

Omarska camp employees speak of terrible conditions, but try not to implicate camp commander in crimes committed there.
Defence witnesses at a Serb policeman’s war crimes trial in Sarajevo testified this week how conditions at a detention camp he oversaw were appalling, but disagreed over whether he was in absolute control of the complex as prosecutors allege.

Nada Markovski, a stenographer who wrote up detainees’ statements, said she had always assumed defendant Zeljko Mejakic was “in charge of the Omarska camp and the security within it”.

Her testimony chimed with the indictment, in which prosecutors accuse Mejakic and three other men of committing crimes against humanity and murders at this camp in northern Bosnia in 1992. According to the indictment, Mejakic was chief of security and controlled the lives of 3,000 civilian detainees held there, primarily Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats.

Markovski said Simo Drljaca, commander of the Prijedor police department, stationed her at Omarska in order “to type statements gathered from detainees”. Drljaca was killed in July 1997 when resisting arrest by international forces.

According to Markovski, she never saw any beatings of detainees, however “sometimes I could hear screams, and sometimes I saw people with bruises”.

Zeljko Grabovica, a former reserve police officer who worked with army interrogators at the Omarska camp, also described the “awful” conditions in the camp.

Grabovica claimed he was drafted as a reserve police officer before the war, and worked in the Omarska police station. He said that he didn’t know who the station commander was but that he “took orders from the active police officers like Mejakic and Miroslav Kvocka".

In November 2001, Kvocka was sentenced by the Hague tribunal to seven years imprisonment for his role as Omarska camp security commander.

“What I would do was, I would get a piece of paper from the investigators I was assigned to help, and then I would go to the rooms where the detainees were held and try to find the person on the paper,” explained Grabovica.

“The state of the camp and the detainees was very hard. The weather was hot and the smell was terrible. I don’t know what the food was like, because I ate with the investigators but I assume it wasn’t good and that the people were hungry,” he said.

According to the witness, the police never got involved in the questioning of detainees, and were never involved in beatings of detainees.

“The two investigators I worked with never hurt detainees, sometimes I would sit in the room while they interrogated one of them. However, behind the other closed doors I could hear moans and screams. Sometimes they would bring a person out who was beaten so badly that he could barely walk,” said Grabovica.

Grabovica testified that he saw Mejakic inside the camp often, talking to security, but said he had never heard of Momcilo Gruban, a fellow defendant.

When asked if he knew what positions the defendants held inside the camp, the witness claimed that after he started working with the investigators he stopped working with the police, and “didn’t know anything about them”.

But former Omarska police officer Radovan Kecan was adamant that Mejakic was not the commander of the Omarska police department. All decisions regarding the camp, he said, went through the “Prijedor police station and Simo Drljaca”.

Mirko Kobas, a medical technician who was assigned to the camp in order to help detainees, said that the conditions in the rooms where detainees were held were appalling, and “they smelled horrible because of the high temperatures”.

He claimed that he was ordered to go to the camp by Drljaca because “the detainees had problems with infections”.

“When we entered the camp, everything was quiet, and the rooms smelled bad. We saw dirty and hairy men held in them,” recalled Kobas.

According to the witness, detainees were given only “sporadic medical assistance because we were ordered only to clean the rooms”.

Pero Rendic was a worker in the camp kitchens and also described the dreadful conditions prevalent at Omarska. When entering the courtroom, he waved to the defendants, but the judges refused his request to shake their hands.

According to him, the detainees received “one meal per day, but the bread had to be divided into eight parts because there wasn’t enough”.

Rendic also claimed that there were a lot of supplies in the kitchen at the beginning, “but they melted away because we were making such large meals. The quality of the food could not be improved because there were no new supplies”.

The indictment alleges Mejakic, along with the three other men, took part in the mistreatment and persecution of non-Serbs in the Prijedor municipality confined at the Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje camps in 1992. The detainees were allegedly held in inhumane conditions and subjected to sexual, physical and psychological torture.

According to the indictment, Gruban and Dusan Fustar are charged as commanders of guard shifts at the Omarska and Keraterm camps respectively.

The hearing will continue on February 27 when Mejakic’s defence will present its final two witnesses. After which the other defendants will be able to start their defence.

Denis Dzidic is an IWPR reporter in Sarajevo.

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