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Court Told Foca Muslims Forced to Flee

Witness says their homes and mosques were destroyed.
By Velma Šarić

The trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic continued this week at the Hague tribunal with prosecution witnesses’ testimonies about crimes committed in the eastern Bosnian town of Foca in 1992.

Two protected witnesses were issued pseudonyms KDZ-379 and KDZ-239 and testified with face and voice distortion in order to conceal their identity.

Foca, briefly renamed to Srbinje during the war in Bosnia, is one of the 21 municipalities listed in the indictment against Karadzic.

The accused is charged with planning, instigating, ordering and/or aiding and abetting persecutions on political and religious grounds against Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croats.

At this stage of the trial, the prosecutors are presenting evidence about crimes committed in individual municipalities listed in the indictment against Karadzic.

Witnesses KDZ-379 and KDZ-239 had already appeared before the tribunal in 2000, when they testified for the prosecution in the case against Milorad Krnojelac.

Krnojelac, who was the commander of a Serb-held detention centre in the former Foca prison, was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment by the tribunal in 2003.

First to testify at Karadzic’s trial this week was KDZ-379, a former officer in the Yugoslav People's Army, JNA. His nationality has not been disclosed.

In 1992, at the beginning of the Bosnian war, KDZ-379 was stationed at a JNA operations centre in Pilipovici, a village in the Foca municipality.

During his testimony, he described how he gave refuge to Bosniak civilians fleeing Foca in April 1992. He told the court that "by April 25, 1992, the city had been taken over by Serb forces".

"The entire Muslim population of Foca was forced to flee," the witness explained, adding that "their houses, even mosques, were being destroyed."

According to the witness, the next day - April 26 - the JNA centre in which he was based was stormed by the White Eagles, a paramilitary formation from Serbia.

"The White Eagles took Bosniaks away by buses," KDZ-379 said.

He told the judges that the paramilitaries were commanded by a man named Vesimir Dida, who arrested him and took him to the Velicevo prison.

"At Velicevo, I met Velibor Ostojic," the witness added, referring to a trusted aide of Karadzic and former vice-president of the Republika Srpska government.

"Ostojic asked me with some surprise why I had joined the Ustashe and Balije,” he said, referring to derogatory terms used by Serbs to describe Croats and Bosniaks, respectively.

After he had been questioned there, the witness said he was "allowed to cross into Serbia a few days later".

The prosecutors also played in court a video from 1995 showing the interview with a man named Miroslav Stanic.

In the interview, Stanic spoke about Foca being "liberated" from Bosniaks and that the Drina river, which separates Bosnia from Serbia and flows through Foca, can never be a "borderline between Serb lands”.

Witness KDZ-379 confirmed that he had seen Stanic on several occasions during his detention at Velicevo, alongside most other members of Karadzic’s Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, crisis staff, who were active in the Foca municipality at the time.

Another video, relating to a meeting organised by the SDS in support of Karadzic in 1995, after the tribunal had already issued an indictment against him, was also shown in court.

In this video, Stanic was seen saying that “no-one should dare put Serb heroes on trial" and that the "Serbs will never betray the sons of the Nemanjic family", referring to a medieval Serb dinasty.

During cross-examination, Karadzic gave a short introduction about "Foca's bloody past" and said that he considered "the war in Bosnia to be a continuation of World War Two".

The accused also claimed that "Bosniaks in Foca were armed" and were "using mosques to shoot at Serbs", which the witness rejected.

"If they were armed, how come they were running for their lives and how come Foca was taken over [by Serbs] in only six days?” the witness asked.

The other witness, KDZ-239, was resident of Foca until 1992.

He said that he had heard "a proclamation by the SDS" on the radio station in Foca in April 1992 which stated that "the time has come to once and for all settle the bill with the Balije".

The SDS was founded and led by Karadzic and had won most Serb votes in the first multi-party, post-communist elections in Bosnia in 1990.

The witness explained that he had been arrested and detained at a detention facility in Livade, which previously belonged to the Territorial Defence, TO.

"From Livade, I was transferred to Foca prison. There, the prisoners had to face abuse every day and some had even died as a result," he said.

"We were not prisoners of war," he added, "we were simple civilians, detained at our homes, or in the street."

The witness said that he was brought to Foca prison on April 17.

The trial continues next week, when Karadzic - who represents himself in court - will cross-examine the witness.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.

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