COURTSIDE: Banovic Case

Serbian special forces furious over arrest of war crimes suspects

COURTSIDE: Banovic Case

Serbian special forces furious over arrest of war crimes suspects

Saturday, 10 November, 2001

Serbian special police forces, known as the "Red Berets", were furious last week when they found out that they had unwittingly undertaken the arrest of two indicted war criminals.

The special forces had been told that two men they would be arresting in an operation were just ordinary criminals. In fact, the suspects were brothers Predrag and Nenad Banovic, accused of serious crimes in the Keraterm camp, Bosnia, during the early Nineties.

Following their arrest, the pair were speedily extradited to The Hague - it was only then that the Red Berets were told the true nature of their operation.

The special forces do not like to making arrests for The Hague and are protesting: claiming that such arrests are "illegal" and "unconstitutional". However, many suggest the real reason for their objections is that some members of the unit fear that they themselves might be on Hague arrest warrants.

This is particularly true after the publication of Milosevic's indictments for Kosovo and Croatia, in which the exploits of the Red Berets were described.

The arrest of the Banovic twins had long since proved problematic. Back in July 1998, somewhere in Bosnia, members of SFOR arrested a set of twins they thought were Predrag and Nenad Banovic, but it turned out upon their arrival at The Hague that they were the "wrong twins".

Brothers Miroslav and Milan Vuckovic were released the same day and transferred back to Bosnia on a special NATO plane. Following last week's arrests, The Hague is confident that it finally has the "right twins" in custody.

The Banovic brothers were indicted back in July 1995 together with eleven other Bosnian Serbs who occupied various posts in the Keraterm camp during the summer of 1992. In May 1998, the then chief prosecutor, Louise Arbour, "re-evaluated all outstanding indictments" and withdrew the indictments against a total of fourteen "small fry" - including five from the Keraterm indictment.

The Banovic brothers, however, remained on the indictment along with the camp¹s command staff. Even though the twins were only camp guards, they, according to Arbour, belonged to a specific category of accused: "those who have been personally responsible for the exceptionally brutal or otherwise extremely serious offences".

According to the indictment, Nenad and Predrag Banovic (born October 28, 1969 in Prijedor, Bosnia and Herzegovina) performed duties as guards at the Keraterm camp and regularly participated in abusing, beating, torturing and/or killing detainees in the camp.

The indictment states that, "Interrogations were conducted on a daily basis at the Keraterm camp. The interrogations were regularly accompanied by beatings and torture. Severe beatings, torture, killings, sexual assault, and other forms of physical and psychological abuse were commonplace.

"The camp guards and others who came to the camps used all types of weapons and instruments to beat and otherwise physically abuse the detainees. In particular, Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat political and civic leaders, intellectuals, the wealthy, and non-Serbs who were considered as extremists or to have resisted the Bosnian Serbs were especially subjected to beatings, torture, and/or killed. At a minimum, hundreds of detainees, whose identities are known and unknown, did not survive."

The indictment specifically charges Nenad Banovic with five counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of violations of the laws or customs of war. Predrag Banovic, aka "Cupo", is charged with thirteen counts of crimes against humanity and twelve counts of violations of the laws or customs of war.

The Banovic brothers arrived in The Hague just days before sentences were due to be handed down to Dusko Sikirica, Damir Dosen and Dragan Kolundzija, all of whom, following a deal with the prosecution have admitted guilt for crimes in Keraterm. All three, and in particular Dusko Sikirica, a chief of security at Keraterm, were held responsible for the crimes of the Banovic brothers, and especially those committed by "Cupo" who distinguished himself in the sadistic abuse of inmates.

According to the former inmates of Keraterm who testified in the trial of Sikirica, Dosen and Kolundzija, the violence of the Banovic brothers surpassed even the sadism of Zoran Zigic, who was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for the crimes in all three Prijedor camps. The initial appearance of the accused twins, in which they will enter a plea on the counts of the indictment, will be held this week.

Mirko Klarin is IWPR senior editor for the war crimes tribunal and editor-in-chief of SENSE News Agency.

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