Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

COURTSIDE: Bosanska Krajina Case

Serb propaganda "destroyed Kljuc's good community relations".
By Mirna Jancic

A Muslim witness from the north-west Bosnian town of Kljuc last week delivered harrowing testimony on Bosniak experiences at the hands of the Serb authorities in the early Nineties.


The statements were heard at the trial of Radoslav Brdjanin and Momir Talic, former president and member of the local Serb crisis staff respectively, who allegedly persecuted and coordinated attacks on non-Serbs in the area with the goal of establishing an ethnically cleansed territory. Brdjanin is held especially responsible for his use of propaganda.


The Serbs from Kljuc municipality had armed themselves before the conflict broke out and used propaganda to heighten ethnic tension in the area, prosecution witness Muhamed Filipovic told the court.


At the time of the conflict, Filipovic was the head of the local Muslim Bosnian Organisation, of which his brother Omer was also a member.


Before he was arrested and sent to Manjaca camp, the witness took part in discussions with the area's Muslims. He claims there were no plans to attack the Serbs.


Hostility towards Muslims built up over a long time, Filipovic said, after units of the Yugoslav National Army, JNA, took control of the television tower on mount Kozara in 1991 and blocked reception of Sarajevo television's second channel.


Following that, the tower transmitted Radio Television Serbia, RTS, so locals could only hear news from the Serb point of view.


The witness claimed that RTS played a key role in destroying the good community relations in the municipality. Prior to that, he said, Serbs and Muslims - who each made up 50 per cent of the local population - "worked together and in harmony". A Serb named Vinko was the best friend of both brothers.


Filipovic said RTS' news programmes were so biased that he once told his Serb neighbours, "If I continue watching Belgrade TV I shall become a greater Chetnik (Serbian ultra-nationalist) than you are."


Tension was further heightened after Radio Kljuc broadcast a declaration by the Serb Orthodox Church, SOC. The text - which was read out in court - reminded Serbs of the crimes committed against them during the Second World War.


The witness claims that he received reports that the Serbs were arming themselves as early as 1991. Muslim villagers saw JNA helicopters landing in Serb villages, but never in theirs, he said. When the JNA issued a mobilisation order, almost no Croats or Muslims responded, according to the witness. His brother Omer enlisted but soon deserted.


The witness' Serb neighbour, Jovan Dragojevic, had received arms, telling Filipovic that he accepted them because "he had to". This outraged the locals, leading Filipovic's other Muslim neighbour, Kemo Bender, to tell him, "Fuck the country which gives arms to people like Jovo [Jovan]."


"I told Jovo to be careful and not use that gun against me or Kemo. He said 'I won't'," said the witness. Both of Filipovic's neighbours were killed in fighting around Bihac. "Kemo was defending the city, and Jovo was attacking it," he added.


The witness was imprisoned in several camps before he and his brother arrived in the Manjaca camp, where Omer met his death.


The court heard that the witness' brother had been kept in isolation and killed at Manjaca. The witness himself sustained such severe wounds that the International Red Cross transported him to Britain for medical treatment.


Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor


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