Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Courtside: Bosanska Krajina Trial
Prosecution witness Samir Poljak claimed the daily ritual of mistreatment was abruptly halted one day in the summer 1992.
The authorities were told to make the camps look decent. Beatings and killings stopped, and the detainees were provided with proper beds and linen.
"We got better food - and even shaving kits and toiletries," said Poljak.
His evidence came at the genocide trial of Radislav Brdjanin, accused of responsibility for ethnic cleansing and detention camps in north-west Bosnia while working for the Bosnian Krajina Crisis Staff, an ad-hoc Serb local government.
Poljak said he and other detainees had to clean the camp of the corpses of murdered inmates: some bodies were so badly decomposed that limbs would fall off as they were lifted, he claimed.
The visit by a handful of journalists ended with headlines going across the world accusing the Bosnian Serbs of war crimes. One visit to a neighbouring detention camp produced the now famous photograph of detainees peering through barbed wire.
Bosnian Croat witness Ivo Atlija spoke about an attack against the Bosnian Croat village of Brisevo, north-west Bosnia, where Serbs allegedly burned 68 houses and killed a similar number of people.
The witness lost his father and many friends in that incident and the local Catholic church was burnt to the ground.
The defence said that Atlija may not have known exactly what was going on militarily in his area. The witness replied that he got his information from Banja Luka, the town from which Brdjanin's crisis staff operated.
"The head of the police there told me that one JNA [Yugoslav army] and two Bosnian Serb military unit attacked us," said Atlija. "And I saw their tanks firing at the village."
Prijedor is only one among the municipalities listed in the indictment against Brdjanin.
His crisis staff is accused of planning and implementing takeovers and subsequent persecutions in all of north-west Bosnia's towns in 1992 and 1993, the prosecution alleges.
Vjera Bogati is an IWPR correspondent in The Hague and a journalist with SENSE news agency.
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