Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
COURTSIDE: Bosanska Krajina Trial
As early as 1991, Radislav Brdjanin, a prominent member of Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic party, SDS, publicly stated it was a "sin for any Serb to drink the water that balijas (a derogatory term for Muslims) drink."
The remark was made last week by Zijahudin Smailagic, a former Muslim (Bosniak) politician from Banja Luka, in the trial of Brdjanin and former local commander General Momir Talic, accused of genocide in the Bosnian Krajina of north-west Bosnia.
The prosecution claims the crisis staff, of which both were leading members, was the main political and military body behind the expulsion of north-west Bosnia's non-Serb population.
The witness said that Brdjanin claimed on TV that Muslims staying in Banja Luka would "lick the shoes of the Serbs", thus spreading fear and tension among the population. The prosecution wants to prove that such outbursts betrayed the accused's genocidal intentions.
It said that at the end of 1991, a fearful edict was introduced on military conscription and work obligations in Banja Luka.
Those who did not take part lost their freedom of movement and their jobs. A curfew was also introduced along with checkpoints, controlled by so-called Serb Liberation Forces, SOS. Smailagic said the latter comprised local criminals who robbed passers-by, while the regular police did not intervene.
Only Serbs could be appointed to management positions, a point the prosecutor illustrated with an article from the newspaper Serb voice, entitled "Managers Only Loyal Serbs". The abuse of the non-Serb population continued into 1992 and beyond, Smailagic said. A number of people were arrested and taken away in red police vans. Some returned home beaten, while others were never seen again.
The mass emigration of non-Serbs from Banja Luka then followed. However, when information on this persecution and other crimes in Banja Luka reached the UN mission in Bosnia and the Red Cross, Bosniaks who remained in the town were accused of espionage.
Smailagic, as a member of the Bosniak Party of Democratic Action, SDA, was arrested for sending reports to international organisations and sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment. He did not serve the sentence because the Dayton agreement was signed in the meantime and the proceedings suspended. The trial continues.
Vjera Bogati is an IWPR special correspondent at The Hague and a journalist with SENSE News Agency.
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