COURTSIDE: Bosanska Krajina Trial

Witness describes how he narrowly escaped slaughter

COURTSIDE: Bosanska Krajina Trial

Witness describes how he narrowly escaped slaughter

A prosecution witness last week told the tribunal how he saw a Bosnian Serb soldier execute around 20 Betonirka detention centre inmates.

Ahmed Zulic, a miner from northern Bosnia, said he heard one of the local Serb leaders shout at the soldier, "Simo, slow down, you are slaughtering people too quickly".

The witness was testifying in the trial of Momir Talic and Radoslav Brdjanin, who are charged with setting up detention centres at Betonirka, Manjaca and elsewhere in 1992 with the aim of ethnically cleansing the Bosanska Krajina region of non-Serbs.

Zulic told the court that he had been escorted out of the camp to an area near a stream where there were 20 other inmates. He said they were ordered to dig what he presumed would be their graves.

He claimed that Nedeljko Rasula, the regional president of the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, was sitting at a table nearby with several local Serb leaders, and that the men cheered soldier Simo Simetic as he killed the prisoners. The witness alleged that one shouted, "Simo, have a drink, you'll work better".

Rasula, who had known Zulic before he was detained at Betonirka, asked Simetic to stop the killing as he reached the witness. Two other Serbs then approached the prisoner. One man put a gun in the witnesse's mouth and the other placed another at his temple, saying, "Let's baptise him". Zulic was then struck before being returned to the camp.

The witness was later transferred to Manjaca, a detention centre allegedly set up by General Talic.

The tribunal heard the conditions at the camp were poor, although prisoners were allowed to fetch water from a nearby lake following intervention by the Red Cross.

The inmates were normally ordered to urinate in the lake before being allowed to fill their canisters. Zulic told the court that this had pleased him on one occasion, as the water had been destined for the Serb command room.

He claimed some prisoners were often summoned for interrogation and invariably returned bruised after beatings.

The witness said he was beaten twice, once when he was so hungry that he had eaten "Serbian grass", and a second time after he allowed a Red Cross team to examine his bruises. He began to record this information in a diary after receiving notepads from a Bosnian Serb friend.

Defence counsel Natasha Ivanovic-Fauveau dismissed the diary account as "incomplete" and said his record of the Serbian takeover in the area relied on hearsay. The witness responded that he had recorded only a small percentage of the events.

Faik Biscevic, a dentist from Sanski Most, also appeared as a prosecution witness and spoke of how he was arrested, beaten and made to publicly confess his role in a Muslim-Croat "conspiracy" against the Serbs.

Biscevic, then president of the local branch of the Muslim-led Party of Democratic Action, SDA, told the tribunal that he was forced to read a prepared statement on Radio Sanski Most by two soldiers who pointed AK47 rifles at his head.

The prosecution played the recording to the court. In it, Biscevic could be heard saying, "The extremists of Alija [Izetbegovic, former Bosnian president and SDA leader] and Tudjman [Franjo, late Croatian president] ... bear responsibility for all events [Serb takeover of Sanski Most] of the preceding days ... Serb forces had to do what they did because of our lies".

The witness spent more than three months in a police cell, during which time he lost 30 kg in weight. He was then transferred to Manjaca.

Biscevic became upset when speaking of the fate of his two sons. He told how his eldest, Haris, was part of the first group sent to Manjaca. On arrival they were beaten and six, including Biscevic's son, were taken away and never seen again.

His second son, Edin, was also taken to Manjaca. The witness told how some 18 men died during the journey, while Edin and another man apparently tried to save the lives of four others. On arrival, the corpses and the six men were taken away on a truck and never returned.

The 18 casualties were later discovered in a mass grave while the fate of the others remains unknown. The witness then begged the accused to solve the mystery. "I ask Mr Talic to help me if he can," Biscevic said, on the verge of tears.

Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor

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