COURTSIDE: Bosanski Samac Trial

Accused held responsible for deportation and 'exchange' of non-Serb population

COURTSIDE: Bosanski Samac Trial

Accused held responsible for deportation and 'exchange' of non-Serb population

Friday, 11 November, 2005

The Bosanski Samac trial is one of those rare tribunal cases in which all the accused are being prosecuted simultaneously. The four accused are Blagoje and Milan Simic, Miroslav Tadic and Simo Zaric.

The original indictment issued in July 1995 included two more names: Slobodan Miljkovic and Stevan Todorovic. But Miljkovic was killed in a bar brawl in Serbia, while Stevan Todorovic has "switched sides" and will appear as a prosecution witness. At the end of last year, he struck a deal with the prosecutor, admitting guilt and promising to cooperate in return for a "discounted" sentence of ten years' imprisonment. He previously stood to receive double that term.

The trial has been subjected to delays. Despite the fact that Milan Simic, Tadic and Zaric had surrendered to the tribunal early in 1998, the trial could not start because Todorovic - arrested in November 1998 - had disputed the legality of his arrest for more than two years. As a result, the three other accused were provisionally released. It was only after the voluntary surrender of Blagoje Simic, who arrived at The Hague in March this year, that the number of those accused was complete and the trial could get underway.

In the opening statement, prosecutor Gramsci di Fazio said that the Bosanski Samac case began in the night between April 16 and 17, 1992, when Serbs seized power in the municipality, where they comprise 41.3 per cent of the population, the others being mainly Croats and Muslims. After the take-over and the proclamation of the "Serbian Municipality of Samac", hundreds of non-Serbs were arrested, beaten, imprisoned and tortured, while thousands of others lived in fear awaiting "exchange".

Non-Serb homes and businesses were systematically looted and livelihoods destroyed. Paramilitaries rampaged throughout the municipality, beating and killing men.

Di Fazio said the prosecution would present evidence of a massacre by paramilitaries of 16 non-Serbs in a factory in the village of Crkvina.

As a result of this campaign of terror and ethnic cleansing, only 300 Croats and Muslims remained out of a pre-war population of 17,000, according to the indictment.

The four accused were members of the Serb Crisis Staff that managed the process of deportation and the "exchange" of the non-Serb population.

In their efforts to ethnically cleanse Bosanski Samac, Di Fazio said, "The accused participated in actions that have brought them to this tribunal to face trial. They didn't have to participate in these actions. There is much of what happened in the former Yugoslavia, which demonstrates that compassion and tolerance and understanding did not die, but those were not sentiments which moved these defendants.

"Nobody forced these defendants to immerse themselves so readily in the system of terror that gripped that part of the former Yugoslavia.

"Nobody forced Milan Simic to enter the gymnasium at night to beat helpless prisoners. Nobody forced Miroslav Tadic to be a driving force in sinister 'exchanges' and to preside over the deportation of hundreds of men, women and children who had lived in the municipality all their lives.

"Nobody forced Simo Zaric to draw up the lists of men who were to be arrested and imprisoned. Nobody forced Blagoje Simic to sign edicts consigning Croats to be isolated and taken to 'facilities' in the town."

The Belgrade lawyer Igor Pantelic, defence counsel for Miroslav Tadic, made his opening statement after the prosecutor. The only thing Pantelic did not dispute in the prosecutor's version of events was the geographical position of the town, which lies on the Sava, beside the so-called Posavina corridor, which links the Bosnian Serb territories. Pantelic also said the defence will not dispute the prosecutor's argument that paramilitary units from Serbia and from the area itself were responsible for crimes committed in 1992 "not only against Croats and Muslims, but against Serbs themselves".

He said that the accused, although members of the Serb Crisis Staff, had no authority over these paramilitary units, which were, in fact, controlled by the then police chief of Bosanski Samac, Stevan Todorovic. On the eve of his testimony against the former co-accused, the defence is trying to present him as the man with most responsibility for crimes in Bosanski Samac.

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

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