COURTSIDE: Bosanski Samac Trial

Detainees speak of punishing treatment at Serbian military police camps

COURTSIDE: Bosanski Samac Trial

Detainees speak of punishing treatment at Serbian military police camps

Saturday, 29 September, 2001

At the judges' request, a witness last week gave specific details about the treatment of detainees moved to military prisons controlled by the Yugoslav Peoples Army, JNA, following the ethnic cleansing of Bosanski Samac, Bosnia Herzegovina, in 1992.

Dragan Lukac testified as part of the case being presented against Simo Zaric, Miroslav Tadic, Blagoje Simic and Milan Simic. All four are accused of the inhuman treatment of detained Muslims and Croats during the ethnic cleansing of Bosanski Samac.

The evidence of Lukac, and others, demonstrates how the Belgrade regime helped the Bosnian Serb war effort by making "prison services" available to them in Serbia. Even though a large number of detention camps were established in Bosnia-Herzegovina itself during May and August 1992, the authorities of the newly proclaimed "Serbian Municipality of Samac" sent a number of prisoners over the Drina River to JNA-controlled prisons. Here detainees were subject to interrogation, torture and even murder.

This "privilege" is alleged to have been reserved for Muslim and Croat "political prisoners" who held prominent positions before their arrests and could be subsequently used in prisoner exchanges. Prior to his arrest, Dragan Lukac, a Bosnian Croat, had been appointed head of police in Bosanski Samac. He had been in his post five days when the Serbian takeover took place on April 17, 1992.

Having tried to flee Bosanski Samac with the help of a Serb friend, Lukac was apprehended and arrested in a neighbouring village. Originally held in Bosanski Samac itself, Lukac was tortured by the notorious Slobodan Miljkovic, known as "Lugar" - the first co-accused on the Bosanski Samac indictement, who was killed in a pub brawl in Serbia a few years later. Lukac says his treatment in prisons in Batajnica and Zemun at the hands of the Serbian Military Police was far worse.

The judges asked for specific details about the "instruments" used by the policemen, soldiers and paramilitaries to beat detainees. These included night sticks, military boots, wooden sticks, steel carpet dusters and the giant food ladles used in military kitchens. The judges indicated that such details will be important when they attempt to judge evidence for the part of the indictment referring to inhuman treatment.

Judge Amarjeet Singh also asked Lukac to explain what he meant when he used the term "massacred" to describe the beatings to which himself and other detainees were exposed to. Lukac replied that the word "beaten" and "beatings" were too mild to describe the gravity and brutality of the procedure which left many detainees half dead.

Lukac was eventually returned to the prison in Bosanski Samac's police station, where former police colleagues saved him from further beatings. Finally in September 1992, Lukac was one of about seventy Muslims and Croats exchanged for the same number of Serbs. At the time of this transaction, one of the accused, Miroslav Tadic, was the head of the Serb "Committee for Exchange" (of population), and was filmed on video at one such operation.

According to the prosecution, these "exchanges" were a mask for the ethnic cleansing of Bosanski Samac. The defence, on the other hand, is claiming that these operations were an unfortunate consequence of war and that Serb civilians had also been "exchanged".

The trial continues.

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

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