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COURTSIDE: Bosanski Samac Trial
Lawyers for defendants Simo Zaric, Blagoje Simic and Miroslav Tadic last week denied any connection between their clients and a prosecution witness’ claims that he was detained and beaten by Serbs.
The prosecution says the three men bear individual criminal responsibility for the persecution of non-Serbs in Bosanski Samac - Simic as president of the crisis staff which controlled the area when the alleged crimes were perpetrated, Tadic as a member of the same staff and Zaric as leader of a paramilitary unit, the Fourth Detachment.
Witness Osman Jasarevic worked as a locksmith before the Serb takeover of the area in April 1992. He testified that inflammatory speeches by Zaric - whom the witness knew well - laid foundations for an attack long before the outbreak of war.
Describing the mounting tension in the town before the attack, Jasarevic claimed the Serbs had boasted of cutting off the area’s electricity supply and destroying a bridge over the Sava some months earlier.
Checkpoints manned by troops in Yugoslav army and Serb police reserve uniforms had also been set up, and the witness had noticed artillery batteries in trenches off roads leading to Bosanski Samac. Work colleagues told him that special troops were organising training exercises in local villages.
According to Jasarevic, local Muslims and Croats began to work together and set up guard shifts in “self defence” after the local police failed to investigate several killings and explosions. The witness took part in these shifts, and described them as sitting in cars and monitoring the area without taking any action.
Several days before the attack on April 17, the Bosnian territorial defence handed out weapons to all those who answered a mobilisation call, but Jasarevic did not respond.
After receiving a tip-off from a Serb friend who warned him that something was about to happen, the witness sent his family away but chose not to leave his home.
Jasarevic woke to the sound of gunfire on April 17 but elected to go to work regardless. The town’s telephone lines were down, and he witnessed uniformed men looting shops and saw shooting between the town’s ethnic groups.
The witness was arrested on April 20, 1992 and claims he was beaten in various detention locations until he was released on May 26 as part of an International Red Cross exchange programme.
During the first incident in the local police station he claims that he was hit for so long and with such force that his assailant’s truncheon broke. His clothes were soaked in blood throughout his detention and he passed bloody urine for seven days.
In a written statement, the witness described how the beatings he and his fellow prisoners endured over several days left them screaming in agony. He claimed that Zaric's office was adjacent to the cell and that the door was open enough for the accused to be aware of everything that was going on, and that Zaric personally saw Jasarevic being beaten up.
The court heard that when the witness was moved to the Serb-occupied territorial defence building, he and some 30 other prisoners were forced to sing while being beaten daily. This would have been visible from Zaric's office, while the screams could be heard from far away.
On arrival at the military police compound in Brcko, the tribunal was told that the prisoners had to run between rows of soldiers who then beat and kicked them. The guards later let them bathe for the first time since being taken prisoner, as the smell of their bloodstained clothes was unbearable.
In Brcko, Jasarevic was given the opportunity to join the Fourth Detachment but refused. He was then taken further east to Bijeljina, where he was beaten again, although he was already suffering from broken ribs.
On the witness’ return to Bosanski Samac, he described how he and fellow prisoners were locked in a schoolroom and forced to beat each other - the most humiliating experience of all. After his May 26 release, Jasarevic, a Muslim, joined the Croatian forces and fought with them for the following 18 months.
The defence described Jasarevic’s testimony as “irrelevant”, saying the accused bore no responsibility for crimes committed by “Serb special units”.
Another prosecution witness, Jelena Kapetanovic, concluded her testimony about her captivity in Bosanski Samac.
A Croat, she was arrested and placed with several hundred Croat families under “awful” conditions at a stadium in nearby Crkvine. She told the tribunal how soldiers took many women away in the night, and that these prisoners returned “too ashamed” to speak of what had happened to them.
The witness was temporarily released but was rearrested a few days later and taken to a camp in Zasavica. After six months in captivity, a friend paid for her freedom with 200 German marks, a bucket of petrol and a set of curtains, she said.
Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor.
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