Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

COURTSIDE: Bosanski Samac Trial

By Vjera Bogati in The Hague (TU 297, 20-24 January 2003)

As a head of the exchange commission - following the Serb take-over in 1992 - Tadic is accused as the most senior figure behind the swaps.

Defence witnesses claim the exchanges were humanitarian actions, designed to help reunite families.

This was "the only way for Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) and Croats to get out of the town," witness Velimir Maslic, a former director of a local Red Cross group, told the court.

Maslic, also a former director of municipal social services, said that the first population exchange in Bosanski Samac had been initiated and organised by the Red Cross in May 1992.

Some 100 Croats from Bosanski Samac had been swapped for a similar number of Serbs from neighbouring Odzak on the Bosna river, together with the boats they were in.

Prosecutor Gramsci Di Fazio reminded the witness that United Nations human rights envoy Tadeusz Mazowiecki had warned in 1992 that the Red Cross had become an "unwilling accomplice" in exchanges of population in Bosnia.

While the witness maintained that such exchanges were "voluntary" and that "no one had been forced to leave", he admitted that some civilians had been detained.

He said that the Red Cross activists regularly visited Zasavica and Crkvine where mostly women, children and the elderly were held and guarded by the police.

Men were detained in Bosanski Samac schools and the local territorial defence building, he said. Maslic confirmed that they had been tortured and that the Red Cross had reported this to the municipal authorities.

Previously, another of the accused, Blagoje Simic, former head of the local crisis staff, an ad-hoc ethnic Serb local government, claimed that there were no detention centres for civilians in Bosanski Samac.

Vjera Bogati is an IWPR correspondent in The Hague and a journalist with SENSE news agency.