COURTSIDE: Bosanski Samac Trial

Serb witness testifies against former comrades.

COURTSIDE: Bosanski Samac Trial

Serb witness testifies against former comrades.

The prosecution’s "insider" witness Stevan Todorovic last week described how Serb authorities took control of Bosanski Samac in northern Bosnia.

Simo Zaric, Blagoje Simic, Milan Simic and Miroslav Tadic are standing trial for crimes committed in the region, and Todorovic was indicted alongside them.

But in December 2000, after unexpectedly changing his plea to guilty, he was sentenced to 10 years for crimes against humanity and agreed to testify against the other four and in any other trials. Milan Simic's case was separated from that of the others two weeks ago and he will face trial alone.

The accused are charged with widespread and systematic attacks on civilians as part of a plan to establish Serb control in the area. Of the 17,000 Croats and Muslims who lived in Bosanski Samac, only 300 remained after the war.

Todorovic explained how the Serbian Democratic Party and its crisis staff under Blagoje Simic, together with a paramilitary formation called the Fourth Detachment led by Zaric, and the Yugoslav Army, JNA, assumed power in the area by April 17, 1992.

He said numerous acts of sabotage - such as desecrating the chapel in the Orthodox cemetery and then blaming the non-Serb communities - were carried out.

Once in control, the Serbs arrested all the Croats and Muslims they could find under any pretext – usually alleged weapon possession. So many were detained that the authorities ran out of space and prisoners were held in school classrooms, the witness said.

The tribunal heard that paramilitary groups visited the prisoners to carry out beatings. The leader of a unit called Grey Wolves, which arrived from Serbia and was under JNA control, allegedly killed several detainees.

Todorovic said the bodies were buried in a mass grave and the crisis staff were informed.

The Grey Wolves included volunteers from the extreme nationalist Serbian Radical Party while others were locals from Bosanski Samac. They were joined by some 300 others and assisted by the crisis staff.

Todorovic, who was then police chief in Bosanski Samac and a member of the crisis staff, said non-Serbs were often jailed for the purposes of exchange at a later date. He told how one Catholic priest was arrested for "armed rebellion" when the real motive was to swap him for a captured Serb officer.

Zaric, who was in charge of "the department of national security", had regularly informed the crisis staff and Blagoje Simic on the situation in the area. The murders and torture were also reported but the perpetrators were never punished.

Asked if Todorovic had visited the sites of mass graves in the company of investigators from The Hague, the witness replied that he would only answer such a question in a closed session, as he had received threats. The trial continues.

Mirna Jancic is an assistant editor.

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