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COURTSIDE: Bosanski Samac Trial

Prosecution witness describes how Bosniaks and Croats were forced to fight for the Serbs

After the Serb takeover of Bosanski Samac, in northern Bosnia, in 1992, non-Serb inhabitants were not only exposed to forced labour but also made to fight for their enemies, prosecution witness, Safet Dragovic, told the court last week. Those who refused to fight for the Bosnian Serbs, he said, faced jail.

Dragovic was testifying at the trial of four former high-ranking officials from the municipality, accused of leading a campaign of persecution against Croats and Bosniaks in the area.

They are Blagoje Simic, former local chief of the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, and of the so-called crisis staff established after the takeover, Milan Simic, former head of the municipal executive and Miroslav Tadic, who managed population "exchanges". He was aided by Simo Zaric, who held a number of intelligence and military posts in the wartime Serb authority.

The witness said Bosniak and Croat hardships started after the Yugoslav army, the JNA, and Serbian paramilitary forces entered Bosanski Samac on April 17, 1992. "It was not a life any more...people were being arrested and killed," he said, adding that ten armed people with a tank arrived and positioned themselves in front of his house, demanding the surrender of any weapons. Zaric and Tadic were among those on the tank.

Dragovic endured nine months of forced labour - digging ditches on the front line - and a year of being coerced into fighting for the Bosnian Serbs. Zaric, then commander of a Bosnian Serb detachment, repeatedly urged non-Serbs, who had not been detained, to join his detachment, saying they would be released from forced labour. They did not volunteer, however.

Under threat of arrest, Dragovic and other labourers were taken to the front line. "I refused to shoot. I did not want to shoot at my brothers, my parents, my people," he said. Threatened with court martial, he spent a year in the Bosnian Serb army before escaping to join his family, which had been exchanged earlier.

Vjera Bogati is an IWPR special correspondent at The Hague and a journalist with SENSE News Agency.