Courtside: Brdjanin Trial

By Mirko Klarin in The Hague (TU No. 287, October 28 - November 1, 2002)

Courtside: Brdjanin Trial

By Mirko Klarin in The Hague (TU No. 287, October 28 - November 1, 2002)

Friday, 29 April, 2005

The prosecution is on a familiar terrain: three trials for crimes committed in Prijedor in summer 1992 have already been completed.

The first witness, Kerim Mesanovic, who has already testified in previous Prijedor camp trials, repeated what he said in earlier cases about there being "three categories" of detainees at Omarska prison camp.

The first category, the "Cooling list" (those destined to be "cooled", that is, killed), comprised the elite of the Prijedor Muslims and Croats: politicians, intellectuals, doctors, lawyers and those who organised resistance.

The second category was made up of affluent non-Serbs – businessmen, merchants, restaurant owners – suspected of financing resistance and arms purchases.

If the latter failed to "buy" their life and freedom with several thousand German marks, they could also be "cooled".

Third were "ordinary people", mostly peasants, who "were of no interest" that is, for the inspectors who visited Omarska each day.

Mesanovic was regarded as a first category detainee, but he was saved by the fact that he was an acquaintance of one Brka, the camp commander’s driver.

After initial beatings in the notorious "White House" – where the detainees were beaten to death – he was transferred to the "Glass House", a room on the ground floor of the administrative building of the former mine.

The prosecutor introduced documents intended to link Brdjanin to the events in Omarska and Prijedor.

One document signed by the accused on June 22, 1992 recorded that he had ordered the municipal crisis staffs to remove non-Serbs from all "sensitive work places" and replace them with Serbs.

Until that point, Mesanovic, a Muslim, worked at the Municipal Secretariat for Defense.

Four days after the instructions came from Banja Luka, Mesanovic was fired, arrested and – after four of his teeth were knocked out at the police station – sent to Omarska.

The prosecution introduced other documents to show that the Prijedor crisis staff acted after instructions from regional staff in Banja Luka to establish "concentration centres" or camps; and destroy Muslim houses and businesses in the old city centre, because "they could not be repaired".

However, Brdjanin's defense lawyer, American attorney John Ackerman, used dates on some of the Autonomous Region of Krajina, ARK, crisis staff decisions to demonstrate that Prijedor was "ahead of Banja Luka" and acted independently, that is, without instructions from the regional staff.

He showed that the crisis staff of Prijedor passed decisions, including those for firing non-Serbs, mobilisation and the establishment of detention centers before Brdjanin signed the same decisions on behalf of ARK.

Ackerman said the accused has nothing to do with what was going on in Prijedor in the summer of 1992.

Brdjanin is accused of crimes committed in fifteen municipalities in north-west Bosnia which formed ARK.

Three top officers from the political, military and police leadership of ARK have been indicted for genocide and other crimes: Radoslav Brdjanin, former president of regional crisis staff, General Momir Talic, ex-commander of Krajiski corps, and Stojan Zupljanin, former head of the regional police.

Zupljanin is still at large, Talic was recently released because of incurable disease and his case is "suspended".

Previous Prijedor trials are: Dusko Tadic, the Omarska Five and the Keraterm Three. The trial of Dr Milan Kovacevic was discontinued in 1998 because of death of the accused, and that of his co-accused, Dr Milomir Stakic, is on going.

Another four Omarska and Keraterm guards are being held in the UN detention centre awaiting the start of their trial.

The crimes committed in Prijedor, and especially in the notorious camps of Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje, are included in the indictments against Momcilo Krajisnik and Biljana Plavsic, Radovan Karadzic, Ratko Mladic and Slobodan Milosevic.

Brdjanin is accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and violations of the laws or customs of war. He has pleaded not guilty.

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

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