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

Courtside: Brdjanin Trial

By Vjera Bogati in The Hague (TU 293, 9-14 December, 2002)
By IWPR

Alvedin Nasic told the court he fled his village of Hambarine in May 1992 when Serb forces first began attacks on Muslims (Bosniaks). Surrounded and finding himself deep inside Serb-held territory, he dodged the army patrols and hid in the woods for two months.


Finally, desperate to escape the harsh living conditions, he joined with a group of 120 Bosniak men trying to flee the area. But they were caught and taken to a football playground in Ljubija, northern Bosnia, where Nasic's ordeal began.


The witness claimed that dozens of men were shot dead or terribly beaten by Serb soldiers and police on what was once a popular sports field.


One night, the survivors of the football field camp were put on a bus and escorted to Ljubija mine by the soldiers and policemen of the so-called Intervention Squad, which was based in Prijedor.


Nasic told the court that the bus stopped at Jakarina Kosa, near the mine, and they were ordered to leave the bus in batches of three men at a time.


"As people were leaving the bus door, shots were heard. I was among the last in the bus," he said.


The witness said he realised the others were being shot dead as they left the bus, but could think of no way out. But as he sat, terrified, five fellow prisoners smashed a window and leapt from the bus.


The soldiers, firing wildly, ran after them, leaving Nasic and two other men standing outside the bus.


It was then that Nasic made a fateful decision. He saw, beside the bus, a pit loaded with the dead bodies of his former companions. With the soldiers distracted, he jumped in, nestling among the bodies as deep as he could get.


The other two men chose not to follow him, instead just lying down by the door of the bus.


Moments later, the Serb soldiers were back, having killed three of the five escapees. They found his two companions lying by the bus, and immediately shot both men dead, apparently taking great pleasure in doing so.


"They stopped shooting when they ran out of bullets," Naser told the court. "Then they started to sing a Serbian nationalistic song and left. I remained in the pit for another 20 minutes."


Struggling out of the pit, he managed to escape through Serb-held regions to the safety of Bosnian government territory.


He was called to give evidence to support charges against Brdjanin that, as head of the crisis committee, an ad hoc Serb local government that seized power in the area, he was responsible for the horrors that unfolded.


Another witness, Muharem Murselovic, owner of a catering facility in Prijedor before the war, testified at Brdjanin's trial about a conversation he had in May 1992 with Milomir Stakic, chief of the Prijedor crisis staff.


Murselovic came to Stakic - who is a defendant in a separate trial at The Hague - with a group of Bosniaks who wanted to know if they could keep their businesses open after the extreme nationalist Serbrian Democratic party, SDS, took over the area.


"Stakic was leaving for Banja Luka, to a meeting. He said he would consult his superiors there and will get back to us with answers in a couple of days," said Murselovic.


But Murselovic never got an answer from Stakic. Instead, he was arrested that same month and taken to Omarska camp. He was later transferred to Manjaca camp, where he stayed until he was freed in a prisoner exchange.


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


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