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COURTSIDE: Foca Prison Trial - The 'Desk Perpetrator'

Prosecution and defence dispute the responsibility of a former warden.

The prosecution called last week for a sentence of no less than 25 years' imprisonment for Milorad Krnojelac, former warden of Foca prison. The defence argued that such a sentence would be far too harsh as the defendant was not responsible for the beatings, killings and cruel treatment of detainees.

In her closing argument, prosecutor Hildegard Uertz-Retzlaff called Krnojelac a "desk perpetrator". She said that although the ex-warden had avoided "dirtying his hands by physically assaulting a victim . . . as a superior he is no less responsible than his subordinates" for the crimes against non-Serb civilians interned at Foca prison following the Serb take-over of the town in April 1992.

Krnojelac's defence team argued that those who committed the alleged crimes were not subordinate to the former warden, who exercised no authority over guards and soldiers operating in the detainees' quarters. The prosecution countered by asking what were the warden's duties if not managing the prison, its staff and the detainees?

"Detainees went through extreme abuse - cruel living conditions, severe beatings, torture and killings. Several hundred simply vanished after being taken for interrogation or to the so-called exchange" of prisoners, said Uertz-Retzlaff.

The prosecution has presented evidence concerning 74 beatings and 28 killings in the prison between April 1992 and July 1993 - the period of Krnojelac's tenure as warden. The prison held some 970 detainees throughout that period.

"The accused could have made a difference," the prosecutor said, adding that crimes would not have happened had Krnojelac improved living conditions, ordered the guards to treat the detainees humanely and limited the access of soldiers to the prison.

The prosecution said Krnojelac must be held responsible because he chose "not to respect the basic principles of humanitarian law".

Mihajlo Bakrac, representing Krnojelac, said the defendant had had no say over the military-controlled section of the prison. He said the prison had been "strictly divided" between military and civilian areas and that "factual power" over the detainees was in the hands of Savo Todovic.

Bakrac said the assessments of former detainees that Todovic was deputy warden and hence subordinate to Krnojelac were inaccurate. He said Todovic exercised his authority at the behest of the military command and that Krnojelac was warden "only on paper".

In the two trials completed against former camp commanders in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the sentences have been considerably less than 25 years. Zlatko Aleksovski, former warden of the Croatian Defence Force prison in Kaonik, Central Bosnia, received seven years for an "attack on human dignity". Zdravko Mucic, former commander of the Celebici camp near Konjic, was also sentenced to seven years - likely to be increased to 10, following a recommendation by the appeals chamber - for murder, torture and other crimes against Serbian detainees.

The prosecution in the Foca prison trial argued, however, that Krnojelac should receive a longer sentence because the crimes took place over a longer period and affected a larger number of victims.

The defence called on the judges not to make a distinction between the sentences of Mucic and Aleksovski and any against Krnojelac, should their client be found guilty.

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

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