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

COURTSIDE: Keraterm Camp Trial

Survivors testify to the commotion in the notorious room number 3, and the deadly aftermath.
By Mirko Klarin

For the first time, one of the few survivors of the massacre in room number 3 at the Keraterm camp appeared before the court. Presenting testimony in the prosecution case against camp commander Dusko Sikirica and two guards, Damir Dosen and Dragan Kolundzija, the witness, his identity concealed, spoke slowly, and without emotion, except at one moment declaring, "God forgive me. I thought it was doomsday."


His evidence was short on details, too. Pressed with more than 200 people in a room of 50 square metres, he lost consciousness when the shooting started. When he came to, he saw dead bodies, body parts and blood all around him, which made him pass out again. In the morning, as one of the few survivors, he had to move the piles of corpses blocked the door in order to leave the room.


Several detainees from the camp lucky to have been detained during the night of July 24, 1992, somewhere besides the notorious room number 3 testified in both current trials concerning the camps in Prijedor. They testified based on what they could hear that night, or see, peeking through the cracks on the doors of their rooms.


The sound was of soldiers and camp guards mercilessly firing. In that shooting, according to the indictment, at least 150 Bosniaks, who had been picked up in the previous days from the Brdo area of Prijedor, were killed.


Witness L, whose identity was concealed, noted that before the shooting, something was thrown into the crowded room number 3, perhaps a canister of tear gas or some other poison. A commotion erupted, with many detainees tearing their clothes off, screaming, crying, praying. Some even sang.


Then, according to Witness L, they charged the sheet metal door. Upon breaking through, they were met by bursts from machine-guns which had been positioned in from the of entrance room that afternoon.


Two other witnesses, from neighbouring rooms 1 and 2, confirmed that something was thrown into room number 3 that night through a broken window, after which much noise, and then shooting, ensued.


Defence witnesses in the case of Zoran Zigic, one of the five accused in the trial of Kvocka and others, also testified last month about the same event. Zigic is accused of participating in the massacre in room number 3, and among his witnesses were two Bosniaks, also detainees, who were "kapos" in charge of prisoners in rooms 1 and 2.


These witnesses testified that, before the shooting, they also heard noises from room no. 3, but of a different sort than those described by Witness L and other witnesses from last week. According to their account, the commotion was the noise of "rebellion", "madness" or "religious fanaticism". These witnesses claim that the detainees of room number 3, broke through the door, "singing Islamic songs" and "shouting Alah akbar". In trying to escape, they attacked the guards with their bare hands. But their guards responded by shooting "in self-defence" - some 150 of them.


Witness L and other prosecution witnesses last week also testified about the alleged escape. According to their evidence, two days after the massacre, camp guard Predrag Banovic (also accused, but still at large) selected some 20 "organisers of the escape" and killed them. According to Witness M, the accused camp commander Dusko Sikirica personally participated in killing them.


The Keraterm trial was interrupted on May 16 to allow Sir Ivan Lawrence, the new defence counsel for Kolundzija, to acquaint himself with the case. According to his statement in court, Kolundzija has changed his previous defence counsel, the US American lawyer of Serb origin Dusan Vucicevic, due to a "crisis of confidence".


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