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COURTSIDE: Keraterm Camp Trial - Dying for Air

A prosecution witness describes the terror of room number 3 at the infamous camp.
By Mirko Klarin

A former detainee at Keraterm last week provided the court with fresh details of the killing of dozens of prisoners by camp guards.


Dusko Sikirica, Damir Dosen and Dragan Kolundzija are accused of crimes at Keraterm, including involvement in the massacre at the notorious room number 3.


Protected Witness N said he was brought to the camp on July 20, 1992, along with several hundred other men from mostly Muslim-populated villages in the Brdo area around Prijedor.


Witness N said the villages had put up some resistance to the Serb take-over of the region, which resulted in the prisoners receiving "special treatment" on arrival at Keraterm.


Room 3, which was about 80 metres square, held around 250 to 300 people, and during the first few days, the cell door would open around 7 am, with people regularly called out and beaten, the witness said


But on July 24, the cell door remained locked. Outside the temperature was 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) and, according to Witness N, the heat inside room 3 soon became unbearable. He said there was no food and no water and by the end of the day the prisoners started to panic, fearing they were running out of air.


The witness said one heavily-built man ran at the tin door, his hands clutching his neck, and burst it open with his head.


Witness N said the guards opened fire and bullets were whizzing all around, hitting the walls. He said he was several metres away from the door and "to my good fortune and their misfortune" five or six prisoners were shot and fell on top of him. The witness said he could feel the bullets hitting the bodies above him before he lost consciousness.


In the morning, Witness N said, the guards widened the hole the deranged inmate had made in the door with his head the previous day. Those alive in room 3 then had to pass the wounded and dead through the hole.


The witness said the survivors counted 98 dead and 27 wounded. Six survivors were ordered to load the dead and wounded onto a lorry before being told to get on the truck too. The six men were never seen again, he said.


Witness N said that during his two weeks at Keraterm he learned that Sikirica was a commander at the camp, while Dosen and Kolundzija were in charge of prison guards. He described three incidents where Dosen and Kolundzija were allegedly present.


The prosecutor asked the witness to identify the accused in court. But the defence objected on the grounds that he had witnessed events "under traumatic circumstances" and could not identify Kolundzija with more than 80 per cent certainty. The judges upheld the objection and concluded there was "no basis for identification in the courtroom".


The prosecution case will continue until the beginning of June, when the defence will begin its case.


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


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