COURTSIDE: Keraterm Camp Trial - Sikirica's Profile

Prosecution witnesses identify the former camp commander and say they saw him commit crimes.

COURTSIDE: Keraterm Camp Trial - Sikirica's Profile

Prosecution witnesses identify the former camp commander and say they saw him commit crimes.

Prosecution witnesses told the court last week that far from preventing the notorious massacre in room number 3, or punishing those responsible, the alleged camp commander, Dusko Sikirica, and guard shift leaders, Damir Dosen and Dragan Kolundzija, oversaw the beating and shooting of survivors.


An estimated 150 inmates died when guards opened fire with machine-guns into the packed Room 3 on the night of July 24, 1992.


Sikirica, whom former inmates claim was commander at the Keraterm camp, is accused of genocide, the gravest charge the tribunal can levy. Prosecutors allege that as commander he knew or should have known that staff under his command were killing and abusing Bosniak and Croat prisoners "with the intent to destroy them in part as a national, ethnic or religious group". The prosecution claim Sikirica not only failed to prevent such crimes but personally took part in killings.


Protected Witness R said he was in a large group of prisoners from the Brdo area crammed into room number 3 in late July 1992. He said poison gas was thrown into the room, provoking panic among the prisoners, after which the shooting began.


"I thought about my wife and children and lost consciousness," Witness R said. "When I came round, I saw corpses all around. They were being taken out.


"The survivors from room 3 were taken outside and lay for several hours on the ground while the guards beat them. When it was my turn, a blow with a wooden bat followed. I managed to evade the second blow somehow. I looked. It was Sikirica."


The witness said that later, when he was back in room number 3, he heard cries, bursts of gunfire and single shots coming from outside.


Other former detainees claimed Sikirica committed crimes. Salko Seldumovic testified that on one occasion, when he was going to the toilet, he saw Sikirica talking to a young man.


"On my way back from the WC, I saw Sikirica shoot him in the head," the witness said. "The man was left lying on the ground."


Sikirica's defence lawyer, Michael Greeves, said Seldumovic could not be sure the killer was the defendant because he saw him from behind. But the witness insisted his identification was accurate, stressing that he saw the accused in profile.


All of the witnesses who mentioned Sikirica identified the accused in court.


Prosecution witnesses also claimed last week that Sikirica read out the names of 120 inmates from a prepared list when Keraterm was closed on August 5, 1992. The named inmates were to be sent to Omarska camp. All 120 were never seen again.


The defence claims that by early August 1992, Sikirica had ceased to hold any position at Keraterm and had not been camp commander but chief of security in charge of the fence around the camp and the gate.


The prosecution case continues.


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


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