COURTSIDE: Omarska Trial

Defence finds perfect alibi - blame a dead police chief

COURTSIDE: Omarska Trial

Defence finds perfect alibi - blame a dead police chief

Lawyers acting for the five defendants accused of offences at the Keraterm and Omarska detention camps in Prijedor have sought to place responsibility for all crimes committed in the summer of 1992 squarely on the shoulders of deceased former police chief Simo Drljaca.

Bosnian Serb lawyer Krstan Simic, acting for Miroslav Kvocka, accused of being a deputy commander at Omarska in 1992, led with this line of defence. Last week, Serbian lawyer Jovan Simic, representing Dragoljub Prcac, accused of being a deputy commander at Omarska for a short time, also identified Drljaca as the man responsible for the alleged crimes.

Lawyers for the other three defendants - Mladjo Radic, Milojca Koa and Zoran Zigic - additionally posited the same defence to a lesser degree, insisting that the then chief of police was "behind everything" which went on in Prijedor in 1992.

It would have been interesting to see if the defence lawyers would have pursued this argument if Drljaca were alive. The notorious and powerful former police chief was indicted for crimes in the Prijedor camps along with Milan Kovacevic, who died in UN custody shortly after his trial opened, and the recently arrested Milomir Stakic. Drljaca died while resisting arrest by S-For troops in July 1997.

As an alleged deputy commander at Omarska, Prcac stands accused of command responsibility for killings, beatings, torture and rape - crimes he allegedly failed to prevent or punish. Prcac's defence claims he did not hold a command position at the camp and was therefore unable to give orders to camp guards and soldiers who abused prisoners.

The defence also claims Prcac found himself at Omarska against his will, blackmailed by Drljaca.

"Simo Drljaca threatened to set fire to his house and kill his children if he didn't obey his orders and go to Omarska," Simic said. The lawyer claimed the police chief had "never forgotten that Dragoljub Prcac opposed him".

Simic said Drljaca's threats were very serious. Prcac's son was sent to the frontline where a grenade blew off his leg. Several defence witnesses, including the accused's son, Ljubisa Prcac, confirmed that Prcac did not go to Omarska of his own accord.

Simic said Prcac occupied the role of "policeman on duty" and "administrator" when he arrived at the camp. He dismissed prosecution witness testimony that Prcac was a deputy commander as "assumptions".

Prcac's defence claims the accused was in the camp between July 15 and August 6, 1992 and could not therefore be held responsible for killings and rapes perpetrated before those dates. He could not be held responsible for what went on in the camp while he was there, the defence went on, because he exercised no authority and could not issue orders to reserve or active police officers among the camp security staff. Simic said the system at Omarska was already functioning when his client arrived, and "he could not change [it] in any way".

Prcac could not issue orders to soldiers, police investigators or technical support staff, the defence added, claiming all such personnel were directly responsible to Drljaca. The police chief's authority even overrode that of the indicted commander at Omarska, Zeljko MejakIc, Prcac's lawyer claimed.

Mejakic is still at large. And Drljaca, too, will not testify.

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