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COURTSIDE: Omarska Trial - Drljaca's 'Deputies'

Defendants are left cursing their closing witness who punches a hole in one of the key planks in their defence.
By Mirko Klarin

Four months of painstaking work by lawyers representing defendants in the Omarska trial was undermined last week when one of their own witnesses confirmed during cross-examination that a hierarchy did exist among security staff at the camp, contradicting a key pillar of their case.


Mirko Jesic, a police inspector who interrogated Bosniak and Croat prisoners at Omarska in 1992, said the commander of the camp "must have had his deputies" and that the guard shifts did have an officer in charge.


A procession of defence witnesses over the past few weeks have refuted prosecution claims that Miroslav Kvocka, Milojica Kos, Mladja Radic and Dragoljub Prcac held positions of authority at the Omarska detention camp in the summer of 1992, a period during which they are charged with crimes against humanity, grave breeches of the Geneva conventions and violations of the laws and customs of war. Several witnesses said there was no hierarchy operating in the camp.


Kvocka and Prcac are accused of being deputy commanders; Kos and Radic, of commanding guard shifts. Previous defence witnesses, most of whom served as security staff at Omarska, said Hague indictee Zeljko Mejakic was in sole charge of security at the camp and had no deputies even when he was absent from Omarska. Mejakic is still at large.


Previous witnesses said no one was "in charge" of the three shifts of prison guards, which operated on a 12-hour shift pattern. The guards all held the same rank and did not report to anyone, the witnesses claimed.


Jesic, who was called by Prcac's lawyers, said Simo Drljaca, the late Prijedor chief of police, was in charge of the detention camps in the area - Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje.


Jesic said Prcac was not, as the prosecution claims, involved in drawing up lists of prisoners for transportation. Prcac merely read out lists handed to him by others, the witness said.


Unlike previous defence witnesses who had denied witnessing or hearing crimes being perpetrated in the camp, Jesic described to the court how he had seen 18 prisoners die in one night in early June 1992.


But the main surprise came when Jesic responded to Judge Almir Rodriguez's questions regarding the hierarchy operating at the camp and the positions of the four defendants within it.


"Mejakic was a commander - as far as I know, the rest of them had lower functions," Jesic said. "Whether they were his deputies or not, I cannot confirm, since I did not see the relevant documentation. However, they were there."


The judge then asked what happened when Mejakic was away, and whether any of the defendants held positions within the chain of command.


"I suppose according to the rules, Mejakic must have had his deputies," Jesic said.


The witness went on to say that the lists of those to be interrogated were given to those "in charge of the guard shifts". When asked by the judge to explain who these people were, Jesic said, "the ones who are in charge of the people in their shifts and therefore responsible for their guard group."


The defendants were less than pleased with Jesic's testimony. Kvocka gesticulated furiously and muttered something about the witness's mother under his breath.


Jesic was the defence's final witness. In early June, the rebuttal and rejoinder stages of the trial begin, when the prosecution and defence try to counter evidence presented during the previous stages of the trial. A judgement is expected in early autumn.


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