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

Courtside: Prijedor Camp Trial

By Vjera Bogati in The Hague (TU 293, 9-14 December, 2002)

This area, and its Omarska and Keraterm camps, saw some of the worst atrocities by Serb forces against Croats and Muslims.

Four Serb men accused of taking part in killings, torture and inhuman treatment of detainees in Omarska and Keraterm camps in 1992 are to be tried in joint proceedings.

Momcilo Gruban, Dusko Knezevic, Predrag Banovic and Dusan Fustar arrived in The Hague too late to be tried with their former co-accused.

As their original indictments were joined and consolidated, wording of some counts have been modified. Gruban and Fustar had to enter a plea again to some of the counts. Both repeated that they were not guilty for the crimes.

All four were charged with crimes against humanity and violations of the laws and customs of war for their role as guards or shift commanders in the camps. A fifth man named in the indictment, Zeljko Meakic, is still at large.

Prijedor has already provided a number of significant tribunal landmarks. The first ever trial was of Dusko Tadic, a former camp guard.

The first arrests by NATO troops were of two Bosnian Serbs accused of designing the camps - Simo Drlaca and Dr Milan Kovacevic. Neither was convicted, as the former was shot dead during the arrest, and the latter died in custody.

Then groups of camp commanders and guards - the "Omarska five" and the "Keraterm three" - were tried, revealing to the world the full gruesome picture of life in the camps. The trial of Dr Milomir Stakic, former president of the crisis staff for Prijedor, is currently underway.

These camps also play an important role in the indictment against Radoslav Brdjanin, president of the crisis staff of Autonomous Region Krajina, which included the area of Prijedor.

The indictment alleges that the Bosnian Serb authorities in Prijedor segregated, detained and confined more than 7,000 non-Serbs in the Omarska, Trnopolje and Keraterm camps between May and August 1992.

It is alleged that interrogations were conducted on a daily basis at the Omarska and Keraterm camps. The indictment says severe beatings, killings as well as other forms of physical and psychological abuse, including sexual assault, were commonplace.

While a date for the trial, which is expected to last around six months, has not been set, the judge ordered that preparations be completed by February 2003.

Vjera Bogati is an IWPR correspondent in The Hague and a journalist with SENSE news agency.

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