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COURTSIDE: Prijedor Genocide Trial

SDA head talks of Prijedor's fall.
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Mirsad Mujadzic, the local head of the Muslim-dominated Party of Democratic Action, SDA, testified last week about the events that led to the Serbian takeover of Prijedor in 1992 and subsequent crimes.

Milomir Stakic, the former Serb mayor and president of the crisis staff, is standing trial accused of genocide.

Pre-war Prijedor was "a conglomeration of different nationalities", Mujadzic said. A Bosniak population of 49,700 narrowly outnumbered the Serb community. Mujadzic said the SDA favoured the preservation of Yugoslavia, but only if Croatia remained a part of it, to ensure "a balance between the nations".

He said the commander of the Bosnian Serb Kozara brigade told local Serbs that "a time has come to take revenge" for crimes committed by the Croatian fascist Ustasha during the Second World War. Serbs who refused to mobilise were called traitors.

The Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, rejected the results of the 1991 election in which the SDA won most votes and took the leading municipal posts.

At the end of July and beginning of August of that year, Yugoslav army tanks and an army test range were installed at Prijedor airport. Firearms were distributed on the grounds that the people were entitled to defend themselves from Croatian paramilitary groups.

A part of the local television show Prijedorska Hronika, Prijedor Chronicle, was also shown, in which a Yugoslav army commander named Arsic said Serb forces were resisting attacks by Bosniak extremists.

However, this was a cover story used to disguise a Serbian takeover and the forced removal of the elected authorities, the witness claimed.

Stakic took over as municipal political leader and head of the crisis staff which oversaw the establishment of several notorious camps at Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje for non-Serb detainees.

Mujadzic said Prijedor was "the only town in which mass crimes happened at the very start of the war, where thousands of Bosniaks were deported, and more than 3,000 people killed in the camps". The trial continues.

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