COURTSIDE: Prijedor Genocide Trial

"Terrifying and chaotic" night in Keraterm's room No. 3.

COURTSIDE: Prijedor Genocide Trial

"Terrifying and chaotic" night in Keraterm's room No. 3.

Saturday, 31 August, 2002

The trial of Milomir Stakic resumed last week after the summer recess with testimonies from two prosecution witnesses who spent time in Serb-held camps during the Bosnian war.

Stakic, then president of the Prijedor Serb Crisis Staff in northern Bosnia, is accused of orchestrating the genocide of non-Serbs in the area and of setting up detention camps at Omarska, Trnopolje and Keraterm.

Jusuf Arifagic, who spent time in all three, told the court about a massacre in the notorious "room No 3" in Keraterm on the night of July 24, 1992. He said the inmates were moved from there into others for the night, while some 200 new prisoners were brought in.

Two machine guns and reflector lights were placed in front of the door, and Arifagic says he heard cars and people bustling before the sound of continuous gunshots and screams.

"Something terrifying and chaotic was happening and we could only listen to it as we were isolated in room No 2 - waiting for the same thing to happen to us," the witness said.

The next morning, after the guards called for "volunteers who are not afraid of the dead" to mount the corpses onto trucks, Arifagic said he saw a truck full of bodies, dripping with blood, leaving for the gates. "I have tried to erase this from my memory but it is impossible and I realise that I have to live with it," he said.

The last truck full of corpses to leave the camp also carried those who had helped to load the bodies, the witness claimed. These "volunteers" were never seen again. The men who died in room No 3 were Muslims from the Prijedor villages of Hambarine, Carakovo, Rakovcani, Rizvanovici and Biscani.

A protected witness from Biscani testified against Stakic last week, describing how the Serbian Democratic Party took power in the area in the spring of 1992. The party had isolated the Prijedor Muslim villages, which have since become a symbol for ethnic cleansing in the area.

It is alleged that units of the then Yugoslav National Army, JNA, and Serb paramilitaries - claiming an ultimatum to hand over weapons had not been not fulfilled - entered the villages, assembled the locals and began a campaign of torture and killings.

The witness said he and his father had no idea what was happening and thought there was no reason to worry, as they had done nothing wrong. He recalled a scene of personal revenge when a Serb soldier called out a local Muslim policeman, Mirhad Mrkalj, and asked him, "Do you remember when you took away my driving licence?" The soldier took Mrkalj away and he was never seen again.

The assembled men were forced to form two columns and wait for buses to take them away. While he was waiting, the witness, who eventually ended up in Trnopolje camp, looked around him and realised many of his neighbours were lying dead on the ground.

Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor.

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