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

Courtside: Prijedor Genocide Trial

By Vjera Bogati in The Hague (TU 299, 03-07 February 2003)

Ostoja Marjanovic, former director of a mine outside Omarska, one of the most notorious Serb camps, said he went to see the local police chief, Simo Drljaca, hoping to win his friend’s freedom.

Drljaca told him he would let the friend go on one condition – that Marjanovic took the man’s place. He refused, and did not tell the court what eventually happened to his friend.

Instead, he described this incident as an example of the lack of control the civil authorities exercised over the military and police who ran the camps.

He was giving evidence in defence of Dr Milomir Stakic, who is on trial accused of responsibility for the genocide of non-Serbs in the north-west Prijedor region.

Marjanovic told The Hague that the army and police had taken over his mine in the summer of 1992. Stakic was the chief of Prijedor Crisis staff – an ad hoc Serb local government at that time.

The witness claimed that the civilian authorities had no influence on the "dominant commander” of Yugoslav army forces in the area, Colonel Vladimir Arsic, or the "arrogant police chief" Drljaca, who was shot and killed by British soldiers trying to arrest him in 1997.

"Different stories were circulating. I guessed nothing good was going on inside Omarska. But there was nothing I could do," he claimed.

Prosecutors produced a document in which Drljaca requested that the mine managers select “trusted workers for engagement in the interrogation centres” and “equip the service workshops and offices in Omarska for efficient performance of these assignments”.

But Marjanovic said that this document never reached him.

During the cross-examination, prosecutors tried to prove that the mine director helped the army and police not only with personnel, but also with heavy mechanisation and transport for the detainees and the dead.

After the camp closed in August 1992, the bodies were dug out and transported to a mass grave at Jakarinska kosa. Nearly 400 corpses and body parts were exhumed from this site, and it was later established that explosives from the Ljubija mine had been used in the pit’s construction.

But Marjanovic said the army had commandeered most of his vehicles and explosives, and that he had no idea what they had done with them.

Prosecutors then played a video recording of Marjanovic's talk with a reporter from Prijedor – made at the beginning of summer of 1992.

In the recording, Marjanovic stated that “cooperation of Ljubija with the army was at the highest level” and that work units of the mine “have joined the process of creation of the new, which is in the interest of all”.

But the witness claimed that when he had talked about such cooperation, he was referring to only one task, the repair of army transport vehicles.

He said that the “creation of the new” meant simply the preservation of Yugoslavia for all its peoples, which was a key task at the time.

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