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COURTSIDE: Prijedor Genocide Trial

The night the Sana river ran red with blood.
By Mirna Jancic

Serbian forces took control of Prijedor in north-west Bosnia on April 30, 1992 without firing a shot, prosecution witness Ibrahim Beglerbegovic told the tribunal last week.

But before long, the town’s Croats and Muslims were gradually forced out - first by dismissals from work and later by imprisonment in detention camps.

The prosecution maintains that Serb forces ethnically cleansed the area in the summer of 1992, after proclaiming it the Serbian Municipality of Prijedor. The accused Milomir Stakic, the town’s president, is charged with genocide.

After capturing or killing any men who could take up arms, the Serb authorities organised convoys to expel those who remained.

The witness was arrested in July that year and taken to Omarska detention camp. He found a "horrifying scene, with people who bore various bruises from beatings, while one prisoner had a soldier's footprint on his skin". Elsewhere he saw corpses of men who had been beaten to death during the night.

As he knew the camp commander, Zeljko Mejakic, the witness was released after three days and was permitted to move freely in the town before being forced to leave in 1995.

Under defence cross-examination, the witness could not confirm whether Stakic had any real power or was in the hands of people "in the shadows". He also could not confirm if the municipal assembly controlled the armed forces.

A protected prosecution witness, codenamed Q, earlier testified about Serb attacks on non-Serbs in Hambarine, allegedly coordinated by the Prijedor crisis staff also under Stakic. The tribunal heard how soldiers broke into non-Serb homes, ordered the occupants out and looted their valuables.

Witness Q said that while running towards the woods for safety, Serb soldiers "shot at us, while tanks fired at houses and destroyed them".

She escaped to the town of Ljubija but told how four armed and camouflaged soldiers burst into her house one night and beat her husband.

She said she saw all the men from town - including her husband - taken to the bridge, “butchered” and thrown into the Sana river, which ran "red with blood".

Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor.

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