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Courtside: Prijedor Genocide Trial

Witness describes Serb actions in Kozarac.
By Mirna Jancic

A former reserve policeman in the north-west Bosnian town of Kozarac last week spoke of the prelude to the Serb shelling of town.

Protected witness R recalled that the town's Muslim police chief Osman Didovic would not cooperate with the Serbs, refusing to hand over locally-held weapons.

Kozarac had become a Muslim stronghold after the Serb crisis staff, led by the accused Milomir Stakic, took control of Prijedor municipality on April 30, 1992 with the apparent aim of cleansing the area of non-Serbs.

The new authorities issued orders restricting the movement of non-Serbs and elected local officials were removed from power.

The witness told the court how new conditions such as weapons surrender were imposed on non-Serbs to "guarantee their safety", while no such requests were made of Serbs.

In May 1992, Didovic granted safe passage to a Serb military convoy in the area under his control. A Serb army major, Radmilo Zeljaja, later phoned Didovic to report that it had been attacked.

The Serb forces then incessantly shelled the town for two days, the court was told. When Didovic contacted the major and asked him to stop the bombardment so that the wounded could be taken care of - pointing out that some Serbs could be among the victims - Zeljaja refused. "There are no Serbs in Kozarac," he told the police chief.

The prosecution aims to prove that the Bosnian Serb authorities wanted to provoke a conflict as a pretext for the use of force.

Having captured the town, the Serbian forces engineered a "voluntary exodus", as the witness put it, separating men from women and children, and sending the former to detention centres including Omarska, Keraterm and Manjaca.

The accused had explained in a television interview that such course of action "was necessary at the time".

Witness R spent time in all three centres until he was freed in December 1992. He described conditions in Omarska as dire, with no hygiene, health care, water and frequent beatings.

He related how one inmate told him that he had loaded hundreds of corpses onto vehicles and had recognised some of them. The inmate had told R the scene was "horrible, with butchered bodies, without heads".

Didovic never returned from prison. Nor did Muhamed Cehajic, the pre-war mayor of Kozarac, who was removed from office in the April takeover. The witness told the tribunal that he saw Cehajic beaten up in Keraterm on May 27.

Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor.

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