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COURTSIDE: Prijedor Genocide Trial

Propaganda used as weapon in Prijedor, court told.
By Mirna Jancic

Prosecution witness Mevludin Sejmenovic last week described how the Serbs used propaganda in Prijedor to justify expelling the Croat and Muslim communities.


He was testifying in the trial of the former president of the Prijedor crisis staff, Milomir Stakic, who is charged with genocide.


Sejmenovic, then Prijedor vice-president of the Muslim-led Party of Democratic Action, SDA, told how the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, issued statements claiming that Serbs were endangered LONG BEFORE THE WAR STARTED. He recalled how a war-like atmosphere was maintained by the SDS' constant warnings of possible attacks on Serbs.


After gaining control in Prijedor, the SDS mobilised the Serb population and forced non-Serbs to surrender their weapons by threatening the nearby Muslim stronghold of Kozarac. The village was later destroyed.


Sejmenovic said the Serbs used various methods to twist perceptions of events on the ground. After the SDS proclaimed the nearby Bosanski Novi as a Serbian municipality, the radio informed the population that the town had been "liberated", even though no battle had taken place.


After Kozarac was captured, the entire population was sent to Trnopolje detention centre. Sejmenovic told the tribunal that he went into hiding but later entered the camp where he stayed undetected for three days, later returning when he heard detainees were being evacuated to safe territory.


The guards had been alerted to his previous presence, and the witness surrendered to the guards after threats were made against inmates. He was taken to Prijedor police station, where an officer allegedly tied a belt round his neck and dragged him to an office, where he was then beaten.


He was then taken to Omarska detention camp, where he was interviewed by the Serbian media. Sejmenovic and other prisoners told the journalists that conditions were good, that the inmates had arrived voluntarily and that nobody had been beaten.


In court, he now claimed that this was untrue, that Omarska was "absolutely a concentration camp, where people were killed for pleasure", and spoke of seeing the daily torture of a child whose arms had been broken. He said he spoke well of the camp to the media at the time because his survival had depended on it.


Sejmenovic was released soon after the interviews. The president of the Autonomous Region of Krajina, Vojo Kupresanin, then drove him to Banja Luka, where he was told he would be safe and well fed so that he could take part in talks as a Muslim representative.


The witness said the Serbs planned to use surviving SDA officials - 20 of whom died in the Prijedor area after the takeover - as ethnic minority representatives in the Republika Srpska government.


Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor.


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