COURTSIDE: Tuta and Stela Trial

Medic claims conditions in Helidrom were "not so bad".

COURTSIDE: Tuta and Stela Trial

Medic claims conditions in Helidrom were "not so bad".

Saturday, 31 August, 2002

After three weeks of testimonies by former Heliodrom camp inmates who confirmed that the accused Vinko "Stela" Martinovic treated them well, the court last week heard from the Croat official who monitored their health during detention.

Stela is accused of mistreating Heliodrom Muslim inmates held there during 1993 and using them as forced labour as a part of wider persecution of Muslims in Herzegovina.

Protected defence witness NU - an HVO medical personnel - testified via video-link from Zagreb that the low level of illness in Heliodrom pointed to the "good treatment of the detainees".

The witness said "only" six cases of mange among 2,100 inmates suggested accommodation at Heliodrom was "not so bad". NU's job in the Bosniak-Croat conflict was to prevent the spread of disease in Croat-held detention centres and report on health conditions in each one.

During cross-examination, the prosecution referred to a report written by the witness in autumn 1993, following a visit to Heliodrom, in which he wrote, "Around 85 per cent of inmates were underweight, with an average weight loss of approximately 15 kg."

The witness maintained the food at the camp was nevertheless "satisfactory" and that weight loss was a regular occurrence in Mostar, where most of the Heliodrom inmates originated.

The prosecution picked up on another statement by the witness, in which he had said that those "inmates who went to do physical work were better fed as a result of increased food rations", claiming this proved Muslims at the Heliodrom were used as forced labour.

NU denied any knowledge of this, while suggesting that they may have worked in the camp itself. "I am appalled by the idea of using someone for forced labour, but if this is true, then I am ashamed as an HVO member, as a man and as a doctor," he said.

The witness also denied that any of the 55 wounded inmates he treated had received their injuries at the frontline while being forced to work. In his September 1993 report, NU did not specify how the injuries occurred, claiming this was because there was no documentation available.

If the inmates received their wounds at the frontline, the witness insisted, that fact would have been "neatly documented". "I never saw an injury which would have indicated violation of international humanitarian law, and if I had, I would have reported it to my superiors," he said.

Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor

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