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Foca Prison Trial - Former detainees recall brutal regime

Tribunal Update 198 Last Week in The Hague (November 6-12, 2000)

The prison, which became synonymous with the persecution of non-Serbs in the region, was under Krnojelac's jurisdiction from April 1992 to October 1994.

Prosecutors cite 29 murders at the jail, all cases where inmates were beaten to death during "interrogations", but claim the actual number was much higher. Other crimes listed in the indictment include unlawful imprisonment and torture.

Former detainee Dzevad Lojo said he thought as many as 400 of those held at the prison are listed "missing". The prosecution claim more than 1,000 men "passed through" the prison between April 1992 and October 1994.

"I remember people who were taken for interrogation - some came back, and some never returned," protected witness 215 said. "They are still missing today, so we concluded they had disappeared. They were either executed on the spot or were taken and executed somewhere else later."

Some of those beaten during interrogations or fell ill died through lack of medical care. Witnesses said others disappeared after being taken away for alleged prisoner exchanges.

According to witnesses, the brutal period in the prison was during the first three months, from mid April to July 1992. Former detainees told the court what they saw and heard.

"The fellows who were more courageous stayed by the window longer and watched a vehicle drive away detainees, most probably those beaten up. They heard the bodies fall into the river. I didn't have the courage to listen to that," said Lojo.

Photographs submitted by the prosecution showed some of the detention wings only 10 meters away from the administration block where interrogations and beatings took place.

Protected witness 54 described what befell four people taken from his cell along with a fifth man from another room. The witness said he could see from his cell window the five men and their guards in a room opposite.

"They were taken to the administrative part of the building," witness 54 said. "First they battered the victims with fists and feet and then pressed their faces against the wall and shot them.

"I saw them falling...and then guard Zoka Matovic turned over Kemo Djelilovic's head with his foot...presumably to see if he was alive."

The former detainees do not accuse Krnojelac of personally taking part in any abuse, but the prosecution argues, that as warden of the prison, the accused must have known what guards under his command were doing.

According to witness 54, Krnojelac had told former colleague and Foca detainee Rasim Jusufovic, "If I had known that that would happened, I would rather have died than become what I did."

Krnojelac's defence lawyers insist the prison had a separate military section over which the accused had no jurisdiction. His lawyers also point to written statements from former detainees which state Krnojelac's deputy Sava Todorovic was a person feared by detainees and staff at the prison. Krnojelac's lawyers emphasise the defendant took no part in the crimes committed in the prison and argue he could do nothing to stop them.

When questioned by the prosecution, however, former detainees denied the prison was divided into civil and military sections. The prosecution also pointed out many of the beatings and killings were committed by prison guards under Krnojelac's command.