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Jelisic Trial: Russian Roulette With The Imam

Tribunal Update 143: Last Week in The Hague (13-18 September, 1999)

This was how Mustafa Ramic, the last pre-war (1991-1992) president of the municipality of Brcko, explained the reasons behind the incidents of May 1992 to the judges of the Hague Tribunal last week.

In May 1992 Brcko was attacked and seized by the Belgrade commanded Yugoslav National Army (JNA) and Serbian paramilitary forces. About 2,000 people were killed and over 90 percent of its Bosniak and Croat population were expelled from the town.

"It is no secret," Ramic said in answer to the judges' questions, "that the SDS (Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party) wanted to reduce the number of the non-Serbian population of Brcko to below 10 per cent."

It succeeded in that, he said, just as it succeeded in creating a para-state, the entity called Republika Srpska, whose eastern and western parts touch precisely in Brcko.

During most of his two-day testimony at the trial of Goran Jelisic, who is accused of genocide in Brcko, Mustafa Ramic commented on several lists of victims at the behest of both prosecution and defence.

First, guided by the prosecutor's questions, he presented the list he himself had compiled, bearing the names of 39 prominent citizens of Brcko officials of the local Bosniak Party of Democratic Action (SDA) - killed in the first days of the war.

Then he went through a six page 100-name list from the prosecutor, stopping at those whom he had known. As the President of the Municipality, he knew many of them. There were both those young and old (20 to 80 years of age), both prominent and so-called ordinary people, and the only thing they had in common, Ramic said, was that they were Bosniaks and members or supporters of the SDA. Finally, Ramic marked a dozen names of people on the prosecutor's list that according to witnesses he had spoken to, were personally killed by the accused, Jelisic.

Ramic then commented on the same lists at the behest of the defence, which was interested in establishing who the dead were, how he knew they were dead, who had told him that they had been killed and whether he knew who had killed them. Going from one name to another, Ramic most often responded that he had learned about those killings either from eyewitnesses or from the account of people forced to remove the corpses. Several times he named as executioners a group headed by one Kosta Kostic, who according to Ramic, worked under Jelisic's command. Jelisic's defence claims that one person on the list of those killed is actually alive and a witness will be brought during the trial to confirm this. Jelisic's British defence counsel, Michael Greaves, also tried to discredit the witness at the end of the cross-examination, asking him if whether he was aware that criminal proceedings had been brought against him in Republika Srpska for alleged war crimes in Brcko.

Ramic said that he had learnt from some Serbian paper, towards the end of the war, about those "absurd charges". In response to questions asked by Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice, he explained that those accusations had been made against him and some 30 other members of the political and military leadership of 'Free Brcko' - the part of the wider area of the town under the control of the Bosniaks. The charges were made after it was learnt that investigations into crimes committed by Serbian forces in Brcko in May 1992 had been initiated.

Those charges were never specified, nor did he ever see any indictment, nor have any steps ever been undertaken to bring him or any of the other allegedly charged to court, Ramic claimed.

In the final stage of the presentation of the prosecution evidence, at the end of last week the Prosecutor submitted the results of an exhumation of mass graves in Brcko, as carried out in the summer of 1997.

According to the report by the leader of the forensic team, Professor Richard Wright, five deeply dug mass graves with the remains of a total of 70 people were found in the town dump under demolition rubble. The forensic experts concluded that at least two of those graves had been later "severely disturbed" and an unknown number of corpses pulled out of them.

British forensic pathologist Albert Hunt testified on autopsy reports. Of 70 found bodies, nine were female and 61 male. One was in military uniform, two in pyjamas, and the rest in civilian clothes. All apart from four had wounds from firearms: 20 in the back of the head, 11 each with one bullet in the head, and 11 with several bullets in the head, 19 had wounds to the head and the body, 10 only on the body.

The British pathologist concluded that this suggested "deliberate targeting in the head and upper chest." The shot to the back of the head, as Jelisic himself admitted and many witnesses had confirmed, was the defendant's "speciality". Other witnesses last week added more bizarre detail to the prosecutor's portrait of Goran Jelisic as a furious and enthusiastic participant in the genocidal campaign in Brcko in May 1992.

Protected witness R - an Imam from a village in the vicinity of Brcko described how Jelisic came to his house on 15 May 1992, escorted by three more men and one girl, took some 16,000 German Marks from him, along with the keys and documents of the car.

The Imam was then taken to the Luka camp in his own car, where he first attended the interrogation of two men. Dissatisfied with their answers, Jelisic took them out of the room. Shots were heard, and the accused then returned to his camp office alone, saying it was his "83rd case," which the witness interpreted as his 83rd killing that day.

When asked by the Prosecutor what had crossed his mind at that moment, the Imam responded: "My Master God, my family and the Olympics..." He explained that he thought he was to become Jelisic's victim number 84, a number which he associated with the Sarajevo '84 Winter Olympics.

This nearly happened. Jelisic, said witness R, took two bullets out of his gun and told him: "Effendi, let's play a game of Russian roulette". He put the gun to witness R's chest and pulled the trigger, but there was no bullet in the chamber. "Even God won't take you," Jelisic told the Imam - and then put the gun barrel to his own temple, asking him: "Is it my turn?" The Imam was silent. But Jelisic put down the gun and said: "The Serbian people still need me."

Another witness, referred to as witness O, told the court that he saw at least four killings by Jelisic during his detention at the Luka camp. "The first time I saw him, he came in with a guard and asked: 'Who is the Serb who helped Muslims?' After a soldier who had helped some Muslims was identified by another guard, Jelisic took him out in front of the housing unit and shot him in the back of the head."

The prosecution's presentation of evidence is expected to end by Wednesday, September 22, since the Prosecutor has announced only two more witnesses. The presentation of the defence case should commence in October, but defence counsel has already announced that they will be requesting a postponement.

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