Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
Keraterm Camp Trial
The trial began last week of Dusko Sikirica, Damir Dosen and Dragan Kolundzija, accused of crimes at the Keraterm detention camp in Prijedor, north west Bosnia.
This brings to two the number of trials currently under way relating to crimes in the Prijedor region and coincides with the arrest and extradition from Belgrade of another Prijedor indictee, Milomir Stakic.
Stakic, a former mayor of the town, is accused of being a "core member" of the area's "crisis staff" and, as such, of participating in the creation and running of the camps.
In the second Prijedor-related trial, defence lawyers for five men accused of crimes at the Omarska detention camp are in the midst of presenting their case.
Keraterm featured in the trial of the four alleged commanders of the Omarska camp. A fifth accused, Zoran Zigic, allegedly visited and abused inmates in both camps. He is accused in the Keraterm and Omarska indictments.
The events in the Keraterm camp also figured prominently in the Dusko Tadic trial - he was convicted among other things of crimes in the camp in June and July 1992 and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.
Several commanders, guards and visitors are accused of crimes at Keraterm. But only Sikirica, accused of being camp commander, Dosen, nicknamed "Kajin" and Kolundzija, nicknamed "Kole", were in the dock last week.
Dosen and Kolundzija are alleged to have been guard shift commanders. The nicknames are significant because, as the first week of the trial has demonstrated, most Keraterm detainees knew the accused by those names.
Sikirica, as commander of the camp through which more than 1,500 Muslims and Croats passed between May and August 1992, is charged with genocide. Prosecutors claim the camp played a significant role in the ethnic cleansing of that area of Bosnia.
Sikirica is alleged to have been responsible for the inhuman conditions in the camp, mass and individual killings and the torture and beating of detainees. Several beatings and killings are personally attributed to Sikirica, as are rapes of female detainees.
Dosen and Kolundzija are charged with responsibility for all killings and beatings by guards under their command. The single worst crime at Keraterm - the so-called Room Three Massacre - occurred on Kolundzija's shift.
Described by prosecutors as "one of the most terrible massacres of the entire Bosnian war", at least 140 Muslims from the Brdo area of Prijedor died in a single night.
The massacre was mentioned last year during the Omarska trial. Zigic allegedly took part. (See Tribunal Update No. 184).
Prosecutor Dirk Ryneveld said prosecution witnesses had provided contradictory statements regarding the extent to which Kolundzija had taken part in the killings. Ryneveld said, however, that for the prosecution the most important fact was that the accused, the shift commander, knew the mass killing was happening, but did nothing to stop it.
The prosecutor allowed for the possibility that there were fewer killings on Kolundzija's shift. He also acknowledged that Dosen had shown some sympathy on occasions to detainees and had prevented Zigic and other "visitors" from entering Keraterm to maltreat prisoners.
But, the prosecutor pointed out, he was present when other alleged abuses took place and did not intervene.
Only Kolundzija's defence lawyer, Dusan Vucicevic, chose to make any opening remarks. Lawyers for Dosen and Sikirica said they would do so at the end of the prosecution's case.
Vucicevic said he had decided to give his opening address immediately because he was convinced the judges would conclude on hearing the prosecution's evidence that there was no case for his client to answer and would acquit him.
"Dragan Kolundzija will have to be acquitted as soon as the prosecution presents its evidence about the events in Keraterm, since that evidence will not demonstrate that Kolundzija was a conscious participant of the crimes," Vucicevic said.
Kolundzija "did not commit any criminal act," but on the contrary "tried to help the detainees," the lawyer said. He claimed his client brought food for the prisoners and "never called anyone to be taken to execution."
Vucicevic said his client held no rank or power at the camp and was therefore unable to prevent or punish crimes. Kolundzija, the defence lawyer said, could not leave his position at Keraterm without risking punishment himself.
"He was not a volunteer, but recruited and assigned to police reserves, " he said. "He had reason to believe that he would be beaten or sent to the front if he turned down the service in Keraterm."
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