Defence witnesses say allegations of persecution by Bosnian Serbs ignore Muslim aggression.


Defence witnesses say allegations of persecution by Bosnian Serbs ignore Muslim aggression.

Friday, 4 November, 2005

The trial of Bosnian Serb parliamentary speaker Momcilo Krajisnik heard evidence this week that Serb residents of the eastern Bosnian town of Foca had no choice but to defend themselves against Muslim hostility in the early Nineties.

Foca is included on a long list of regions where prosecutors say Krajisnik was responsible for brutal persecution of Muslim civilians during the war in Bosnia, as part of a wider plan to ethnically cleanse large swathes of the country.

The area was home to the notorious KP Dom prison camp, where non-Serb inmates were allegedly beaten, tortured and murdered. At least 266 people are said to have died at the KP Dom site alone between June and December 1992.

The indictment against Krajisnik also lists more than 20 other ad hoc detention facilities allegedly set up in buildings such as schools, houses and motels in and around the town.

Human Rights Watch reports that during the course of the war in Bosnia, the non-Serb population of Foca fell from some 20,000 to just a few hundred.

But Slako Djordjevic, who was chief surgical nurse in the town’s hospital in the early Nineties, said there was no question of Muslim residents being driven from their homes by persecution. In fact, he said, local Muslims were well armed and were themselves responsible for brutal atrocities against the Serb population.

Djordjevic’s testimony followed immediately after that of another witness who appeared earlier in the week to speak about Muslim aggression elsewhere in Bosnia.

Djordjevic acknowledged that Serbs in Foca did begin arming themselves in the early Nineties, adding that he personally had been issued with a rifle. He assumed this weapon had come from the arsenal of the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA, he explained, though he wasn’t sure.

But it wasn’t just the Serbs who were collecting arms, Djordjevic argued. He recalled that some of his Muslim colleagues at the Foca hospital began attending meetings from which they would return with weapons. He said didn’t know where these guns came from.

By April 1992, Djordjevic said, there were enough arms in circulation in Foca to allow fighting that broke out between local Muslims and Serbs to last a full ten days. The hospital treated the wounded on both sides, Djordjevic explained, adding, “We couldn’t tell who was who.”

The witness said that as ethnic tensions mounted, local Muslims also employed brutal tactics against the Serb population.

In March 1992, Djordjevic recalled, several Muslim nurses began to steal hospital supplies and one paramedic was caught with 100 ammonia pills. A pharmacist had noted at the time, he said, that this quantity “could be used for nothing other than water supply poisoning”.

Later, under cross-examination by prosecutors, the witness acknowledged that he didn’t actually know what the paramedic intended to do with the ammonia tablets.

Djordjevic had particularly bitter memories of another episode which occurred in the nearby village of Josonice, in December 1992. An attack launched by Muslims during a Serb holiday descended into a “very ugly scene”, he said, and the Foca hospital received the bodies of 63 victims. Among them, he recalled, were eight children and “quite a lot of women”.

The corpses included that of Djordjevic’s sister. “Her throat was slit,” he told the court, sobbing, “her abdomen was slit apart.”

Djordjevic told judges that the vast numbers of Muslim residents who left Foca during the war were right to fear retaliation for such crimes. He even added that had he been in their position, he too would have left. But, he insisted, “Nobody chased [them] away.”

Earlier in the week, Krajisnik’s defence counsel called another witness who described how Serbs were driven from the nearby Bosnian municipality of Gorazde in August 1992.

Lazar Stavnjak – a member of Krajisnik’s Serbian Democratic Party who fought in the Bosnian Serb army during the war – said the continuing presence of Serbs in Gorazde was made untenable by the activities of the Muslim Party of Democratic Action, SDA. The SDA, he said, turned the town into a place where Serbs were neither welcome nor safe.

The trial resumes on November 7.

Adrienne N Kitchen is an IWPR intern in The Hague.

Support our journalists