Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Krajisnik Trial Hears of Camp Hell

Witness recalls how he was separated from his father and lost 30 kilos in the infamous Manjaca detention camp.
By Merdijana Sadović

Amid lawyers’ complaints and royal visits, the trial of the former top Bosnian Serb politician Momcilo Krajisnik continued this week with the testimony of another survivor of a Serb-run Manjaca camp in north-west Bosnia.


But before Azim Medanovic, an elegantly dressed man in his late thirties with a long, deep scar above one eye brow, took the stand, Krajisnik lawyers announced they would file for an adjournment in proceedings, claiming they had not been allowed enough time to prepare their defence case.


Chrissa Loukas and Nicholas Stewart, who took over Krajisnik’s case less than a year ago after his previous counsel was disbarred in the United States for overcharging clients, say they need more time to address problems with the work left to them during the changeover.


Medanovic was born and raised in Prhovo, a Muslim village of 250 inhabitants in north-west Bosnia. The village was overrun and destroyed by Serb forces in June 1992. At the time, Krajisnik was in charge of the Bosnian Serb assembly and held a senior post in the ruling Serb Democratic Party, SDS. It is one of several dozen municipalities listed in the indictment against him.


Medanovic told the court how he survived a massacre in Prhovo on June 1, 1992, in which 45 Muslims - including four women and two children - were killed.


He described how Serb soldiers wearing military police uniforms entered the village and ordered a group of 40 men and 80 women and children to line up against the wall. After a short interrogation, they started taking prisoners one by one and shooting them.


Around eight Muslims were killed at that stage and the rest of the men, including Medanovic, were then forced to march towards the village of Peci, several kilometres from Prhovo.


Medanovic’s father, who had also been arrested, stayed behind.


“We hugged. My father told me to be careful, and I told him to be careful – I’ll never forget that. That was the last time I saw him alive,” Medanovic told the court, struggling to hold back his tears.


His father’s body was discovered in a mass grave near Prhovo after the war.


It was at that point in the testimony that Queen Beatrix, followed by a number of other dignitaries and chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte, entered the public gallery and sat quietly in a VIP section. The defendant cast only a brief glance in their direction, before continuing with his vigorous note-taking.


Medanovic told the court that just before he and the others left Prhovo, a Serb policeman was shot by a sniper. The witness said that the incident was most probably a “mistake” and insisted that the local Muslims had no weapons, but the shooting infuriated local Serb commander Marko Marko Adamovic.


According to the witness, Adamovic ordered his troops to take immediate revenge, grabbing a megaphone and yelling, “Kill women and children, burn the village to the ground!”


A few moments later, a grenade exploded in front of the house where the Muslim villagers were assembled, killing 38 of them. The Serb officer also ordered the execution of some 20 men from Medanovic’s group, the witness claimed.


“They began firing bullets at us and when the shooting was over, we were ordered to stand up. Fourteen of us survived, and Adamovic was surprised to see so many of us still alive. ‘That’s too many’, he said, and his soldiers then began shooting us one by one.


“I started to sweat - you know, it’s very difficult when you think you are going to die,” Medanovic told the court, appearing almost embarrassed.


He then described how he was saved by a Serb soldier nicknamed Sico, with whom he used to drink coffee in a local bar.


The soldier promised he would take Medanovic and a group of other captives safely to Peci. But along the way they stopped in a Serb village, where the local soldiers began beating them severely – and men, women and even children from the village took up the troops’ offer to join in.


Medanovic told the court that by that stage he was in almost unbearable pain, and began to beg his “saviour” to kill him and put an end to the misery.


But he survived and eventually arrived in Peci. From there he was later taken to the Serb-run Manjaca concentration camp, known for the appalling ways in which the thousands of its Muslim and Croat detainees were treated. He spent several months there, losing 30 kilos in weight during his ordeal.


On December 16, 1992, Medanovic told the court that he was ordered to sign a piece of paper, which he was told would allow him to leave Manjaca.


He wasn’t allowed to read the document but, like thousands of others, he signed it anyway. It turned out to be a statement saying the signatory would relinquish all his or her property, leave the country and never come back.


“Had you known what was in that document, would you still have been willing to sign it?” presiding judge Alphons Orie asked hesitantly - obviously aware of the awkwardness of his own question.


“Yes. All of us would have signed it, just to leave that hell hole as soon as possible,” Medanovic replied, slightly raising his voice.


Earlier this week, Krajisnik’s two lawyers announced that they would file a motion to withdraw from the case, saying the tight trial schedule prevented them from preparing well. The trial chamber has already turned down one application by Krajisnik’s defence team for more time to prepare their case.


Despite the fact that the accused’s former counsel, Serbian-American lawyer Deyan Ranko Brasich, spent more than 1.5 million dollars preparing his client’s defence, Loukas and Stewart claim the defence materials they inherited from him were in bad order.


Merdijana Sadovic is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.


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