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

Martic Witness Says Knin Prison “Perfect”

Wartime prison governor claims his men never allowed assaults on non-Serbs.
By Goran Jungvirth
The former warden of the Knin prison this week told the trial of the former leader of the rebel Serb authorities in Croatia, Milan Martic, that conditions there were “perfect”.



Stevo Plejo said inmates received “three meals a day, could bathe two times a week and were examined regularly by a doctor and a nurse”.



Martic, the former president of the self-proclaimed Serb Autonomous District of Krajina (SAO Krajina), is charged with leading the local police force and other armed forces in the expulsion and murder of non-Serbs in Croatia between 1991 and 1995.



He is also accused of the prolonged and routine imprisonment of hundreds of Croat, Muslim and other non-Serb civilians in detention facilities within and outside Croatia, including prison camps located in Knin, SAO Krajina's capital.



The indictment further states that conditions in these facilities were inhumane and that repeated torture, beatings, sexual assaults and killings of Croat, Muslim and other non-Serb civilian detainees took place regularly.



Plejo, however, rejected allegations that inmates were tortured and beaten by Martic's police and said he was “insulted” by the notion that he had assisted this by giving them access to the prison.



He said he never allowed detainees to be harassed, though he admitted there had been “several minor incidents, the perpetrators of which were punished”. Plajo said he heard these incidents took place in the summer of 1991, before he began work there, a time when the “prison wasn’t controlled by professional guards”.



He added that those responsible for mistreating detainees were members of the Territorial Defence and the police force. Martic was not in charge of the Knin prison at that time, he said, because it was under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice.



During cross-examination by the prosecution, Plajo confirmed there were two elderly men among the detainees, aged 71 and 86, but he said he was not sure whether they were soldiers or civilians. “They were released after six days anyway,” he added.



Earlier in the week, Martic’s brother in law, Milan Dragisic, also testified in his defence.



Dragisic was a wartime Territorial Defence commander in Knin and was Martic’s direct subordinate. He told the judges that the accused was not responsible for any war crimes, because “he did not have the necessary political or executive power” in SAO Krajina. According to Dragisic, it was Milan Babic, as the then SAO Krajina prime minister, who had “political and military power in his hands”.



Babic committed suicide in March this year, one day before finishing his testimony as a prosecution witness in Martic’s trial. He had previously pleaded guilty to persecuting Croats in Krajina during the war, but said Martic was the “practical executor”, who ordered the murders, rapes and tortures of non-Serbs, with the aim of expelling them from Serb-held territories.



This week, Dragisic dismissed Babic’s claims as untrue, saying Babic “didn’t want to share his power with anyone”.



When the prosecution presented him with documents showing that Martic issued orders to the Territorial Defence units in Knin, Dragisic reluctantly confirmed that the accused had been in command of local armed forces including these units.



The trial continues next week.



Goran Jungvirth is an IWPP reporter in Zagreb