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Omarska-Keraterm Trial

Tribunal Update No. 174, Last Week in The Hague (May 1-6, 2000)

Prcac was arrested on March 5, less than a week after the start of the trial (February 28), prompting prosecutors to request an adjournment to allow time to include the accused in the proceedings against Kvocka, Kos, Radic and Zigic. Prcac had been named in the same indictment as the other four (See Tribunal Update No. 167).

Proceedings re-opened with a brief statement from the prosecutor, Michael Keegan, outlining Prcac's alleged role at the Omarska camp and in the campaign of terror across the Prijedor region between April and December 1992.

Keegan said Prcac and the four defendants participated in a "brutal campaign" orchestrated by the Bosnian Serb authorities to rid the region of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats as part of an effort to create a Serbian state.

The evidence, the prosecutor said, would establish the camps were "an essential component of the overall persecution... and played a major part in the ethnic cleansing of the Prijedor area."

Omarska prison camp, the prosecutor claimed, was at the vanguard of the Bosnian Serb system of persecution and ethnic cleansing. Prcac, Keegan went on, through his role as deputy commander of the camp, demonstrated his intent to participate in and support of this system.

The prosecution then called their first witness, a former detainee at Omarska, Emir Beganovic. The atmosphere in the courtroom during Beganovic's testimony was extremely tense. Radic's defence lawyer, Toma Fila, accused the witness of cursing his client's mother as he approached a model of the Omarska camp.

Beganovic denied the charge. And although the judge said he had not noticed the insult, he called on all sides to show restraint. Beganovic said he had been held at Omarska for 66 days in the summer of 1992 and saw all five accused during that time.

The witness said he did see Zigic participate in the beating of some youths, but did not witness the other defendants taking part personally in such abuse.

However, since all five were senior officers at the camp, they face charges relating to their failure to exercise their authority over junior ranks to protect detainees from abuse and to improve the inhumane conditions in the camps.

Beganovic claimed repeatedly that not one of the camp commanders or guard shift officers intervened to prevent guards, soldiers and 'visitors' from beating or physically and psychologically abusing detainees.

The witness then went on to describe general conditions at Omarska. "People walked around, beaten, bleeding, with wounds infested with worms and puss," Beganovic said. "Fifty per cent of people had dysentery. Hygiene conditions were catastrophic, like a clogged up toilet. Where people ate and slept there was 20 or 30 centimeters of faeces."

The cries and screams of people being beaten could be heard constantly. "It was worse to hear those cries than being beaten yourself," the witness said.

Beganovic said he had been beaten at the camp, sometimes by drunken guards or when on his way to lunch. Visitors to the camp would grab and beat detainees at random. On three occasions, Beganovic said, he was severely beaten - once by Nikica Janjic, a 'visitor' to the camp, with whom he had some "unsettled scores" from before the war, then by a man called Dragan and finally by a group of uniformed soldiers.

Before his detention, Beganovic said, he had been quite fit, weighing around 76 kilos. By August 1992, when he was transferred to the Manjaca camp, he weighed 49 kilos and had wounds all over his body, which trouble him to this day.

Beganovic had been one of the wealthier inhabitants of Prijedor. Before the war he owned three cafes and a flower shop. He now lives in Holland and was reliant on state benefits until last year when his wife opened a flower shop. On a recent visit to Prijedor, Beganovic found two of his businesses - a cafe and a flower shop - were still open, but the new Serb 'owners' would not hand them back. The local authorities, Beganovic said, would do nothing to help.

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