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Omarska-Keraterm Trial - Former inmates recount brutality

Tribunal Update 188 Last Week in The Hague (August 28 - September 2, 2000)

Most of the prosecution witnesses claim to have personally seen the five accused at Omarska. Miroslav Kvocka and Dragoljub Prcac, former deputy commanders at Omarska, Mladjo Radic and Milojica Kos, guard shift commanders, and Zoran Zigic, a "visitor" to Omarska and Keraterm - are charged with crimes against humanity for alleged offences committed at camps between May and August 1992.

"When we arrived at Omarska from Keraterm, we were taken to the 'White House' through a cordon of guards who beat us," said Asim Icic. "We were ordered to write down our names and then they called us out one by one for beatings. Krkan [Mladin Radic] called me out and took me to a room. He told me to shout the Serbian greeting 'God Help You Heroes'. But before I could finish the sentence a noose was put around my neck, I fell to the floor and they began to hit me. I couldn't let out a sound because of the noose."

Icic said his ribs were broken and the skin on his back torn during the assault.

When asked if he been given any medical treatment following the attack, Icic said, "I didn't even get any water in the 'White House'. Except once. From a dirty bucket which the detainees used to urinate in."

Icic went on to describe a particularly brutal episode on the Serbian Orthodox religious holiday, Petrovdan (St Peter's Day). The guards at Omarska, Icic said, celebrated the occasion by setting light to tyres.

"I heard women crying out, it tore at my ears. I could smell the stink of burning flesh too," Icic said. The witness said he heard later that some people had been thrown onto the burning tyres.

Other inmates, Icic claimed, were frequently beaten to death, "Sefik Sivac was beaten up one evening and thrown into our room. He died there and was driven away in the morning."

Inmates were not only subjected to physical abuse however, detainees were also routinely humiliated, the witnesses said.

"The life of a dog had more worth for the guards than me, a human being," said Abdulah Brkic. "Once they ordered us to strip in order to 'wash' us with a firemen's hose. They brought along 14 or 15-year old girls to watch. And us lying there, some of us fell over exhausted by the force of the water. I had an 18-year-old daughter. I understood then that I was not a human."

Former inmates of both the Keraterm and Omarska camps said Zigic used to visit each camp every day. He would call out detainees and mistreat them, the witnesses said, even though it was not known if he held any office at either camp.

"Mr Zigic came to Keraterm every evening and introduced himself to us," Icic said. "My impression was that he wanted to show us that he could do anything he wanted with any of us. And that's what he did."

Icic said Zigic personally called out several detainees who were subsequently beaten.

"After beating people he would come to sell us cigarettes saying, 'Ziga won't allow you to suffer without cigarettes', offering a carton for 100 German marks," Icic said.

Another witness recalled Zigic appearing at the door of his cell at Keraterm, pointing his Kalashnikov rifle and shouting, "I am Zoran Zigic. Balijas [a pejorative term for Muslims], I will fuck your mother!"

The witnesses claimed Zigic took part in several fatal beatings at Keraterm. The bodies of those killed were thrown onto the factory dump. Each day a small yellow truck would take the bodies away to an unknown location, the witnesses said.

The trial continues this week.

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