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

Omarska-Keraterm Trial - Zigic's brutal quest for a family's 'pot of gold'

Tribunal Update 192 Last Week in The Hague (September 25-30, 2000)

Unlike his four co-accused - Mirolsav Kvocka, Dragoljub Prcac, Mladjo Radic and Milojica Kos - Zigic did not hold a position of formal authority at any of the camps. Nevertheless witnesses claimed he did exercise "immense power", which he routinely abused.

Former detainees told the court how guards, police and Serb staff at the camps would try to protect inmates from the defendant's brutality.

"That man was impossible. He had immense power. When there were no more Muslims and Croats in Prijedor, he killed Serbs," said former detainee Edin Ganic.

Zigic surrendered to The Hague tribunal after being imprisoned in Banja Luka for murdering a Serb woman in the town.

According to witnesses, Zigic had been a taxi driver before the war. When conflict broke out he donned a uniform and a gun, but never actually joined a military unit. Former detainees said he entered the camps whenever he chose, organised roll calls, beat and abused the prisoners physically and psychologically as he saw fit.

Two former detainees Husein and Edin Ganic, father and son, described to the court a series of brutal attacks. The Ganics claim Zigic perpetrated the assaults in order to force the men into revealing where they had buried the family's "pot of gold".

Before the war broke out in spring 1992, Husein Ganic was a successful businessman in Prijedor. He ran a construction company and owned several trucks, earthmovers, diggers and construction equipment. Edin was the proud owner of a new Suzuki motorcycle.

On June 23 1992, father and son were arrested and sent to the Keraterm camp. Some days later, Husein said, Zigic visited the camp looking for them. Husein said when Zigic found him he struck him with such force he broke his jaw and knocked out five teeth. The witness said Zigic then ordered him to strip naked. "They beat me from head to toe," Husein said, "and demanded the family pot of gold and 100,000 German marks, or else they would kill me and my son."

When he refused to reveal the whereabouts of the family's buried treasure, the witness said, Zigic ordered that Edin be brought in. Husein said he was made to sit while Zigic and his escorts beat Edin, put a knife to his throat and threatened to kill him unless they gave up the pot of gold and the Suzuki.

Edin claimed Zigic had said the Ganics would probably get out of the camp due to their wealth and had ordered his colleagues to disable him. According to the witness, Dusan Knezevic - also accused of crimes at Keraterm, but still at large - then smashed his right knee with a baseball bat saying he would never ride his motorcycle again. Edin began to cry while recounting these events.

Thanks to the intervention of Serbian friends, the witnesses said, they were transferred to Prijedor hospital three days later. When Zigic came to the hospital looking for them, the Ganics said, the doctors and nurses would hide them.

During one visit, Edin said, he saw Zigic leaving the emergency room wiping his knife on his trousers. Edin claimed doctors and nurses later told him Zigic had slit the throat of a Muslim taxi driver he had hospitalised earlier in a beating.

Towards the end of July 1992, however, Zigic did find Edin at the hospital. According to Edin, Zigic and a heavily armed escort, both drunk, attacked him with a knife, cutting through the caste on his broken leg. "They told me, 'This is you last chance to tell us where the pot of gold is,'" Edin said.

Hospital staff had meanwhile called the military police, Edin said. When they arrived Zigic pulled out a hand grenade and removed the pin, the witness said, forcing the police to withdraw.

But a few moments later, the witness said, a "huge policeman" appeared and told Zigic to throw the grenade if "you have the balls". Zigic replaced the pin and the policeman grabbed him, beat him up and threw him out of the hospital, Edin said.

In early August, Edin was transferred to the Trnopolje camp. The next day, he said, Zigic came looking for him again, but guards threw him out of the camp.

On August 7, once more thanks to Serbian friends, Edin Ganic was released from Trnopolje. The same friends advised him against returning home, in case Zigic came looking for him, Edin said. Instead he stayed with a neighbour.

Several days later, however, the witness said he did return home because his friend, now wife, had just come from Belgrade. A short time later Zigic and Damir Dosen, who is awaiting the start of his trial at the tribunal for crimes at Keraterm, showed up at the house, the witness said.

When a Serbian woman neighbour tried to protect him, Edin said, Zigic stabbed her in the chest saying, "What are you doing in balija's [derogatory term for Muslim] house".

Zigic then demanded Edin and his mother bring him plum brandy and food, which Edin said he had to taste first to check for poison. Edin's girlfriend had meanwhile fetched a police officer, but Zigic drove him off by firing shots over his head, the witness said.

The witness said Zigic began to beat him and carve a cross on his face with his knife. The accused again demanded to know where the treasure was buried and threatened to kill the witness if he did not own up. But, Edin said, he believed Zigic would kill him if he did find the money.

Finally, the witness said, Zigic dragged him into a car and said he would take him to Carakovo hill, kill him and leave him to the dogs, boasting he would be his 240th victim. According to Edin, when they set off in the direction of the hills he realised "this was no joke" and that Zigic would probably kill him.

The witness said he therefore agreed to show Zigic where the pot of gold was buried. Once back at the house, Edin said, he dug up the hoard of jewellery and cash, but that Zigic was not satisfied and demanded a further 50,000 German marks. Zigic then grabbed Edin's future wife as a hostage and set of for Prijedor saying he would be back in an hour or two for the money.

But Zigic did not return. He ran into relatives of the Serbian woman he had stabbed and was wounded in a shoot-out. Police arrived at the scene and arrested him. Other valuables besides those belonging to the Ganics were found in Zigic's car. Although the Ganics visited the police station to identify their family jewels, the goods were never returned.

At the end of his evidence, Husein Ganic was granted an unusual request to "say hello" to the accused. He looked straight at Zigic and said, "Zoran, did I lie about anything? We used to be colleagues."

Zigic stared back at Ganic with ill-concealed hatred and gestured to his defence counsel to protect him from the witness.

The prosecution in the Prijedor camps trial also focused last week on the fate of detainees released from Trnopolje on August 21, 1992 as part of an alleged prisoner exchange.

Former detainee Emsud Garibovic said he had managed to get on one of the four overcrowded buses destined for Travnik reckoning this would be the safest way to reach territory controlled by the Bosnian army. The buses set out escorted by police vehicles and stopped first in the nearby town of Kozarac where a convoy of trucks with Muslims from Sanski Most joined them, Garibovic said.

The convoy then passed through Banja Luka and Skender Vakuf before turning off into the forest, where two empty buses were waiting for them, the witness said. Soldiers then ordered the men on his bus, Garibovic said, to get off and board the empty bus.

According to Garibovic, a man in uniform then said, "Now you are going for the exchange - the living for the living and the dead…. It's clear."

The remainder of the convoy passed on, the witness said, and after some time the other two buses also set off. About ten minutes later, Garibovic said, they were ordered to get off and kneel alongside a steep drop at the side of the road.

"I still hadn't even managed to kneel when loud shooting could be heard," Garibovic said. "The man standing next to me simply pushed me into the abyss. I spun once or twice in the air and then rolled down to the bottom. The men who had fallen before me were already down there. I saw, next to me, a man half of whose skull was blown away...The men were still falling."

Garibovic said he saw a friend, Bahrija Jakupovic, get up from the crowd and run, which encouraged him to do the same. They could hear shooting as they fled, the witness said. At one point, Garibovic said, Jakupovic had gone back to see what was happening and had told him the guards were taking the men off the buses "group by group" and killing them. Garibovic said he thought there were over 100 people on the two buses.

Garibovic said he and his friend wandered around Mount Vlasic for two days before running into some Serbian soldiers and surrendering. They were taken to Skender Vakuf for questioning and then moved to Banja Luka hospital. Garibovic said a group of soldiers beat them up at the hospital entrance, but that they were released after that.

The witness identified the place where the Trnopolje inmates were allegedly executed as Koriscanske Stjene.

Although the five accused were not mentioned in relation to this incident, the prosecutor is trying through such evidence to prove the planned, systematic and widespread character of crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims and Croats in Prijedor and its camps in summer 1992. The prosecution must prove such character for the charges against the five accused to qualify as crimes against humanity.