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Omarska Trial - Former detainee tells of guards' special 'dance'

Tribunal Update 190 Last Week in The Hague (September 11-16, 2000)
By IWPR

Radic, a former guard shift commander at Omarska, is on trial with two former deputy commanders at the camp, Miroslav Kvocka and Dragoljub Prcac, a fellow guard shift commander, Milojica Kos, and a frequent "visitor" to the Prijedor camps, Zoran Zigic.


Witnesses A and F had previously agreed to testify in public. Due to the publicity the trial has attracted in Bosnia, however, the women opted for a closed hearing, fearing the usual precautions used to conceal the identities of protected witnesses would be inadequate.


During the public hearings former Omarska detainees provided new details on the inhuman conditions and brutality at the camp.


Before his arrest Kerim Mesanovic was a computer programmer at the Secretariat for National Defence in Prijedor. After the Serbian Democratic Party, founded by Radovan Karadzic, took over the town, Mesanovic continued to work for the new Serbian authorities. His wife was Serbian. Nevertheless the police came to take him away. His wife pleaded with a police officer but was told, "If you don't shut up, you'll go with him! Muslim whore!"


Mesanovic said he was taken first to the Prijedor police headquarters, where he lost four teeth in a beating. Then he was moved to the notorious 'White House' at Omarska. According to the indictments people taken there were particularly badly treated, often beaten to death.


Mesanovic said he found around 45 people, all with faces disfigured from beatings and covered in blood, confined to a room 20 metres square. The walls, Mesanovic said, were speckled with blood up to about a metre high. It was only the next day, the witness said, that he understood what had happened.


"The worst [guard] shift had promised us a dance," Mesanovic was told by the other detainees. The "party", the witness said, consisted of prisoners kneeling, hands behind their backs and foreheads against the walls. The guards then set about beating the men's heads and backs with rifle butts, wooden poles, metal bars and boots, Mesanovic said. Two prisoners, the witness recalled had "unwisely" left their feet exposed - some guards jumped on the men's legs breaking their ankles.


When asked which parts of the body were most often beaten, Mesanovic said he believed the guards were "experts in anatomy" because "when they chose to beat someone to death, the blows were exclusively aimed in the areas of the heart and kidneys."


On the eve of a visit by foreign journalists towards the end of July 1992, Mesanovic said, he could here shooting from the direction of the 'White House' all night. The next morning, he said, the detainees could see a loading machine being used to toss the bodies into a large yellow truck. The vehicle made two trips and that night the 'White House' remained empty. When asked how many people may have been there on the night of the shooting, Mesanovic said "about a hundred."


One guard, however, rebelled against the abuse meted out to the detainees, witnesses told the court. Kos had ordered the detainees to pay the Yugoslav dinar equivalent of 50 German marks for a broken window damaged when a guard had shot into the canteen killing one detainee and wounding two others.


The prisoners duly gathered the money together and handed it to a guard. A short time later, the witnesses said, a guard called Jokic - a former butcher - had come into their room and gave the money back, saying he could no longer tolerate the way the prisoners were being treated. At first, the witnesses said, they had stared in disbelief but had then burst into rapturous applause.


But according to witness Omer Mesan, the next day Kos could be heard berating Jokic for his actions. "Be fucked by them!" Kos reportedly yelled. "You want to help them, and they wish they could slaughter you. You won't be in my shift any longer."