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Omarska Trial Hears Mejakic Had "No Authority"

Witness says former commander of Serb-run camp could do nothing other than write reports.
Defence lawyers for a Bosnian Serb accused of overseeing atrocities at a detention camp concluded their case this week with testimony that their client did not command the facility.

The prosecution in the Sarajevo war crimes trial argues that Zeljko Mejakic was the chief of security and ad-hoc commander of the notorious Omarska camp in northern Bosnia with power over the lives of 3,000 Bosniak and Croat detainees.

He is accused, along with three other men, of committing crimes against humanity, murders and rape at the camp in 1992.

But Mile Matijevic, a legal expert and former police department commander in Banja Luka, explained that Mejakic had “basically, no authority in the Omarska camp to order or suspend his fellow police officers, let alone army or territorial guard forces present in the camp.

“[He was] unable to do anything other then write official reports about incidents that occurred in the camp, and send them to his superiors - in this case, Simo Drljaca.”

In 1992, Drljaca was commander of the public safety centre in Prijedor, the town nearest the camp. He was killed by international forces in 1997 while resisting arrest.

Matijevic based his findings on a document titled the Order for Establishment of an Investigation Camp in Omarska, which was signed by Drljaca in May 1992.

He said the document failed to specify a single “person that would be responsible for the entire security staff.

“The order states that army and national forces would take part in the safeguarding of the camp, along with police forces. However, it states that they are ordered to report only to Drljaca.”

After the court accepted some final material evidence, the defence rested its case, and the court began to hear the lawyers for second defendant Momcilo Gruban.

The indictment charges Gruban with crimes against humanity committed as a commander of one of three guard shifts at Omarska. He is charged with mistreating and persecuting detainees.

“The defence will prove that Gruban was a reserve police officer and, as such, in no position of authority, especially not guard shift commander at the Omarska camp, and as a mere guard was unable to affect any of the horrible incidents we do not deny took place,” said lawyer Dusko Pantic.

The defence first called two former Omarska guards in to give evidence. Zivko Piljic and Sveto Petos were in the same guard shift as Gruban.

Piljic claimed he was first ordered to report to the camp in May 1992.

“There we saw Miroslav Kvocka, who greeted us and told us where our guard post would be. He explained that we were there to stop detainees from leaving the camp,” he said.

Kvocka was sentenced in November 2001 by the Hague tribunal to seven years’ imprisonment for crimes committed in Omarska.

“As a reserve officer, I took orders from active police officers like Kvocka or Mejakic. They got orders from the army and special police units that answered directly to Simo Drljaca,” said Piljic.

While he couldn’t remember ever seeing dead bodies in the camp, or witnessing murders, he said the special police units from Banja Luka were very unpleasant toward the detainees.

“They threatened the police officers every day too,” he said.

According to Piljic, there were no shift leaders or commanders in the Omarska camp.

“We were equals and never ordered each other,” concluded Piljic.

However, Petos testified that Gruban did have “benefits that other guards didn’t have.

“For example, he was free to walk around the camp; he brought the other guards food and had more free time. However, he was not a shift commander and he never gave orders”.

According to Petos, he received orders only from active police officers, “such as Kvocka or Mejakic, and if they weren’t present then from the inspectors working in the camp”.

Petos was asked about the state of the detainees, and about beatings and murders in the camp. He showed signs of irritation when asked if he had heard talk about such mistreatment.

“I never saw any beatings or murders in my shift, and I am sure it didn’t happen in the other shifts as well,” he said. “I didn’t care and I didn’t talk about murders.”

The trial will continue on March 6. Gruban’s defence is scheduled to conclude next week.

Denis Dzidic is an IWPR journalist in Sarajevo.

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