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

Serb Leaders Had Plan to Cut Bosniak Numbers

Former Prijedor official recounts proposal by senior Serb official in late 1991.
By Velma Šarić
  • Mirsad Mujadzic, witness at the Karadzic trial. (Photo: ICTY)
    Mirsad Mujadzic, witness at the Karadzic trial. (Photo: ICTY)

The trial of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic heard this week about an alleged wartime suggestion by a Serb official to reduce the number of Bosniaks in north western Bosnia to two or three per cent of the population.

Before Bosnia’s 1992-95 war, more than 40 per cent of the population in the area were Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims).

A Bosniak former official from Prijedor, Mirsad Mujadzic, told the judges this week that he heard the statement on reducing the numbers from a high-ranking official in Karadzic’s Serb Democratic party, SDS, in 1991.

Just before the outbreak of the war, Mujadzic was head of the Bosniaks’ Democratic Action Party, SDA, in Prijedor, north western Bosnia.

Mujadzic has already testified in the trial of the former president of the Prijedor municipal assembly, Milomir Stakic. In 2006, the Hague tribunal convicted Stakic of the persecution, extermination, murder and deportation of non-Serbs in Prijedor between April and September 1992. He is currently serving a 40-year sentence in a French prison.

The statement Mujadzic made in Stakic’s trial was admitted into evidence at the Karadzic trial.

The former Republika Srpska, RS, president and chairman of the SDS party, Karadzic is indicted on charges that he “planned, instigated, ordered and/or aided and abetted persecutions on political and religious grounds against Bosnian Muslims and Croats” in two dozen Bosnian municipalities, including the witness’s home municipality of Prijedor.

While Karadzic's SDS party won the majority of the Serb vote in Prijedor and many other municipalities, Bosniaks voted mainly for the SDA.

In court, prosecutor Ann Sutherland read out a summary of Mujadzic’s testimony from the Stakic trial. In this testimony, Mujadzic said he remembered the failed negotiations on power-sharing between the SDS and SDA in Prijedor just before the war started. He said the negotiations were held at a very high level and “were attended by Karadzic himself”.

According to Mujadzic, armed Serb forces took control of Prijedor in late April 1992. The witness stated that he stayed in the town for as long as he could, but “went into hiding in the woods… from May through July 1992”. He then moved to Bihac, an enclave controlled by the Bosnian army.

Mujadzic said that although he escaped from Prijedor unhurt, several of his relatives were killed in the Serb-held Omarska camp near Prijedor, and elsewhere.

Apart from being the local chairman of the SDA, Mujadzic was also a member of the Bosnian parliament. Mujadzic told the court this week that during one parliamentary session in late 1991, he heard SDS lawmaker Radoslav Brdjanin say that there were “too many Muslims” in north western Bosnia, and that they should be “reduced to two per cent, or maybe three”.

According to the witness, Brdjanin said that “some [Bosniaks] should be spared so that someone can still grill cevapcici”, a traditional Bosnian dish.

In 2007, the Hague tribunal sentenced Brdjanin, a former president of the crisis staff of the Autonomous Region of Krajina in Bosnia, to 30 years imprisonment for crimes against Bosniaks and Croats in northwestern Bosnia. He is currently serving his sentence in Denmark.

When Karadzic cross-examined the witness, he said Brdjanin “must have been joking” when he talked of reducing Muslim numbers. To support this argument, Karadzic said that “if anyone had taken [Brdjanin’s] statement seriously…they would have brought it up before the parliament”.

The witness replied, “It was a publicly made statement, you know, and it was not my duty to take care of Brdjanin and what he was saying.”

Karadzic also referred to Stakic, the SDS official against whom Mujadzic had testified a few years earlier, saying he was “a rather wonderful man” who was “wrongly sentenced”.

Asking the witness what he knew about alleged proposals by former SDA leader Alija Izetbegovic to Serbs “to divide Bosnia and Hercegovina, or to establish autonomous ethnic regions within an independent Bosnia”, Mujadzic said that he “couldn't believe such claims because they seemed very unrealistic”.

He explained, “Before the war, the SDA was very pro-Yugoslavia because it was aware that if there was a war, Muslims were the weakest and would be the greatest losers. The vast majority of [SDA] voters also wouldn’t have supported such a solution.”

Karadzic said that the SDA had “a major share in the war and everything that happened in it: you were fighting Serbs, Croats; you were even fighting the Muslim Fikret Abdic,” he said, referring to the former rebel Bosniak leader who fought against Bosnian government forces during the war.

Mujadzic answered decisively that the only war which “we were fighting was to defend Bosnia-Hercegovina from those who kept threatening it, from those who kept violating it”.

Karadzic disagreed, arguing that “it was definitely the SDA which started [the war by] calling for resistance, and caused the whole conflict”.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.

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