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

Serb Witness Speaks of Doboj Crimes

Former Bosnian Serb police commander reveals how non-Serbs in the northern town were arrested and abused.
By Velma Šarić

Special units from Serbia forced Bosnian Serb policemen and ordinary citizens into beating non-Serbs arrested in Doboj in the first few months of the war, a Bosnian Serb witness told the Hague tribunal this week.

The witness also said that he tried to help as many non-Serbs as he could.

The current mayor of Doboj, Obren Petrovic, an ethnic Serb, was testifying for the first time at the tribunal. At the beginning of the Bosnian war, in the spring of 1992, he was the commander of the police in Doboj, until he was removed from office in December 1992.

He was giving evidence in the case against Stojan Zupljanin and Mico Stanisic, who are alleged to have participated in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at the permanent removal of non-Serbs from the territory of an intended Serbian state.

They are accused of crimes committed between April 1 and December 31, 1992, in municipalities throughout Bosnia and Hercegovina, BiH, including Doboj.

Zupljanin, who became an adviser to the then Bosnian Serb president and Hague indictee Radovan Karadzic in 1994, is accused of extermination, murder, persecution, and deportation of non-Serbs in north-western BiH between April and December 1992.

Stanisic is charged with the murder, torture and cruel treatment of non-Serb civilians, as well as for his failure to prevent or punish crimes committed by his subordinates. The indictment against Stanisic states that he was appointed minister in charge of the newly-founded Bosnian Serb interior ministry, MUP, in April 1992 and was also a member of the Bosnian Serb government.

Petrovic testified on the events in Doboj municipality and the arrest and harassment of Croats and Muslims after the Serbs had taken over the local authorities on May 3, 1992.

At the beginning of his statement, he said that in early 1992 a TV relay station in the Doboj area was occupied, which he said belonged to the BiH Radio and Television Corporation in Sarajevo.

“Just by chance, I was in a team of people who toured the relay station with a team [of technicians] from Sarajevo TV, and up at the relay station we found people wearing camouflage uniforms who had no idea on how to handle a TV relay station, so the team from Sarajevo TV had to show them how to do it," he said.

"After the relay station was taken, it was impossible to watch TV Sarajevo, but rather TV from Belgrade was being broadcast.”

He said the local leaders of the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS, explained that the relay station was taken so that "the citizens of Doboj could watch TV Belgrade as they wished, and not TV Sarajevo".

Petrovic said that on the night of May 2, 1992, members of the Red Berets, the Special Serbian Operations Unit, had taken the local police station and arrested all officers who were not Serbs by ethnicity.

"When the Red Berets came to the police station, they immediately arrested all policemen of Bosniak [Bosnian Muslim] and Croat nationality and put them in jail, whereas the Serbs remained to secure the building," he said.

The witness said he had heard, before the police station was taken, that the unit of the Red Berets led by Rajo Bozovic had come from Serbia in April 1992 and that they were stationed on Mount Ozren, close to Doboj.

"I think that the Red Berets stormed the police building themselves and later on they organised tanks with troops and, on May 3, they went toward the old town of Doboj, which was mostly inhabited by Bosniaks," he said.

Apart from the Red Berets, Petrovic said, a special Bosnian Serb police unit from the Banja Luka Centre of Security Services, CSB, also arrived on May 2 and 3.

Further groups, including paramilitaries, started forcibly entering homes of Croat and Bosniak families to pillage them, beat the residents, terrify and arrest them, and later take them to the police station where they would be beaten in the entrance hall of the police station, the witness said.

Stanisic and Zupljanin are charged with torture, cruel treatment and other inhuman acts at the Doboj central prison during May and June 1992.

The witness said that after non-Serbs were arrested without a warrant or other documentation, they would be taken to Doboj police station.
The Red Berets would, according to the witness, force policemen and ordinary citizens who would come to the station to beat the arrested Croats and Muslims.

“The Red Berets would take those arrested to the police station, keep them on the ground floor, beat them there and then take them beaten to the prison. By keeping the arrested people in the hall, they forced everyone, police personnel or ordinary citizens who for example came to pick up their ID card, to beat the prisoners," he said.

The sounds of beating were well audible in the building and beyond it and the witness said he supposed they must have been heard by the commander of the Doboj CSB, Andrija Bjelosevic, whose office was on the first floor of the building.

According to official regulations, the witness said, the CSB commander, the crisis staff and the interior ministry, MUP, leadership were all supposed to have been informed on the events in the police station and the prison.

“I believe that a report was written about it, but again, I repeat I think everyone had to know what was going on in the building, in the police HQ. It was impossible to ignore it," the witness said.

“What crimes were the non-Serbs charged with,“ prosecutor Alexis Demirdjian asked.

"For holding weapons, for counter-state action, for allegedly giving away information or belonging to illicit organisations," the witness answered. They were also charged if they were known to have voted for the independence of Bosnia, he said.

“Do you know whether policemen and investigators from MUP would take them out for questioning?" the prosecutor asked.

The witness answered that he had "heard of such cases" where prisoners were being abused while being questioned by regular police officers.

He also said he had heard that Red Beret members took the former police vice commander, Karlo Grgic, a Croat, from the jail building, "taking him somewhere to kill him".

The witness also said he knew that the Red Berets took some 50 prisoners on July 12, 1992, from the improvised jail at Percin's Disco and used them as a human shield in an attack against BiH army positions. The witness said he thought that "probably" some members of the Bosnian Serb army and police were involved in this action.

He said that in December 1992 he was dismissed from the position of chief of police in Doboj with the explanation that he failed to establish law and order in the municipality, and that he had "helped and protected Muslims and Croats”, which had damaged the morale of the police and army.

"When I saw that I couldn't help many people at once, I started individually helping also Muslim and Croats, and these people are still alive. I couldn't help them as chief of police, I couldn't order anything or do anything more, and I am always ready to respond for anything I did wrong," Petrovic said.

Judge Guy Delvoie asked the witness to clarify what he meant by saying he was ready to respond for anything he did wrong.

"I consider that the torture and abuse of people was never permissible and that it had to be prevented," the witness said.

“It was hard for someone from Doboj to watch and not be able to do anything, yet every day people would come to you, beg. People were being harassed, tortured and beaten, and you could do nothing to protect them, you could just help them individually, one by one, which is what I did. But I did nothing to protect all of them."

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained reporter in Sarajevo.