Serbs Testify in KLA Case

Testimony about beatings in Albanian insurgents’ alleged detention camp appears to tie up with prosecution evidence.

Serbs Testify in KLA Case

Testimony about beatings in Albanian insurgents’ alleged detention camp appears to tie up with prosecution evidence.

Wednesday, 9 November, 2005

Judges at the trial of former Kosovo Liberation Army members Fatmir Limaj, Isak Musliu and Haradin Bala this week heard the testimonies of a father and son who prosecutors say were abducted by Albanian guerrillas in June 1998 and imprisoned at a camp run by the accused.

Vojko Bakrac and his son Ivan, ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo at the time, told the court how their bus was stopped by paramilitaries of the Kosovo Liberation Army, KLA, as they were trying to flee the province.

They were taken to a farm compound where they saw other prisoners being beaten. There they met a man with the same nickname said to have been used by the accused Bala during the war.

A number of people whom the witnesses said they met at the camp match names on the list of those who prosecutors say died there.

After about a week, the two say they were made to give a statement denying that they had been mistreated, and were then released from the camp.

Limaj, Musliu and Bala are each charged with a series of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war in connection with an alleged prison camp in the village of Lapusnik in central Kosovo, where prosecutors say Serbs and suspected Albanian collaborators were interrogated, severely beaten and in more than 20 cases killed.

Prosecutors say Musliu was a commander of the Lapusnik camp, and Bala worked there as a guard. Both are accused of personally taking part in beatings and murders at the camp. Limaj, according to prosecutors, was the regional commander responsible for what went on in Lapusnik and also personally took part in some of the crimes committed there.

The Bakrac family decided to leave their home in Djakovica on June 29, 1998, as the situation in Kosovo was becoming increasingly fraught.

Vojko told the court that he and his wife and their son Ivan were travelling on a bus bound for his wife’s native Belgrade when they were flagged down by three soldiers. One of them, wearing a cap bearing the KLA insignia, asked in Serbian to see the passengers’ identification papers.

Having handed over their documents, Vojko and his son were ordered to disembark. “My wife started crying and screaming,” he told the court. “At one point she tried to seize my son but one of the men ... pushed her roughly and said to her in a threatening manner to calm down.”

Two other Serb men were also ordered off the bus, he said. He identified them from photographs as Stamen Genov and Djordje Cuk. Both are listed among those whom the prosecution say were eventually murdered in the camp at Lapusnik.

Genov and Cuk were soon driven off in a car, Vojko said, and later he and his son were also picked up and taken to what appeared to be a village school.

Ivan Bakrac told the court that when they arrived there, Cuk was sitting on the floor banging his head – which was covered in blood – repeatedly against the wall. He carried on doing this for almost an hour, the witness said, apparently on the orders of the soldiers standing guard.

Vojko said the soldiers were also beating Genov, but things got even worse when they realised he was serving in the Yugoslav army, as a sergeant in the medical corps.

Genov’s wallet containing his military papers fell from his pocket during the beating. “They picked it up, they opened it and they realised who he was,” said Vojko Bakrac. “And that was the end of him.” The man who had had taken their documents on the bus, he said, “literally jumped on him”.

Ivan told court that when night fell and they were led outside to a van, Genov had to be carried.

The witnesses identified their next stop from photographs as the compound in Lapusnik where prosecutors say the camp was located. The men ended up in a room referred to as “the basement”. Vojko told judges that the place already contained three Albanians and six other ethnic Serbs, and the straw-covered floor wasn’t big enough for them all to stretch out.

Vojko named some of the Serbs he met there as two brothers with the surname Krstic, a man with the first name Slobodan and an older Serb who he heard had diabetes and had just undergone eye surgery. Prosecutors have listed a Slobodan Mitrovic and three men called Krstic, one of whom suffered from the ailments described, among those they say were murdered at the camp.

Vojko said he and his son were kept in “the basement” for two to three nights. During that time, Genov was taken outside daily and beaten – often to the edge of consciousness – by men with hoods over their heads.

After a while, Genov was so badly injured that he couldn’t relieve himself. “One night... he asked us to strangle him because he was unable to go on,” Vojko told the court. “I couldn’t do that, Ivan couldn’t do it either.”

It was during this period that Vojko and his son first came into contact with a man known as “Shala” – the nickname apparently used by the accused Bala during the war. Vojko said that “Shala” appeared to be a kind of guard at the camp.

Later, Ivan and Vojko Bakrac were taken out of the basement and transferred to a room upstairs in the main building in the compound. Vojko said they now saw “Shala” regularly – sometimes several times a day.

Vojko told the court that at one point during this later part of their stay, he and his son were taken downstairs, given cups of tea and made to watch as four or five men were beaten.

When the beating finished, he said, a soldier handed one of the other detainees a pistol.

“He told him to kill the others,” Vojko told the court. “The man lifted the pistol up and put it to someone’s forehead. They were crying, begging for mercy. Then the first man took the pistol, put it to another man’s forehead and fired – but it was empty.”

Eventually, Vojko was told that he and his son were going to be released. But they were informed they would first have to make a statement about what had happened to them at the camp.

The next day, a video camera was brought into the room. “I started talking, saying that they did not mistreat us, that they did not beat us...” the witness told the court. “I went on talking but with a bit of nervousness and a bit of fear, which was noticeable. So I had to do it again, but without any fear.”

In Vojko’s words, “I would have said anything to set us free.”

Vojko and his son were blindfolded and driven to a nearby town to be handed over to Red Cross workers.

“I cried, I couldn’t stop crying, no one could stop me,” he told the court.

Vojko saw a psychiatrist for two or three weeks. “The following month or month and a half, whenever I met someone whom I knew, I would burst into tears – I couldn’t even talk,” he said. “Until now, when I speak to someone on the telephone I can’t talk, I simply burst into tears if it’s a person I like.”

Vojko Bakrac believes his wife helped bring about their release. From the moment they were taken away, he said, she campaigned to publicise their abduction, appearing on both Voice of America and CNN to talk about what had happened.

During cross-examination, Bala’s lawyer Gregor Guy-Smith reminded the court that Vojko had failed to identify his client in a photo line-up.

He pressed Vojko to admit that according to his story, he had often met the man he knew as “Shala” – and looked him full in the face - during his detention.

The case continues.

Michael Farquhar is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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