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

Seselj Trial Hears of Mostar Shootings

Bosniak survivor describes ordeal at the hands of Serb forces in the summer of 1992.
By Simon Jennings
A Bosniak imprisoned after surviving a massacre near the town of Mostar in June 1992 told judges this week how he was allowed water only once in four days and ate one meal in six days.

Redzep Karisik was giving evidence in the trial of Serbian nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj. Still head of the Serb Radical Party, SRS, despite being detained in The Hague, Seselj is standing trial for crimes against humanity committed between August 1991 and September 1993.

According to the indictment, Seselj was seeking to create an ethnically homogenous “Greater Serbia”, and to achieve this he “participated in the recruitment, formation, financing, supply, support and direction of Serbian volunteers”, whom he prompted to commit crimes.

Karisik’s testimony related to events between April and June 1992, when prosecutors allege that volunteers known as “Seselj’s men” attacked Mostar and surrounding villages, and captured, tortured and killed non-Serbs.

The witness told the court how he was taken prisoner as he tried to escape from the village of Potoci after life there became “unbearable”.

He said he was imprisoned at a post office for three days before being taken to a football stadium in the Mostar suburb of Vrapcici where he was held for six days with approximately 90 others in a changing-room which he said was less than 30 square metres in size.

Karisik said the number of prisoners – who included women and children – increased in the room day by day, he said. “They brought in people every day and every night,” he said.

The witness then described how he was taken from the room by a number of bearded men wearing uniforms, and driven in a van for ten minutes together with 15 or 20 other prisoners.

When the vehicle stopped, the others were taken out and shot, but Karisic remained in the van. “As they were getting out, this man started shooting them down with bursts of fire,” he said. “I couldn’t stand up. My legs were shaking so I said, ‘Kill me here in the van’.”

The witness said he found out later that the van had stopped at Uborak, a town directly north of Mostar.

The indictment against Seselj alleges that 88 non-Serb civilian detainees were killed on June 13.

Subsequent to these events, Karisik helped identify bodies exhumed from a mass grave in a rubbish dump.

The prosecutor showed the witness a list of people exhumed from the grave site, whom the witness said he recognised.

“They were all with me at Vrapcici and they were killed at Uborak,” he told the court.

Following the massacre at Uborak, the witness said he was taken to Sutina. There was tied up by a man who spoke the “ekavski” form of Serbian, a linguistic feature which indicated to Karisik that this was not a local person.

“That’s how I know he was from Serbia, by his speech,” he said.

Karisik told the court how he was then beaten and handcuffed to a radiator before wrenching himself free and escaping through a window.

The witness said the Yugoslav regular army withdrew from Mostar in April 1992, while army reservists remained and were later joined by paramilitary units.

Asked by the prosecutor which paramilitary units were present in Mostar, the witness replied, “Seselj’s men. I don’t know who commanded them. I don’t know who their vojvoda [commander] was.”

Conducting cross-examination, the defendant Seselj did not contest the details of Karisik’s ordeal, but sought to absolve himself of responsibility by arguing that the perpetrators were not from the SRS, but local Serbs and volunteers from the Serbian Renewal Movement.

Asked by the defendant what he understood by the term “Seselj’s men”, the witness said it meant soldiers commanded by Seselj. But he admitted that he was unfamiliar with these forces.

“I heard the soldiers and their dialect and I knew that they were from Serbia, and they [people] called them Seselj’s men,” he said.

When the defendant asked whether “Seselj’s men” were present at the Vrapici stadium used as a detention centre, the witness replied, “I was incarcerated, so from the inside I could not see who was outside.”

Seselj then referred to a statement Karisik made in May 1995, in which he described his capture but made no mention of “Seselj’s men”.

He contrasted this with a later statement that Karisik gave to Hague investigators in 2004, in which he did make a connection between certain paramilitaries and Seselj.

“This is what Hague investigators are putting in your mouth,” concluded Seselj.

He then showed the witness a list of individuals, issued by prosecutors in Mostar in 1993, who were then under investigation in connection with the killing of Muslims in Sutina. The witness confirmed that none of the individuals came from Serbia and that all but three of them were local to Mostar.

The prosecution contends that paramilitaries linked to Seselj came over from Serbia, and local Serbs joined forces with them.

Asked whether the Serb forces he observed were all from Mostar or from other places as well, Karisik replied, “They came from Montenegro, Serbia – people came there from all over.”

Simon Jennings is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

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