Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
A witness said to have been the sole survivor of a September 1995 massacre this week told the trial of two former Yugoslav State Security Service, DB, officers, of his ordeal in the village of Trnova close to Sanski Most in north-western Bosnia.
Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic are charged with participating in a joint criminal enterprise, with the objective of forcibly and permanently removing non-Serbs from large areas of Croatia and Bosnia through persecution, murder and deportation of the Croat, Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat populations.
Stanisic served as head of the DB, part of Serbia’s interior ministry, from 1991 to 1998, while Simatovic worked under the authority of Stanisic as commander of the Special Operations Units, JSO.
According to the indictment, Stanisic and Simatovic established, organised and financed training centres for Serb forces, with the purpose of establishing military actions in Croatia and Bosnia.
The indictment states that they then sent these forces to Croatia and Bosnia, where they committed crimes and took control of towns and villages in Serb-held areas in Croatia and Bosnia, forcing non-Serbs to leave the territories.
The protected prosecution witness, who testified with face distortion and was identified only as JF-064, is said to have been the only survivor of a shooting of 12 civilians by a paramilitary unit, the Serb Voluntary Guard - known as the Tigers - on September 20, 1995.
The witness, originally from the town of Kljuc in north-western Bosnia, also gave evidence in June 2003 in the trial of the former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.
Transcripts of that testimony and two statements he had given to prosecution investigators were included onto the record this week.
At the beginning of the trial, prosecutor Grace Harbour read a statement given to the Milosevic trial by the prosecution witness that “in April of 1992, Serb forces occupied Kljuc municipality and forced the witness and other Bosniaks to work for the Serb forces, including working on the front line”.
Harbour continued that when in September 1995 the Bosnian army penetrated Serb defence lines in the region, the witness was taken from Kljuc to Sanski Most and, together with four of his neighbours, was handed over to the Tigers, led by Zeljko Raznatovic, also known as Arkan.
According to the indictment against Stanisic and Simatovic, in September 1995, Arkan and members of the Tigers, came to Sanski Most.
“On September 20, 1995, or approximately that date, Arkan's troops had collected 12 non-Serb men from various places in Sanski Most and taken them by truck to a site in the village of Trnova, some five kilometres away. Eleven of them were shot dead on site, while the twelfth survived the shooting with severe wounds,” the indictment reads.
Continuing to read from the witness statement, the prosecutor said, “Once they [the victims] came there, one of Arkan’s men told them to help in carrying the ammunitions and equipment from the Velprom warehouse toward the Sanus hotel in Sanski Most. The witness JF-064 and his neighbours were there, Arkan personally asked them in the Sanus hotel what their names were," the prosecutor read.
“Arkan then sent them to a narrow corridor, where they were verbally abused by Arkan's men and… called 'Turks', and forced to sit with their legs crossed and their head to the ground for several hours.”
Then, at around 2.30 am, “the witness JF-064 and 11 more people were tied with handcuffs in pairs and taken by Arkan's men by truck from the Sanus hotel to the place the witness later found out was called Trnova”, the prosecutor continued.
People on the truck were being taken out two-by-two, and the witness is said to have heard shooting.
“All four neighbours [of the witness] from Kljuc came out of the truck before he did. Once he came out, Arkan's men took off the handcuffs with which he was tied to a man he didn't know, and one of Arkan's man ordered them to enter a small room, which was filled with bodies and splattered with blood,” the statement continued.
“As they were coming in, shooting was heard, one bullet hit the witness and he fell to the ground, laying there while Arkan's men were bringing in people from the truck and shooting them in that room,” the prosecutor continued.
“Arkan's men cut one man’s throat so that blood flew all over, including onto the witness’ face. He was hit twice again, yet not lethally… he was hit a total of three times," she read out.
According to the statement, JF-064 was able to escape after being left for dead by Arkan's men.
Answering a question from the prosecutor about the clothes Arkan's men were wearing, the witness answered that they were dressed in uniforms and that “when we met them in Sanski Most, we would recognize them by clean, identical, good uniforms.
“The marking on their sleeves was a double-headed eagle with four S letters, and the words Serb Voluntary Guard.”
Most of Arkan's men, he added, wore black wool caps, but Arkan and soldiers close to him wore red berets. The prosecution has alleged that these red berets were a sign of the units which were controlled by the DB led by the accused.
Arkan, whose indictment by the Hague tribunal was announced in March of 1999, was one of the most notorious paramilitary leaders of the war in Bosnia and the Tigers, formed in Belgrade in the early 1990s, was active throughout the conflict.
The indictment against Arkan listed a number of crimes, including crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva conventions and war crimes.
He was assassinated in Belgrade in January 2000.
Stanisic and Simatovic, arrested by Serbian authorities on June 13, 2003, both pleaded not guilty.
The trial continues next week.
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.
As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.
- Europe & Eurasia
- Latin America
- Middle East & North Africa
- Focus Pages
- Training & Resources
- Print Publications
- IWPR Spotlight