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

Witness Describes Attack on Ilijas

Stanisic, Zupljanin told of destruction of homes and imprisonment of residents.
By Velma Šarić

The trial of former Bosnian Serb police officials, Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin, heard testimony this week about an attack on a village in the Ilijas municipality, close to Sarajevo, in 1992.

Stanisic and Zupljanin are accused of crimes committed between April 1 and December 31, 1992, in 20 municipalities across Bosnia and Hercegovina, including Ilijas.

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

Stanisic is charged with the murder, torture and cruel treatment of non-Serb civilians, as well as for failing 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.

At the beginning of this week’s trial, prosecutor Matthew Olmsted read a statement from the prosecution witness, who testified without face or voice distortion but was identified only as ST-004. The statement related the witness’s experiences while in detention at various sites in Podlugovi and Vogosca, in the Sarajevo region.

“The witness described how members of the Serb police, of military and paramilitary units attacked his village, Gornja Bioca in the municipality of Ilijas, in May of 1992,” Olmstead read out.

In his statement, ST-004 said that his village was first shelled by artillery, and then Serb forces went into the village and began burning houses.

“The Muslims hid in the woods and stayed there for a few days with no food or water. In the end they had to surrender to Serb forces. They were then imprisoned in the local school in Gornja Bioca where they were questioned by police for some days,” Olmsted read out.

“The witness, alongside the other prisoners, was then transferred to the police station in Ilijas, where they were beaten and locked up for the night. The next day, he was taken to the railway station in Podlugovi, and put in a cellar with some 80 other non-Serb prisoners.

“In his statement, then he describes the conditions in the basement and the incident in which two canisters of benzine were thrown into that basement and at least one prisoner was killed in that incident.

“After having spent some days in that cellar, the witness was then transferred to another place of detention. That was the Iskra warehouse in the village of Podlugovi, where he was imprisoned for about 70 days with another 100 non-Serb prisoners,” the statement continued.

“In the end, in mid-August [of 1992] the witness and other prisoners were transferred to the Planinja house in Vogosca, were they were forced to chop wood, dig trenches and serve as human shields for the Bosnian Serb army. On October 1, 1992, the witness succeeded in running away while he was digging trenches on the Zuc hill, just above Vogosca.”

Giving evidence, the witness confirmed that the Muslim population had put up no resistance during the attack on his village.

Asked by the prosecutor whether the inhabitants had any weapons, the witness replied, “They had hunting guns, and maybe some had other weapons of their own. Often the Serbs sold the weapons to the Muslims, and then would come to pick up the weapons and take them away.”

Describing the destruction of non-Serb property, the witness said, “First the shelling started, then we could hear shots from heavy artillery, automatic weapons, at 7.30 in the evening all the way until midnight, then it stopped. A lightning rocket was fired and then the attack ended. They started again at 5 am, and went on the whole of the next day.”

“The grenades were falling on the forest where the Muslims were hiding, while some stayed at their homes, and that went on for two or three days. They were burning the houses. In the middle of the village there is a school, and next to it live inhabitants of Serb nationality, and above it those of Muslims, so they started from the school upwards. My home was the first to be burnt,” he continued, adding that houses further up the hill were then burnt and several people he knew were attacked and killed.

“We were on the other side on a hill where we could observe from there what was going on around the houses.”

Witness ST-004 confirmed that after surrendering to Serb forces, he was taken to the police station in Ilijas and beaten.

According to the indictment against Stanisic and Zupljanin, during June and July 1992 the prisoners in the Ilijas police station were forced to lie on their bellies, and then beaten.

The witness identified a photograph recently taken by the municipal prosecutor in Ilijas, and described it as the police station building. That photograph was then entered onto the record.

“In former statements, you said that alongside yourself and a certain Mr Durmic, there were five more people imprisoned there. What was their nationality?” the prosecutor asked.

The witness replied that four of them were Muslim, while the other was a Serb who said that “he had driven too fast and was put into the cell with us, but I thought that he was there only to listen what we would say to each other. Later they let him go, while we stayed there”.

The witness also described his imprisonment in the basement of the railway station in Podlugovi.

The indictment against Stanisic and Zupljanin states that prisoners held in the Podlugovi railway station were not given access to water, and their health was threatened by a toxic attack.

He said that the guards, on one occasion, threw in two canisters with some sort of poison which caused at least one prisoner to die.

“Something was thrown in and the people started shouting, some thought it was gas, others that it was a poisonous liquid. It appeared and because I was by the stairs, I was basically in the fumes and had simply fallen. I felt as if I were burning and after a minute or so, somebody started saying, ‘let's push the door of the cellar to break through,’” the witness said.

“Everybody started pushing, some people were telling us not to, because they may be shooting the door, but from the pain and fumes nobody was paying attention to that danger and we broke through the door and came out in front of the railway station, to a plateau where Serb soldiers were lined up and wearing [hoods] on their heads.”

The witness stated he was transferred to Iskra warehouse where he spent some 70 days with 100 other witnesses.

“What happened to other people from the railway station, did they survive?” the prosecutor asked.

“Those who remained didn't [survive], in 1996 they were found in Radica Potok, close to the village of Ljesevo, there is a field there and they were brought there and all killed and only found after the war,” the witness replied.

“Did you help in identifying some of those bodies?” the prosecutor asked.

“Yes, I was asked to come and help identify them, and I recognised some,” the witness answered.

He said that he and his fellow prisoners were only allowed to leave their room in the Iskra warehouse when they were taken away to clean the toilets.

From the warehouse, he said he was taken to Planjina Kuca in the town of Vogosca, which was used as a base for forced labourers.

The witness said he managed to run away in October, while he was digging trenches for Serb forces.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in The Hague.