Witness Describes Execution Ordeal

Court told of wartime persecution culminating in shooting of prisoners.

Witness Describes Execution Ordeal

Court told of wartime persecution culminating in shooting of prisoners.

Monday, 8 February, 2010
A witness told the Hague tribunal of two former Bosnian Serb police chiefs this week how he survived a mass execution in August 1992 in the village of Kotlina.

Asim Basic, from Basici in the municipality of Gacko, was giving evidence at the trial of Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin.

Zupljanin, who became an adviser to the Bosnian Serb president and Hague indictee Radovan Karadzic in 1994, 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 his failure to prevent or punish crimes committed by his subordinates.

Stanisic and Zupljanin 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 20 municipalities throughout Bosnia and Hercegovina.

According to the indictment, the former Bosnian Serb police commanders are held responsible for “imposing and maintaining restrictive measures against Bosnian Muslims and Croats”, having thereby perpetrated persecution on political, racial or religious basis, qualified as a crime against humanity.

The witness this week described how, in the spring of 1992, the town authorities in Basici were overthrown and all Muslims in leading positions in the town, including the police, were relieved of power by the Serb Democratic Party, SDS.

“Mitar Razetic from the SDS became mayor, Jovan Vojin Popovic, who had been brought from Foca, became the police chief, and the police commander was Vitomir Popic from Gacko,” Basic said.

The witness said that, in April and May of 1992, Bosniaks were forced to leave their jobs in public companies and their property was burnt.

“Among the first Bosniaks to be dismissed from work were Asim Fazlagic, the hospital director, and professor Izet Skobalj,” he said.

Basic, who worked on a building site operating an excavator, also left his job.

“I stopped going [to work] the day my colleague told me that two policemen had come wanting to have an informative conversation [interrogation]. I knew what had happened to those who were taken to these informative conversations. They would not come back, but end up in the basement of the Terma hotel. People were imprisoned there, in fact I knew all the people that were imprisoned at the site," said the witness.

Asked by the prosecutor as to the nationality of the imprisoned people, the witness replied, “They were Bosniaks picked up from their homes, workplaces, or from the street, and just taken there.”

Hotel Terma is included in the indictment on the list of detention sites where, during 1992, Muslims were imprisoned, tortured and sexually harassed. According to the indictment, some prisoners died from the consequences of the beating. Stanisic - but not his co-accused Zupljanin - is charged with the crimes in Gacko.

The witness said that, after his house had been shelled in June 1992, he joined his family and between 500 to 600 other people from 12 surrounding Bosniak villages in a mountain hideout.

“Late one day we came back to get some food, we saw that the Uzice corps of the JNA [Yugoslav army] and the police reserve forces were out in the hill villages, burning them down, pillaging, killing whoever they found alive," he said.

After hiding for two months, the witness said he was arrested in the mountain village of Berkovici by Serb army troops and police officers as he headed towards the town of Stolac, together with a group of ten other men and one woman.

Stating the names of the men in the group, the witness said the group "included three boys aged only fifteen".

They were taken to the Gacko police station, where the witness said, “We were imprisoned for 4-5 days, without food or water, and forced to relieve ourselves in the cells."

During that time, the witness said he was beaten severely several times and attempts were made to force him to sign a statement that he had killed Serbs and raped women, which he refused.

"I had been beaten by Slobo Todorovic, Vlatko Beberovic, Kosta Sarovic,” Basic said. “They kept questioning me and bringing papers I was supposed to sign, but didn't want to. They then tied me down to the chair and beat me again because I had again refused to sign a statement on having killed Serbs or having raped women. I was bleeding and covered in bruises. Police commander Popic was present as they beat me - he just sat in his office and watched.”

Some four or five days later, Basic said, Serb police took him and the rest of the group of prisoners who had been captured on the mountain and tied their hands with rope.

“We were forced into a military truck and taken some two miles away to a site called Kotlina,” he said. “When the vehicle stopped on a bridge, we were forced to leave the truck and form a line for execution so that when shot we would hit the water.”

“Who commanded you to leave the truck?" asked the prosecutor.

“History professor Dragan Lazetic, he was the one who commanded over the shooting and he had no shotgun, just a gun,” the witness said. Apart from him, Basic named the others taking part in the shooting as "Slobo Todorovic, a policeman from Konjic whose name I don't know, two brothers - Nedjo and Goran Samardija - and Vlatko Beberovic".

"Dragan Lazetic told us to line up on the bridge,” he continued. “We stood there, he ordered shoot, and they shot. I fell, too, and when I raised my head I saw everyone lying on the ground, realising that I was only injured in my arm and leg. Lazetic used the gun to shoot the other wounded. After two young men, Sutko and Elvir, stood up and started running, the policemen went after them, and having seen that only Lazetic remained on the site, I decided to stand up and run.”

He described how he fled to a nearby Muslim village where his wounds were treated. The same evening, he said, he watched with the locals through binoculars, as Gacko police chief Popovic came in a car to the site and helped others to throw the murdered people from the bridge down to a pond. A bomb was then exploded over the bodies.

Stanisic's defence pointed out some alleged irregularities in the witness' statement, stating that he had previously said he had been wounded only once, but the witness denied these claims categorically and stressed that doctors had reviewed and treated both his wounds.

He said that the discrepancy may have arisen due to the translation, as the translator who had taken his statement may have

misunderstood what he told him about being wounded.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.
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