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

Witness Tells of Wartime “Hell”

Former detainee speaks of appalling treatment of prisoners as they were transferred from one camp to another.
By Velma Šarić
  • Muharem Murselovic, prosecution witness at the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)
    Muharem Murselovic, prosecution witness at the ICTY courtroom. (Photo: ICTY)

A former prison camp detainee told the trial of two senior Bosnian Serb police officials this week of the dire conditions he experienced during a prisoner transfer from the Omarska camp in Prijedor to the Manjaca camp near Banja Luka in August 1992.

Mico Stanisic and Stojan 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, including Prijedor.

Zupljanin, who in 1994 became an adviser to 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 his statement, prosecution witness Muharem Murselovic said that in pre-war Prijedor he had had a successful catering business, and that he now works as a regional politician.

The witness said that he was first arrested on May 23, 1992, when he spent the night in the Prijedor police station, together with six or seven other people, before being released. A week later, on May 30, he was arrested again and taken to the Omarska camp.

“Who arrested you on May 30?” prosecutor Matthew Olmsted asked.

“A [Bosnian Serb] neighbour called Ranko Vujasinovic,” answered the witness, adding that “he was pretty arrogant, he arrested all his neighbours and took us to a hotel called Hotel Balkan, there were some 200 to 300 people interned there, including women and children”.

According to the witness, Vujasinovic was a reserve police officer “clearly identifiable as such by his uniform”.

The situation in the Hotel Balkan was, according to Murselovic, “unpleasant”. He added that the people were forced to show their identification to police officers, and were divided according to their assumed ethnicity.

“Muslims and Croats on one side, Serbs on the other,” he added. “They told us to get out of the hotel, where buses were standing. I saw three or four buses and we were soon made to board them.”

He said that they were then transferred to the Omarska camp. “We came to this mine, this compound, we had no idea what it was used for or where we were. Only later did we find out that we were at Omarska,” he added.

The indictment against Stanisic and Zupljanin enumerates more than 50 different detention facilities, including Omarska, Keraterm,Trnopolje camps and Manjaca, set up by Bosnian Serb forces where non-Serb captives were beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted, humiliated, harassed and psychologically abused.

Describing the transfer of prisoners from Omarska to Manjaca, Murselovic said, “I think that it was one of the most difficult days in my life. Again we travelled somewhere and we had no idea where. We were made to lie down on the floor, with our heads forcing forward.”

Olmsted then questioned Murselovic about the events of August 6, 1992. The witness answered that he remembered that day.

“It was the day when we were forced to board those buses, we were waiting in the garage when we were called up und forced to board those two or three buses,” he said. “My bus had at least 80 or 90 people. It was a public bus. We were lying in a pile on the floor, one over the other, not sitting in the bus.”

“We were lying on the floor, all of us were dirty, we were forced to eat something rotten, beans I believe, so that we all had dysentery, and we all stunk like animals and were laying one over the other. The policemen were walking over our backs and saying ‘oh, how these drool-mouths (a derogative term for Bosniaks) stink!’

“It was an extremely hot day, and excrement was dropping down our pants.

“As I said, it was an extremely hot day on August 6, 1992, all windows were closed and we were not allowed to open them. In fact, they even turned up the heating. It felt like hell.”

The witness explained that he was denied access to water. “I was thirsty and my only wish was to get something to drink. We weren’t given any water, so I wanted to get to the window and lick it, there was water condensed on it from all the heat,” he said.

The prosecutor than asked where the buses ended up.

“At night, around 9 or 10, we came to some place, I didn’t initially know where it was but later found out that we were in front of Manjaca camp, this is where the buses were parked and the drivers and escorts left them,” the witness replied.

The bus was accompanied by two policemen and a police escort.

According to the indictment against Stanisic and Zupljanin, “between May and the end of December 1992, detainees at Manjaca camp were subjected to regular beatings in areas throughout the camp including outside the make-shift medical clinic, stables and other buildings.

“Beatings were inflicted by fists, feet, batons, wooden poles, rifle butts and electric cables. In some cases, the beatings were so severe as to result in permanent serious injury and deaths”.

The journey from Omarska to Manjaca, despite being only a short distance, took “an excruciating eleven hours”, Murselovic said.

“They took at one stage an older man from the bus, his name was Dedo Crnovic and when he was called up, they said they wanted to make cevapi (a traditional minced meat dish) out of him. He then took my jacket because we found out that it hurt less when you were being beaten if you had a jacket on, regardless of the temperature.”

According to Murselovic, his fellow inmate could then be heard crying out.

“He was screaming and screaming and suddenly it stopped, and after a while they said two men should come out and pick him up, and they picked [Crnovic] up, but he was already dead,” the witness continued. “We didn’t know that until the next morning.”

The witness said that the following morning he saw the bodies of seven more people who had been killed, adding that the commander of Manjaca refused to take the dead, so they were put on the bus and later thrown into the Vrbas river.

The remains of Dedo Crnovic were found in 2000.

Murselovic said the Manjaca camp was “less evil” than Omarska.

“We wanted to run away from the people in Prijedor, our neighbours, anywhere, even to Manjaca,” he added.

Stanisic surrendered in March 2005, while Zupljanin was arrested by the Serbian authorities on June 10, 2008, after 13 years as a fugitive. Their indictments were joined together in September 2008 and both have pleaded not guilty to all counts.

The trial continues this week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.

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