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

Zupljanin Allegedly Visited Omarska

Court hears description of “brutal and inhumane” conditions in the detention camp.
By Velma Šarić

A former inmate of the Omarska prison this week described witnessing a visit to the facility by then Bosnian Serb security chief Stojan Zupljanin in 1992.

Prosecution witness Nusret Sivac was giving evidence at the trial of Zupljanin, the former head of the regional security services centre in Banja Luka, and Mico Stanisic, former minister of the Bosnian Serb ministry of internal affairs.

Amongst the charges on the indictment, the two defendants are accused of the killing of a number of people at Omarska and at various places after they were taken from the camp, between May 27 and August 27, 1992.

Zupljanin, who became an adviser to the Bosnian Serb president and Hague indictee Radovan Karadzic in 1994, is accused of extermination, murder, persecution, and deportation of non-Serbs in northwestern Bosnia between April and December 1992.

Stanisic is charged with the murder, torture and cruel treatment of non-Serb civilians, as well as his failure to prevent or punish crimes committed by his subordinates.

Both defendants 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.

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

Sivac, a Bosnian Muslim, had been a police communications and encryption specialist until 1990, after which he joined Bosnian public television as a correspondent. He has previously testified at the Hague tribunal about ethnic cleansing in the Prijedor municipality.

In September 2002, he testified in the case of former president of the Bosnian Serb-controlled Prijedor municipality crisis staff, Milomir Stakic, followed by a testimony in January 2003 in the case of the former president of the Autonomous Region of Krajina Crisis Staff, Radoslav Brdjanin.

Prosecutor Gerard Dobbyn read a resume of Sivac’s previous testimony at the beginning of the trial this week, stating that in 1992 the witness had seen the destruction of religious buildings and property of non-Serbs in Prijedor.

“On May 30, 1992, the ethnic cleansing of Prijedor began. The witness saw the men being separated from the women before they were taken away,” the prosecutor added.

Continuing with the account, the prosecutor stated that the witness was arrested on June 10, 1992 by Serb police and taken to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, MUP, building in Prijedor, after which he was transferred to the Keraterm and then to the Omarska camp.

“In [the village of] Omarska he saw houses being burnt, private property being taken away, dead animals lying by the road. He also stated that, after coming to the Omarska camp, he was beaten and that his sister was also arrested,” continued Dobbyn.

“He described brutal and inhumane conditions which were governing the camp where people were being brutally beaten. In July 1992, Mr Sivac witnessed a visit by a high-level delegation of Bosnian Serbs to the Omarska camp, which included Brdjanin, Zupljajnin and Stanisic.

“Alongside other prisoners, he was ordered to stand in line before the delegation and sing Serb songs.”

The witness was then transferred to the Trnopolje camp, where he stayed for two weeks. After its closure in August, he returned to Prijedor where he remained until “he was forced to transfer all his property to someone else and leave Prijedor in 1992”, the prosecutor added.

After the prosecutor finished reading the resume of the testimony, Sivac identified the municipality of Prijedor and the Omarska and Trnopolje camps on a map.

“Do you know that Stojan Zupljanin visited Prijedor in the weeks prior to the [overthrow] of government in Prijedor in April 1992?” asked prosecutor Dobbyn.

“Around April 10, my colleague Bozo Ljubic, a Serb who was a member of the pro-peace Patriotic League, got information from Banja Luka that Stojan Zupljanin and Radoslav Brdjanin were coming to Prijedor to talk with the then-government representatives about the separation of police in Prijedor,” the witness answered.

He added that the Patriotic League was a group of people from all nationalities who staged a protest at Prijedor's town hall, protesting the ethnic division of police forces in the town.

“You said that the reason for Zupljanin’s visit was to carry out a division in the police. Based on what [motive] was this supposed to happen?” asked the prosecutor.

“The motive was recognisable at the time - it was an ultimatum for separation in what they referred to as ‘a peaceful manner’. Only three weeks later, power in Prijedor municipality would be violently [overthrown] by them,” replied Sivac.

He said that after the delegation had left Prijedor, dissatisfied with the outcome of the negotiations, a piece of news was published about an alleged assassination attempt against Zupljanin and Brdjanin during their visit to Prijedor.

“That wasn't correct,” said Sivac. “They only said this to raise the tensions and to prepare the Serb people for what was going to happen three weeks later.”

Immediately after the unsuccessful talks, he said, a group of politicians from Banja Luka which included Zupljanin again came to Prijedor.

“They asked employees of non-Serb nationality, Muslims and Croats, to sign a declaration of loyalty to the new Serb authorities,” continued the witness.

“This was a simple farce, this loyalty statement. I know that some Croats and Muslims signed it, but it didn't help them. They were taken to Omarska and Keraterm camps and murdered there.”

The witness said that he was first arrested on July 10, 1992, when he was taken to the Prijedor police station by former work colleagues and still serving policemen, Tomislav Stojakovic and Rade Volta.

“You were beaten with metal sticks by members of the interventions squad, is that correct?” asked the prosecutor.

“We were lined up against the wall, four of us,” the witness responded. “Members of the police interventions squad started beating us, it was around the noon break and all my former Serb colleagues who worked together with me were standing on the windows, watching us and laughing at us.”

As the trial continued, Sivac identified several photographs, including one of the Omarska mine and the camp’s canteen, garage and the room which was used to question prisoners.

“From those rooms you could hear the cries of women prisoners who were there crying and calling for help,” he said.

On a map, the witness marked the so-called White House, a hangar where prisoners were allegedly killed, and a building which was referred to as the Red House, where according to him “a silent liquidation of prisoners took place.

“They were being killed with mallets, axes, hammers and other forms of cold weapons.”

The witness re-stated that Zupljanin visited the Omarska camp in 1992, claiming that it was then that the “prisoners were forced to sing Serb songs and make the three-finger Serb greeting and exclaim ‘this is Serbia!’

“The prisoners looked horrible, almost all had major traces of violence that had been done to them; they were starved and sick because of the conditions in the camp, everything was very miserable. There were people who couldn't even stand after they had been beaten.”

The witness said that Mladjo Radic, a former colleague of his, “an active policeman and a shift commander in Omarska” was “one of the worst shift commanders of all. It was under his watch that most murders of prisoners and rape of women who were imprisoned in the camp had occurred.

“Once while coming back from the canteen after having eaten, I saw him standing in the corridor. We had extremely good relations before the war. I asked him, Mladjo, what is going to happen to us. He answered me briefly: Sivac, you cannot be helped. You are all here to be liquidated.”

In cross-examination, Zupljanin's defence denied that their client had ever visited Omarska camp.

Defence lawyer Dragan Krgovic said that the witness had, during his first testimony, stated that it was not Zupljanin who had been a member of the delegation that visited Omarska, but rather Vojo Kupresanin, and that he had changed his statement during the Brdjanin trial.

Sivac said it must have been a slip of the tongue and that he was “100 per cent sure” that it was Zupljanin during his first testimony after he was given a local Serb newspaper article that stated that Zupljanin was a member of the delegation.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.