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Over the course of more than one year, the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina examined more than 60 witnesses and presented nearly 300 pieces of material evidence, trying to prove the participation of Ratko Bundalo, Nedjo Zeljaja and Djordjislav Askraba in the prosecution, forcible detention, physical and mental abuse and murder of civilians from the Kalinovik, Foca, Trnovo and Gacko regions in 1992 and 1993.
On March 17, the defence of the three indictees is due to start presenting evidence and examine the first witnesses.
Bundalo, former commander of the Tactical Group in Kalinovik, Zeljaja, former commander of the Public Safety Station in the same town and Askraba, who supervised the Barutni Magacin detention camp in mid-1992, are charged with participation in a joint criminal enterprise.
According to Witness A, in late April 1992, Bosko Govedarica, chief of the Public Safety Station in Kalinovik, said he had brought in Zeljaja as “an experienced colleague and friend” to help them out.
“People used to say that Bundalo was the commander of the military forces,” he added.
“I found out later on that Askraba was manager of Barutni Magacin,” this protected former member of the army and police said, concerning the crimes committed against Bosniaks detained in the school in Kalinovik, the police station and the Barutni Magacin camp.
“Members of the police and sometimes also soldiers detained Bosniaks but I did not do it,” he added.
Zeljko Mandic, then a member of the reserve police, said Zeljaja distributed various tasks among the police. “Bosniaks were detained in the school building and I also heard they were detained in the police station,” he said.
The indictment alleges that from early May 1992, men and women were captured and forcibly detained in the Miladin Radojevic school in Kalinovik, and guarded there by policemen from the town. Food was brought in from the Gornji Logor military barracks.
Witness Fadila Hatic, a former detainee, said she overheard several men being shot dead and had to clean up the dried blood.
“On one occasion, two men named Pervan, Hasim Hatic, Sejo Krso and some others were taken from the school building in which we were detained, and detained in some other premises,” she recalled.
“Then we heard shooting. The following morning a truck came and drove the bodies away. “I and some other woman were ordered to clean up the blood, which could be seen all over the place. It was difficult to clean it,” Hatic said.
Mirko Askraba, a former guard in the Gornji Logor barracks and brother to the third indictee, said he helped to transport dead bodies from the school building in Kalinovik to near the so-called Grajseljsko field.
The prosecution says Bundalo and Zeljaja participated in the establishment of the Barutni Magacin detention camp, as well as the prisons in the school in Kalinovik and police station basement.
Elvir Cemo, who aged 12 was detained in the school in Kalinovik for a period, said the detainees were guarded by “policemen”, adding that he once saw Zeljaja, “uniformed and with a moustache”.
The indictment alleges that some detainees were taken from the police station and used as “minesweepers” while others were exposed to routine physical and mental abuse.
“They pulled my hair and poured hot water on my hands,” Djemila Redjovic, a former detainee, said. “I have seven punctures on my body whose scars will never disappear as the wounds were suppurated,” he added.
“After I was exchanged, doctors had to clean them and sew them up.”
A former member of the reserve police, Milivoje Faladzic, denied that Zeljaja and Govedarica mistreated detainees.
They “issued orders on how we should treat prisoners in the school building,” he said.
“We had to guard them and inform them of everything. They told us that nobody should do any harm to the prisoners in the police station.”
Some witnesses said women and girls detained in the school in Kalinovik were taken away by members of Pero Elez’s paramilitary unit from Miljevina and then raped.
“Some soldiers and policemen told me that Elez’s soldiers came to the school and raped women,” Witness A said.
“They said that they took some young women to brothels in Foca or to coffee shops, where they worked as waitresses.
“An older woman told me that some girls were taken to Pavlovac farm and raped, and some were buried in a mass grave,” Witness A added.
Pero Elez, former commander of the Miljevina Battalion from Foca, is believed to have perished during the war.
The indictment alleges that, in late August, female detainees were exchanged with Bundalo’s permission. But before that they had to evacuate dead Serbian soldiers from the frontlines. Only after having done that, were they allowed to take their children and go to territory controlled by the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Male detainees meanwhile were transferred to the Barutni Magacin camp in early July 1992 and guarded there by soldiers.
Their wives tried to visit them.
“It was raining but we went there every single day, hoping that they would let us see our husbands,” Djemila Redjovic said. “The police and soldiers told us that Djordjislav Askraba was in charge and we had to ask him,” she added.
She last saw her husband, Rasid, in the camp on July 27, 1992, when he told her that they were being taking away to Foca to be killed.
Fatima Keso saw her husband and father-in-law for the last time when she visited him in Barutni Magacin, late in July 1992.
After that, she added, “When I and my son paid them a visit, a guard, Nedjo Vukovic, told us that Askraba had forbidden visits to detainees.”
Keso eventually located the bodies of her husband and father-in-law in a mass grave in the Kalinovik area after the war.
The prosecution says members of a paramilitary unit from Miljevina took groups of detainees from Barutni Magacin towards Mehka Brda, Kalinovik and Miljevina and killed them there.
Witness I said male detainees were taken by truck from Barutni Magacin to be shot by “Pere Elez’s and ‘Zaga’ Kunarac’s men” in early August 1992.
Zaga is the nickname of Dragoljub Kunarac. He was sentenced in June 2002 at The Hague to 28 years’ imprisonment for participation in the torture and rape of women and girls in the Foca area.
“Some armed soldiers came, brutally abused the detainees loaded them onto three or four trucks and drove them away,” Witness I said.
“After they had gone the first time, we heard shooting. Then they came back and took the remaining detainees with them. A police car with a rotating light escorted them.”
Prosecution witness Dzemila Suljic said she lost her children in the camp and blamed Askraba for their deaths.
“Askraba was the manager of this detention camp, he knows everything about the murder of my children. I have still not found them,” she said.
“He should know to whom he handed them over to be killed. I found my dead husband, but I do not know where my sons are,” she added.
Prosecution expert witnesses said 10 bodies have since been exhumed from a mass grave at Mehka Brda and 36 from the “Tuneli” grave near Miljevina.
Witness Remza Surkovic found the remains of her brother at Mehka Brda in 1999.
She has still not found her father’s body. “I shall never forget my last meeting with my father,” she said.
“We begged Askraba to let us kids see our fathers and in the end he let us do it. I remember this as if it was yesterday. My father approached us. He did not say one single word. He hugged me and my sister.
“I asked Askraba why he could not release him. He told me that he was safe there, safer than outside,” Surkovic said. She was 16 at the time.
On August 5, 1992, the paramilitaries drove the remaining men from Barutni Magacin towards Miljevina, shot all 24 detainees at a place called Ratine and tried to burn the bodies.
Fejzija Hadzic, sole survivor of the massacre at Ratine, recalled that Askraba and Elez came to Barutni Magacin that day. Askraba told them their living conditions were “good in comparison to other places”.
“Elez ordered them to tie us down. Then some trucks drove us to a barn, where they shot us. As soon as I heard shooting, I fell down, pretending to be dead,” Hadzic recalled.
“They ordered some other detainees to take us to the barn, where they poured gas on us and set on fire.”
However, a former driver for Ratko Bundalo, Risto Puhalo, said that this indictee was not responsible for the abduction and murder of detainees in Barutni Magacin.
“I can guarantee that Bundalo did not go anywhere in early August 1992 and did not order the murder of men from Barutni Magacin,” he said.
“I know that he was not glad when he heard about it [the killings]. He got angry and he started swearing,” Puhalo added.
While the indictment alleges that Askraba handed the detainees to members of the unit from Miljevina, Manojko Krstovic, a former guard, said this was also untrue.
He insisted Askraba had broken his leg the day before the paramilitary soldiers arrived at the camp, and had nothing to with the abduction and killings.
“Two days after the men had been taken away, he briefly visited Barutni Magacin [but] His leg was [still] immobilised,” Krstovic said.
Aida Alic is a BIRN – Justice Report journalist, [email protected] Justice Report is a weekly online BIRN publication.