Perpetrators Walk Freely

26. October 2010.00:00
The village of Zecovi, situated near the town of Prijedor, is reachable by unpaved road. Dense forests and meadows dotted with white flocks of sheep and the occasional sound of hammering in the homes of returnees give hope that there is still life in this small hamlet.

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The house of Zijad Bacic is located at the end of a narrow road with a view towards the rest of the village and the yard where, 18 years ago, his mother, sister and two brothers were killed.

“A terrible crime was committed in this place on July 25, 1992, recalls Zijad, who was 14 years old at the time.

“I was at home when masked soldiers came and said, ‘Get out, everybody!’. I was the last to leave the house, and while I was looking for shoes, the shooting started. I heard the screams of women and children. Somehow I ran in front of the live fire and hid near the other house.

“From there, I saw the bodies of the dead, and later also a hand with a gun that shot at those who were still alive,” he adds.

According to the stories of survivors and family members of those killed, the “Serb army” surrounded Zecovi village near Prijedor on July 25, 1992. The military then raided the houses where women and children were hiding and shot at them. Most of the killed civilians were from the Bacic and Horozovic families.

Zijad Bacic explained that in the house where he was hiding the army shot 29 civilians, mostly women and children.

“There were 15 children there. The youngest was two years old and the oldest 17,” said Zijad.

In July 2002, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague discussed the crimes in Zecovi at the trial of Milomir Stakic, who was sentenced to 40 years’ imprisonment for crimes committed in Prijedor. During the trial, protected Prosecution witness V said that “Serb soldiers” in Zecovi village killed all the locals they found in front of their homes in July 1992.

Although 18 years has passed since the killing of civilians in Zecovi, no indictments for the crimes have been filed at the Hague Tribunal, nor in the courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Many families from that area believe that the judicial authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina are not doing enough to find and arrest those responsible for the crime and locate the remains of their loved ones.

Struggle for truth

Fikret Bacic lost 13 family members in Zecovi, including his mother, brother, wife and two children. His struggle for truth started in 1998, when he made contact with local judical authorities and brought them evidence of the crime in Zecovi. Despite his efforts to date, he says, nothing has been done.

“At that time I took the statements from witnesses to the police in Sanski Most. I contacted the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina but still nothing happened. We know their names, and relevant authorities know them too, but they have not done anything so far. These persons are neither interrogated nor prosecuted. I do not know why,” says Fikret Bacic.

Hidajet Horozovic, who together with his sister was seriously wounded but survived the shooting, also gave a statement about the events of July 1992 in Zecovi to various investigators. He lost his mother, two grandmothers and other relatives and is still searching for their remains.

“We are searching for these criminals to obtain information that would help us find the bones, so that we can bury them properly. Unfortunately, there is no organisation that can help to end this, so that we can take a break from all this,” says Horozovic, who was ten years old at the time of the crime.

Members of the Horozovic and the Bacic families returned to Zecovi after the war, despite the fact that they lost their loved ones in that village. What they did not hope to see upon their return from Germany were persons who participated in the killings walking calming through the streets.

Zecovi’s population is majority Bosniak, while Prijedor has a majority Serb population. Many returnees do seasonal work in Sanski Most, which is close by and also has a majority Bosniak population.

“We work in Sanski Most. When we go to work, we see a man who participated in the killing. But what can you do? There is nothing you can do, just watch. It is not easy to see him, it is not easy but what can we do,” says Horozovic, who did not want to reveal the identity of the person in question in order not to compromise the ongoing investigation.

The Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina is currently investigating the killings in Zecovi. They say they need more time to complete the probe because they have many war crimes cases related to the Prijedor region.

“There are cases against a number of suspects for crimes committed in Prijedor and the surrounding area. So far we have obtained information regarding certain higher or lower-ranking commanders of the Republic of Srpska Army, as well as for ordinary soldiers and individuals,” said Boris Grubesic, spokesman for the Prosecutor’s Office.

He added that everything will be addressed, but noted that it just takes time because the “capacities are rather limited and there are hundreds of cases”.

Despite this state of affairs, victims still appeal for the completion of the investigation as soon as possible so that they can live more peacefully, and find and bury the remains of their loved ones.

“That would mean a lot to me, to my child, to everybody, if they were caught. Maybe I would sleep more calmly. They are not far from my house and one cannot sleep peacefully. I think I would feel much better if they were behind bars,” says Horozovic.

Members of the Horozovic and Bacic families also want to find the remains of their loved ones; so far they have only managed to find out that they were taken to an unknown destination.

“We have still not been able to find the bodies. Witnesses say a truck known as ‘Tamic’ came- the one that was used by workers of the municipal utility company- picked up the bodies and drove away,” explains Fikret Bacic.

Survivors and family members have begun to suspect that they will never find the bodies.

“If I find them, a heavy burden will fall from my heart and soul. (…) We gave our DNA for analysis and we have responded to every call, but somehow I am slowly beginning to lose hope in all this because in two years it will be 20 years since the crime was committed and those who are responsible have still not been found,” Zijad Bacic said.

Aida Alić is a BIRN – Justice Report journalist. [email protected] Justice Report is an online BIRN weekly publication.

Aida Alić

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