Witness: Better to Be in Trnopolje than on the Street
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Testifying at Radovan Karadzic’s trial before The Hague Tribunal, witness Bosko Mandic says that “none of the authorities organised or abetted the removal of non-Serbs from Prijedor”.
Mandic, former Deputy President of the municipal Government and member of the Crisis Committee, explained that a large number of Muslims and Croats, mostly women, children and the elderly, felt “insecure” and left Prijedor municipality wilfully, while able-bodied men stayed in the town.
Mandic blamed the breakout of the war upon Muslim extremists, who killed members of the Yugoslav National Army, JNA, and policemen near Hambarine and Kozarac villages in the spring of 1992 and then refused to disarm themselves. An operation by Serb forces followed.
Karadzic, former President of Republika Srpska, RS, is charged with the persecution of Muslims and Croats from seven Bosnian municipalities, where the persecution reached the scale of genocide. He is also charged with the persecution of Muslims and Croats throughout BiH, genocide in Srebrenica, terrorising and shelling in Sarajevo and taking international representatives hostage.
“Mostly Muslim civilians, who did not want to participate in the war, were accepted in the concentration centre in Trnopolje for the sake of their security, while those, who participated in battles, were transferred to the investigative centre in Omarska,” the witness said, adding that individuals, whom the local authorities could not put under their control, committed murders and other crimes in Prijedor municipality.
During the cross-examination Prosecutor Catrina Gustafson said that non-Serb civilians were “detained” in Trnopolje.
“No, it was not like that. They were better off in Trnopolje than on the street, where some fools could have endangered them…I was not afraid of Muslims and Croats, but I was afraid of my people, who consumed alcohol, opened fire and caused disorder… Those men did not differentiate between Muslims and others,” the witness said.
Responding to a suggestion by the Prosecutor that Omarska was “full of non-Serbs, who had nothing to do with combat”, which was also confirmed by Prijedor police, Mandic said: “If that is what they wrote, it is true”. He said that “a triage” was conducted in the detention camp in order to determine who was a soldier and who was not. The witness said that those, who did not have weapons and did not participate in battles, were either released or transferred to Trnopolje.
According to the witness’ testimony, the purpose of a ban on individual releasing of detainees from Omarska, Trnopolje and Keraterm was to “protect” them “until ways for transferring them to third countries, as per their wish, had been found”.
Second Defence witness Zdravsko Torbica said that he and his colleagues “escorted” convoys of Muslims, who were leaving Prijedor, adding that they “did not treat those citizens in a negative manner”. The witness said that he found out later that civil authorities determined the routes for those convoys.
During the cross-examination Prosecutor Amir Zec alleged that, by doing it, he “supported deportations”. Responding to his allegation, Torbica said: “I do not know about deportations, but it is true that my Station offered traffic security services”, which means that it escorted convoys, while other policemen physically guarded the convoys.
Torbica denied that traffic police “secured” the transportation of remains of hundreds of killed Muslims to a mass grave in Tomasica mine in that same way. “I did not participate in that. I have not heard that traffic police offered services for such things”.
The trial of Karadzic is due to continue tomorrow, January 22 with the cross-examination of Republika Srpska Army, VRS, Colonel Ljubisa Beara, who was sentenced, under a first instance verdict, to life imprisonment for genocide in Srebrenica.