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Serbs Detained Bosniaks ‘For Their Own Protection’

12. February 2015.00:00
A defence witness testified at Ratko Mladic’s war crimes trial at the Hague Tribunal that Muslims held in the Trnopolje detention camp near Prijedor in the summer of 1992 were not abused.

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Defence witness Slavko Puhalic, who was a quartermaster at the Bosnian Serb-run Trnopolje camp, told the UN-backed court on Thursday that it was intended for “the removal of the non-Serb population from the combat zone… for their own protection”.

Bosniaks, Croats and others stayed at Trnopolje “until there were conditions for them to leave”, Puhalic said in a statement to the court.

“They could go out freely, after they notified the guard and left their documents… No one was brought in by force,” he said.

According to the witness, apart from what he called several “incidents”, the people held at Trnopolje were not abused.

According to the indictment against former Bosnian Serb Army chief Mladic, his forces committed serious, large-scale crimes against Bosniaks and Croats held at the Trnopolje, Keraterm and Omarska camps in the Prijedor area. Prijedor was one of the municipalities where the persecution of non-Serb civilians reached the scale of genocide in 1992, the indictment alleges.

After defence lawyer Branko Lukic screened video footage from Trnopolje shot by a British television news crew from ITN, which shows Bosniak men, some of them desperately thin, behind barbed wire, Puhalic said that the footage was misleading and those inside the wire were actually reporters, while the prisoners were outside.

“The reporters are in an enclosed part, and the people are free,” the witness said.

ITN’s video report, made in August 1992, caused international condemnation of the Bosnian Serb authorities.

During cross-examination, the prosecutor asked the witness if there was an investigation in Trnopolje into the killings and rapes of prisoners and whether he knew if any perpetrator was prosecuted.

Puhalic said that he did not know, confirming that he heard about several cases of killings and rapes and saying that he informed military police and regular officers about them.

Ratko Mladic is also on trial for genocide in Srebrenica, terrorising the population of Sarajevo, and taking UN peacekeepers hostage.

The trial continues on Monday.

Radoša Milutinović

This post is also available in: Bosnian