Analysis – Coloman: Alleged Perpetrator of Attack on Croat Detainees in Poculice

3. July 2015.00:00
After a trial that has lasted eight months, the Bosnian state court will hand down a verdict in the Jasmin Coloman trial on July 6. Coloman, a former member of the Reconnaissance Squad of the Seventh Muslim Brigade of the Bosnian Army, has been charged with killing and wounding civilians in Poculica, near Vitez.

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The state prosecution alleges that Coloman came to the Poculica Youth Center, where detained Croat civilians were held, on April 14, 1993. According to the indictment, when the guard at the Youth Center refused to unlock the door to the detainee’s holding area, Coloman fired at the closed door with an automatic weapon, killing three and wounding nine civilians inside.

The defense hasn’t disputed the killings, but denied Coloman’s involvement.

The state prosecution presented seven witnesses and one court expert, while the defense presented testimony from two witnesses and the defendant.

Eyewitness Accounts of Attack

According to state prosecution witnesses, Croats from the village of Putkovci were detained in a school in the village of Bukva at the beginning of the conflict between the Bosnian Army and the Croatian Defense Council in April 1993.

Stefica Brkovic was one of those detainees. She said she was taken to Preocica with four other women, and a few days later, was transported to Poculica. She said they arrived to Poculica at night and were held in the Youth Center.

Former detainee Ana Brkovic was also taken to the Youth Center in Poculica. She said one night, someone approached the center and asked for the key from the guard.

“In the morning, he came back with a gun. He squeezed the gun’s trigger and when he started to shoot, I was wounded in the left leg. Then he shot again and I was wounded in the right leg. Several people were wounded and three were dead,” Brkovic said.

She said the door opened after the shooting, and she saw a man with black curly hair and a rifle on his shoulder standing in front of it.

Both Stefica and Brkovic said they were given medical attention and were sent to a hospital in Zenica.

State prosecution witness Robert Kristo said that after the war, Zeljko Papic told him about the attack on the center.

“He was wounded through a closed door. There was some dispute outside, the guards wouldn’t allow anyone to enter, and there was shooting too,” Kristo said.

Three state prosecution witnesses testified about the perpetrator and how he came to the center. Refik Mujezinovic said he was standing by a clinic in Vrhovine when two unknown soldiers approached him and ordered him to drive them to Poculice.

“Two distracted and aggressive guys came up to me. They told me to drive them. I couldn’t refuse. They had guns and wore camouflage uniforms, I think they were from the Seventh Muslim Brigade,” Mujezinovic said. He identified Coloman as one of the soldiers who approached him.

Nedzad Sivro said he saw Mujezinovic talking to an unidentified soldier in April 1993 in Vrhovine. He said he saw them get into a car and drive towards Poculice.

Mujezinovic said he drove the two soldiers to the Poculice Youth Center. He said he saw them exit the car and ask for a key from the guard, who was standing at the front door.

“The guard jumped the wall and escaped. When I saw what they were going to do, I put the car in reverse and went 150 to 200 meters up a curve. I was afraid of what was going to happen to me,” Mujezinovic said. Mujezinovic said he was in the car when he heard bursts of gunfire, but he didn’t see who was shooting.

Nedzad Sivro said a few minutes after Mujezinovic and the two soldiers left in the direction of Poculice, he heard shooting.

“You could hear bursts of gunfire from an automatic rifle, first one, then another. After twenty to thirty minutes, I went home. When I went to the Youth Center, I saw the confusion, the cars, and how they were loading the wounded,” he said.

Mujezinovic said that after the soldiers returned to the vehicle, they drove back to Vrhovine.

“It seemed like they’d calmed down, there were no discussion or comments at all. I never saw them again and I didn’t know their names,” Mujezinovic said.

Defense Claims Attack was a “Local Arrangement”

Mujezinovic said on the day following the attack, he heard that Croat civilians were detained in the Youth Center and three had been killed.

Narcis Drocic, a witness testifying for the defense, said he also heard that Croats had been killed there.

“I heard they’d been killed in the basement of a mosque, but later on it was revealed that they were killed in a center where Croats were detained. To my knowledge, it was a ‘local arrangement.’ Locals took revenge for the death of some people in the village,” Drocic said.

Testifying in his own defense, Coloman said he heard about killings that took place after the death of Fehim Mujezinovic, the commander of the Reconnaissance Platoon of the Seventh Muslim Brigade.

“I heard that a certain cousin of Fehim’s got angry after the [commander’s] death and came with someone. Some woman was also there, and they shot at them in retaliation. That’s what the locals were saying,” Coloman said.

A witness for the defense, Zihret Avdic, said Coloman didn’t participate in the attack on the Poculica Youth Center. He said he was with Coloman in Krcevine in April 1993, where they were participating in combat operations.

“I would know if Coloman had done something like that and the Seventh Muslim Brigade would have done something about it,” he said.

Coloman said that after a massacre in Ahmici his unit was moved to the vicinity of Poculice, and was tasked with preventing the Croatian Defense Council from closing communication lines between Travnik and Zenica.

A protected witness in the case also described the attack at the Youth Center, but the court has placed a media ban on his testimony.

At the end of the trial, the prosecution called for a guilty verdict, while the defense called for an acquittal. The defense said the indictment was based on the testimony of one person, Refik Mujezinovic, whose testimony couldn’t be trusted because it differed from that of other witnesses.

Coloman has been in custody from June to November 2014, after which he was allowed to defend himself at liberty under court-ordered security measures. The trial began in September of last year.

Selma Učanbarlić

This post is also available in: Bosnian