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Former detainees and family members of people killed in the Omarska detention camp near Prijedor in north-west Bosnia and Herzegovina will mark the 27th anniversary of the date considered as marking the beginning of the closure of the facility on August 6.
Surviving detainees, who described the detention camp to BIRN BiH as “a torture and slaughter chamber”, will this year again bring a memorial plaque to the Bijela Kuca [white house] in Omarska, whose placement has never been approved by authorities in Bosnia’s Serb-led entity, Republika Srpska.
Mirsad Duratovic, president of the Regional Union of Detainees of Banja Luka, said that despite failing to obtain official permission to erect the plaque, they will put it up themselves.
“We will bring it and put it there. We will turn the former Omarska detention camp into Omarska memorial centre for one day,” said Duratovic, who was held at the detention camp as a teenager in 1992.
He recalled that, on August 6, 1992, most of the detainees were transferred from Omarska to the Manjaca and Trnopolje detention camps. The last detainees left Omarska on August 21, 1992.
Camp survivor Nusreta Sivac, who was held at Omarska for around two months, said that, like the other women detainees at the Bosnian Serb-run camp, she began her “working days” there by counting the number of dead bodies “thrown” overnight onto the lawn in front of the Bijela Kuca.
“Sometimes I would count as many as 25, sometimes less, sometimes more, depending on whether our torturers had been in the mood for killing and mutilating people that night,” she said. “I remember many images. It is hard to single out some of them as everything was horrible,” she added.
“It was a torture chamber, a slaughter house, so even from this perspective, I remember all the images. They are still alive in my mind,” Sivac continued.
She said she in particular remembered five women who were held at the camp with her but who were killed later.
“Women were subjected to all kinds of tortures. Besides all the physical and mental tortures to which the men were subjected, women also suffered sexual abuse,” she remembered.
“Thanks to testimonies by some of the women to the Hague tribunal, the court accepted and defined rape as war crime,” noted Sivac, who testified at several trials before the international war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia, the ITCY, and before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Duratovic recalled that courts have issued around 60 verdicts for crimes committed during Bosnia’s 1992-5 war in the Prijedor area. “A large number of people have been sentenced for Omarska, among other things, as well as for other war crimes committed in Prijedor,” he said.
“Omarska was mentioned in the trials and verdicts against [former Bosnian Serb commander] Ratko Mladic and [former Bosnian Serb leaders] Radovan Karadzic, Momcilo Krajisnik and Biljana Plavsic. Omarska detention camp was mentioned in all those verdicts,” Duratovic noted.
The ICTY sentenced 11 persons for crimes committed in the various detention camps in the Prijedor area. The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina sentenced four more after their cases were transferred to it from the ICTY in The Hague.
The 11 persons sentenced by the ICTY were Predrag Banovic, who was sentenced to eight years in prison, Miroslav Kvocka, sentenced to seven years, Dragoljub Prcac – five years, Mladjo Radic – 20 years, Zoran Zigic – 25 years, Milojica Kos – six years, Dusko Sikirica – 15 years, Damir Dosen – five years, Dragan Kulundzija – three years, Milomir Stakic – 40 years, and Dusko Tadic – 20 years in prison.
Stakic, former president of the Crisis Committee and chief of the Municipal Council for National Defense in Prijedor, got the longest sentence, 40 years, for extermination, murder and persecution.
The 2006 verdict said he had planned and ordered the deportation of around 20,000 predominantly non-Serb residents of Prijedor municipality.
“He actively participated in the establishment of Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje detention camps, where detainees were subjected to severe abuse and mistreatment, which constitutes torture, on a daily basis. They beat up detainees brutally, often using tools like cables, batons and chains. He is responsible for the murder of more than 1,500 people in the municipality of Prijedor, including the murder of around 120 men in Keraterm detention camp on August 5, 1992 and execution of around 200 people at Koricanske Stijene on mount Vlasic on August 21, 1992,” the verdict said.
The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina sentenced Zeljko Mejakic to 21 years in prison, Momcilo Gruban to seven, Dusan Frustar to nine and Dusko Knezevic to 31 years in prison.
On August 2 this year, the state court’s appeal court amalgamated the sentences against two former Bosnian Serb policemen, Darko Mrdja and Zoran Babic, to 20 and 35 years respectively.
Babic and Mrdja, both former members of intervention squads at the police Public Security Station in Prijedor, were sentenced by the appeals court in their latest verdict to 13 and 15 years respectively for the killings and inhumane treatment of Bosniak civilians in the Prijedor area.
Babic was previously sentenced to 22 years in prison by the Bosnian court for the murders of Bosniaks from Prijedor at the Koricani Cliffs on Mount Vlasic in 1992. Mrdja was previously sentenced to 17 years in prison by the Hague Tribunal after pleading guilty to involvement in the Koricani Cliffs killings.
Aged 17, Duratovic was used first as human shield by Bosnian Serb forces and then deported first to Omarska, and then to Manjaca and Trnopolje.
“In Omarska I went through ‘the complete treatment’, so to say – the torture suffered by all other detainees. But they did not pay any special attention to minor detainees, 28 of us. I went through the process of interrogation, mistreatment, physical and mental abuse,” Duratovic said.
He said the best description of what happened in Omarska was given by surviving victims of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz at a public discussion held in Linz, Austria, in 2011.
“They briefly said, giving a clear and vivid description: ‘Omarska was an echo of Auschwitz’. Their statement illustrates what was happening in Omarska from late May to late August 1992,” Duratovic said.
He recalled that a public discussion dedicated to Omarska was held in Zenica in central Bosnia on August 2, while a memorial event called “A Night in Trnopolje” would be organized in the former Trnopolje camp grounds on the evening of August 5 in memory of the day when the world learnt about the existence of the camps in Prijedor.
He noted that commemorations of the 27th anniversary of the closure of Omarska would also be attended by guests from Serbia and England, as well as from all over Bosnia and Herzegovina.