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Source: IHRLI Report
IV. SUBSTANTIVE FINDINGS
A. The study of Opstina Prijedor, a district in north-western Bosnia: alleged genocide and massive violations of the elementary dictates of humanity 47/
1. General description
151. Opstina Prijedor is a district located in northwestern Bosnia in an area which is part of the Bosnian Krajina. It is located in between the town of Sanski Most (to the south), the Bosnian-Croatian border towns of Bosanski Novi (to the west) and Bosanska Dubica (to the north), and the regional capital of Banja Luka (to the east). Except for the area of Sanski Most, the other neighbouring districts had Serbian majority populations before the armed conflicts started in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
152. According to the 1991 census, Opstina Prijedor had a total
population of 112,470 people, of whom 44 per cent were Muslims, 42.5 percent Serbs, 5.6 per cent Croats, 5.7 per cent "Yugoslavs" and 2.2 percent others (Ukrainians, Russians and Italians). In early April1992, the total population may have been approximately 120,000 people, augmented, inter alia, by an influx of people who had fled the destruction of their villages in areas to the west of Opstina Prijedor.
153. Comparing the 1991 census figures with the results of a population count of June 1993, as published in Serbian-controlled media, gives the following overall picture:
The total number of killed and deported persons as of June 1993 is 52,811 (including limited numbers of refugees and people missing). Since then, the number of non-Serbs in the district have continued to decrease. The extreme persecution to which non-Serbs are subjected and their almost total lack of protection in the district is illustrated by the fact
that ICRC and UNHCR asked permission from the Serbs, in March 1994, to evacuate all remaining non-Serbs from Opstina Prijedor.
154. The following factual findings of the Commission are based on 300 to 400 statements by surviving victims of the events in Opstina Prijedor currently living in different countries, local Serbian media reports of the events and research into the context of the events.
2. Serbs take power on 30 April 1992
155. According to Kozarski Vjesnik, a Serbian-controlled newspaper in Opstina Prijedor, of 9 April 1993:
"The man (Simo Drljaca), who the Serbian Democratic Party of the Opstina Prijedor put in charge of forming the Serbian police after half a year of illegal work, had done his job so well that in 13 police stations 1,775 well-armed persons were waiting to undertake any difficult duty in the time which was coming. In the night between 29 and 30 April 1992, he directed the takeover of power (by the Serbs), which was successfully achieved in only 30 minutes, without any shots fired. The assembly of the Srpske Opstine Prijedor, at the end of March last year (1992), appointed him Chief of the public security station (i.e., in charge of the secret police). He was in charge of this job during the most demanding period and remained in the position until January 1993. These days he has been appointed Vice-Minister of Internal Affairs of the Serbian Republic. He will commence his new function in Bijelina on Monday."
156. More than six months prior to the power change in 1992, the Serbs started to build up their own administration parallel to the legitimate authorities in Opstina Prijedor - what they called the Serbian Opstina Prijedor. This included, inter alia, a pure Serbian police force with secret service functions. The legitimate authorities in Opstina Prijedor had been lawfully elected, and the Prijedor Assembly reflected the ethnic composition of the district.
157. In early 1992, a very small Serbian paramilitary group took control of the television transmitter on the Kozara mountain in Opstina Prijedor, and as a consequence the population in the district could not receive television programmes from Sarajevo or Zagreb any longer, only from Belgrade and later Banja Luka. The television programmes from Belgrade insinuated that non-Serbs wanted war and threatened the Serbs.
158. Prior to the power change on 30 April 1992, Serbs secretly armed other Serbs in the district. Many soldiers from the Yugoslav People's Army withdrew from Croatia to northwestern Bosnia in early 1992. Instead of demobilizing those who returned to Opstina Prijedor, the legitimate authorities were pressured to accept redeploying them to control all inroads to and exits from the district together with police and the territorial defence forces (TDFs). The pressure applied was an ultimatum. The legitimate authorities were invited for a guided sightseeing tour of two Croatian villages just north of Bosanska Gradi ka which had been destroyed and left uninhabited. The message was that if the ultimatum was not met, the fate of Prijedor would be the same as that of these villages. The ultimatum was accepted.
3. Immediate consequences of the Serbs taking power
159. An immediate consequence of the Serbian takeover was severed communications between Opstina Prijedor and the outside world. It became more difficult to travel and the telephone system was no longer fully operational. A curfew was introduced in Prijedor town- the main town in the district - and travel permits were required in many areas even to move among local villages. Bus services were closed down.
160. In the wake of the power change, most non-Serbs were dismissed from their jobs, be it as police, public officials or even manual workers. In all key functions such as police and local administration, the empty
posts were taken over by Serbs.
161. Even before 30 April 1992, Serbs had started to visit the non-Serbs who were licensed to hold weapons and demand that they give their weapons up. This process was intensified after the takeover and combined with a campaign in which non-Serbian police and TDFs were instructed to hand over their weapons and non-Serbian houses and villages were searched for arms.
162. Also, the local media, Radio Prijedor and Kozarski Vjesnik, joined in the anti-non-Serb propaganda. The media slandered former non-Serbian leaders by criticizing everything from their alleged lack of efficiency to their private lives. In addition, the media claimed that dangerous Muslim extremists were in the area, preparing genocide against the Serbs.
4. The major Serbian military operations in the district
163. Following an incident in which less than a handful of Serbian soldiers were shot dead under unclear circumstances, the village of Hambarine was given an ultimatum to hand over a policeman who lived where the shooting had occurred. As it was not met, Hambarine was subjected to several hours of artillery bombardment on 23 May 1992. The shells were fired from the aerodrome Urije just outside Prijedor town. When the bombardment stopped, the village was stormed by infantry, including paramilitary units, which sought out the inhabitants in every home. Hambarine had a population of 2,499 in 1991.
164. On 24 May 1992, a large-scale attack on the entire Kozarac area east of Prijedor town, under the Kozara Mountain, was carried out with intensive bombardment from all directions by artillery, tanks and small
firearms. The bombardment lasted for more than 24 hours, before the infantry and paramilitary groups stormed Kozarac and nearby villages and searched for people in every building. The affected area had a total population of almost 27,000 people.
165. On 30 May 1992, a group of less than 150 armed non-Serbs had made their way to the old town in Prijedor to regain control over the town. They were defeated and the old town was razed. In the central parts of Prijedor town, all non-Serbs were forced to leave their houses as Serbian military, paramilitary, police and civilians advanced street by street with tanks and lighter arms. The non-Serbs had been instructed over the radio to hang a white piece of cloth on their homes to signal surrender.
166. Starting on 20 July 1992, a large area of predominantly non-Serbian villages on the left bank of the River Sava (the larger Hambarine/Ljubija area) was attacked in a similar manner to the Kozarac area. However, it was predominantly infantry and paramilitary groups that carried out the destruction. At the time of the attack, the areas had a population of close to 20,000 people, including people who had come for shelter after their villages west of Opstina Prijedor had been destroyed.
167. Today the former homes of almost 47,000 people in the Kozarac and Hambarine/Ljubija areas are empty and destroyed. Some were hit by
artillery shells, while others were set ablaze in the initial attack. All the homes were later pillaged and a large number blown up, one at a time from inside, destroying especially the inside and the roofs. Most of the artillery used during these attacks had been moved into position some time before the Serbs took power on 30 April 1992.
5. Concentration camps and deportations
168. As non-Serbs were attacked in the villages and Prijedor town, hundreds, possibly thousands, were killed in their home areas, frequently
after maltreatment. The survivors that temporarily managed to flee or hide were divided. Females, boys under the age of sixteen (sometimes the age limit may have been lower) and elderly men (older than 60 or 65) made up one group, while the other men comprised the second group.
169. The second group - the men - were taken to hastily opened concentration camps in a ceramic tile factory, Keraterm, next to Prijedor town and on the premises of the iron ore mine and processing plant at Omarska. Massacres, torture and appalling living conditions quickly depleted the number of detainees.
170. In an interview printed in Kozarski Vjesnik on 9 April 1993, Simo Drljaca, present Deputy Minister of Interior of the "Serb Republic of Bosnia", stated that:
"In the collection centres 'Omarska', 'Keraterm' and 'Trnopolje' more than 6,000 informative talks were held. Of this number 1,503 Muslims and Croats were sent to the camp 'Manjaca' on the basis of solid documentation of active participation in the fighting against the Army of Republika Srpska ('Serb Republic of Bosnia'), and also participation in genocide against the Serbian people. Instead of letting them get their deserved punishment, the powerful men of the world expressing disdain forced us to release them all from Manjaca."
As the "informative talks" or interrogations basically took place in the Omarska and Keraterm camps, it can be concluded that more than 6,000 adult males were taken to these concentration camps in the short period they existed (from the end of May to the beginning of August 1992).
Since only 1,503 were moved on to Manja a camp according to Mr. Drljaca, a limited number transferred to the Trnopolje camp and almost none released, it may be assumed that the death toll was extremely high. The concentration camp premises were sometimes so packed with people that no more inmates could be crammed in. On at least one occasion this allegedly resulted in an entire busload of newly captured people being arbitrarily executed en masse. Some 37 women were detained in Omarska, while no women were kept over time in Keraterm.
171. The women were normally taken to the Trnopolje camp. In Trnopolje, the regime was far better than in Omarska and Keraterm. None the less, harassment and malnutrition was a problem for all the inmates. Rapes, beatings and other kinds of torture, and even killings, were not rare. Some of these detained women were released after a few days, as there was a lack of space in the Trnopolje camp as well.
172. On their way to the concentration camps, some captives were detained for shorter periods at improvised detention facilities, such as sports halls in schools and stadiums (notably in the Prijedor suburb of Tukovi and in Ljubija).
173. As soon as the Serbs had captured the first groups of non-Serbs, the large-scale deportations of the women started. Some were deported
straight from the improvised detention facilities, the majority from the Trnopolje camp. The majority of deportees were cramped into buses or onto military trucks and sent towards Travnik. These deportees had to walk almost 30 km from where the trucks and buses dumped them in a desolate area in the outskirts of the Vlaci Mountain to reach non-Serb held areas in central Bosnia. A few were deported the safer way to Bosanska Gradicka. Sizeable numbers were taken by rail - many in cattle wagons - to Travnik. Some women were let off the trains in Doboj from where they were ushered ahead on foot in the direction of Tuzla. Some individuals perished during the transport owing to the mid-summer heat and to suffocating conditions both in cattle wagons and on closed military trucks, where the deportees were also deprived of food and water.
6. The strategy of destruction
174. The Serbs took power in Opstina Prijedor on 30 April 1992, after more than six months of careful planning. After this, the non-Serbs had their homes and communities destroyed and their families split and were deprived of their employment. The majority of non-Serbs were soon captured, thousands incarcerated in concentration camps, and even larger numbers deported. This all happened after the Serbs had sealed off most exits from the area. The non-Serbs represented no real threat to the Serbs under these circumstances, as the district of Prijedor was enclosed at the time by Serbian controlled and dominated areas (the non-Serb majority
population in the Sanski Most district was purged simultaneously in
175. Despite the absence of a real non-Serbian threat, the main objective of the concentration camps, especially Omarska but also Keraterm, seems to have been to eliminate the non-Serbian leadership. Political leaders, officials from the courts and administration, academics and other intellectuals, religious leaders, key business people and artists - the backbone of the Muslim and Croatian communities - were removed,
apparently with the intention that the removal be permanent. Similarly, law enforcement and military personnel were targeted for destruction. These people also constituted a significant element of the non-Serbian group in that its depletion rendered the group at large defenceless against abuses of any kind.
Other important traces of Muslim and Croatian culture and religion,
including mosques and Catholic churches, were destroyed.
7. The general lack of protection for non-Serbs
176. From the time when the Serbs took power in the district of Prijedor, non-Serbs, in reality, became outlaws. At times, non-Serbs were instructed to wear white arm bands to identify themselves. Non-Serbs were subjected to crimes without the new Serbian leaders attempting to redress the problem. Rape, for example, became a serious problem for many women who were left alone because their husbands had been detained. The impression was allowed to spread among Serbs that they would be exonerated if they made life difficult for non-Serbs so that the latter would ask permission to leave the district. According to new Serbian regulations, those leaving the district had to sign over their
property rights to Serbs and accept never to return, being told that their names would simultaneously be deleted from the census.
177. When the Serbs took power in the district of Prijedor, they immediately declared the existence of a Krizni Stab Srpske Opstine
Prijedor. Included in the membership of this crisis committee were
the military commanders Colonel Vladimir Arsi and Major Radmilo Zeljaja, and other district leaders, such as Major Slobodan Kuruzovi; the Chief of Police, Simo Drljaca; Mayor Milomir Staki; the President of the
Executive Board of the Assembly in Prijedor, Mico Kovacevi; the President of the Serbian Democratic Party in Prijedor, Simo Mickovi; and the President of the Red Cross in Prijedor, Srdjo Srdi .
178. The military destruction of the non-Serbian habitations in Opstina Prijedor took place when the area was under the command of Colonel Vladimir Arsi and Major Radmilo Zeljaja in close cooperation with military superiors, at least in the regional capital Banja Luka. Units stationed outside of Opstina Prijedor assisted in the military destruction, as did paramilitary units whose attacks were timed to fit with the artillery attacks and the manoeuvres of the regular army units.
179. In the above-mentioned interview printed in Kozarski Vjesnik on 9 April 1993, Simo Drljaca stated:
"(T)hey (the police force, including the secret services) carried out my orders and the orders of the CSB (the Public Security Centre) Banja Luka and the Minister of Interior.
"... the cooperation was excellent with the Army of Republika Srpska and with the officers of that army. The cooperation was manifested in the joint cleansing of the terrain of traitors, joint work at the checkpoints, a joint intervention group against disturbances of public order and in fighting terrorist groups."
The secret police and the military police provided the concentration camps with interrogators and guards. For some of the most gruesome torture and killings of detainees, the assistance of paramilitary units and
some locals was also called upon. Quasi-military intervention units were used to trace and capture the non-Serbian leadership. The latter units killed prisoners arbitrarily during transport to the Manjaca camp and arranged mass-killings of "deported" prisoners in the Vlaci Mountain area.
180. The other members of the crisis committee ran the community in which all these violations occurred. They participated in the administrative decision-making. The gains on different levels of the systematic looting of non-Serbian property were shared by many local Serbs.
181. The Commission of Experts possesses the names of hundreds
of alleged perpetrators at different levels and in a variety of capacities.
182. It is unquestionable that the events in Opstina Prijedor since 30 April 1992 qualify as crimes against humanity. Furthermore, it is likely to be confirmed in court under due process of law that these events constitute genocide.
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