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We Must Not Say - We Did Not See, We Did Not Know

by Andrija TunjicVjesnik, Zagreb, Croatia, January 21, 1996

According to international law there is no expiry date oncrimes against humanity. On the other hand one can keep quietabout them. And one can speculate with them and wait in orderto extort or achieve political interests.

Does this mean that the article published in the New YorkTimes about Serbian crimes against Muslims and Croats, as wellas about mass graves in the Prijedor area, i.e. the Ljubijamines, sees the start of the procedure which will revealSerbian crimes which have been covered up for such a long timewith, it seems, a lot of help from the internationalcommunity. Or is all this just media hullabaloo serving todeceive the naive?

It is unbelievable that it is only now that the Times haveappeared on the field that British soldiers in IFOR havestarted to speak about a possible cover up operation by theSerbs. More precisely, British commanders deployed in B-Hwithin the NATO peace-keeping forces stated to New York Timesreporters that British patrols had often come across massacredbodies which were being transported somewhere by BosnianSerbs. "It looks as if they are in a hurry to cover upmurder", stated a British commander whose name was notmentioned.

It is obvious that the Serbs are in a hurry to hide theircrimes against Muslims and Croats, but it is also obvious thatthe British are not overjoyed that the New York Times hasbecome involved, since for the British this paper is objectiveand too influential; a paper which cannot be ignored.

Now that British silence has been revealed, world diplomacyhas been set in motion. And immediately the excuse for theinefficiency is transferred to those who did not ask thelocation of the crime to be placed under IFOR control, inother words on B-H and the International Tribunal in theHague. Is it possible, however, after all these events, andafter this cynicism, to expect the international community tobe consistent and to set in motion the mechanisms which willensure the control over the mass graves, thereby safeguardingthe evidence of Serbian crimes? It is especially important forthe Prijedor area which along with Srebrenica and Zepa hasseen, perhaps, the most massive persecution and executions ofnon-Serbs in B-H.

Where have the people disappeared to?

Prior to the war and according to the 1991 population censusthere were some 6,300 Croats, 49,454 Muslims, 47,745 Serbs and8,971 others, in other words a total of 112,470 inhabitants,in the Prijedor district. According to the population censuscarried out in 1993 by the "Serbian Republic" and published in"Kozarski vjesnik" on July 2, 1993, the Prijedor district had68,551 inhabitants of which "53,637 of Orthodox persuasion,6,124 Muslim and 3,169 Catholic". 4% of the total populationwere "others". Also included were 5,451 people who had movedto the area from elsewhere.

Therefore, even with the 5,451 new settlers there are still46,919 people missing. Where are they? For many of them it isknown that they ended up in prison camps such as Keraterm,Trnopolje, Omarska, Manjaca, Krings... or were murdered intheir villages, houses. The exact number of victims of theSerbian genocide will have to be determined by someone; bythis I primarily mean the international community and theInternational Tribunal for War Crimes.

When we know that the Prijedor area from the very first day ofthe aggression against B-H was under Serbian control, thatthere was practically no military conflict and that thevictims were exclusively civilians then there should be nospeculations.

Why has the international community not yet issued a requestfor the mass graves to be protected? According to thestatement made in Sarajevo on 14 January this year by an IFORspokesperson, so far there has been no official request sentto IFOR on the protection of the mass grave locations. Theyhave not yet received any from the International Tribunal inthe Hague. According to them it is the Tribunal which isobliged to send them a request.

Time will tell whether the international community will beconsistent in that which it prescribes and prevent thedestruction of evidence of Serbian crimes committed againstCroats and Muslims in B-H or whether these crimes will merelyserve as a means of discipline and pressure?

Witnesses to terrifying events

Every witness who comes from these regions has brought withhim terrifying stories each more horrifying than the other.

- During the night of April 30, 1992, about 2 a.m., the Serbscarried out a military coup and brought down the legallyelected authorities and established Serbian authority. In thisthey were aided by the former Yugoslav People's Army. Thefirst armed attack in this area started on May 22, 1992 about8 p.m. on the village of Hambarine which is exclusivelyinhabited by Muslims.

On this occasion two tanks, three armoured vehicles and some200 soldiers entered the village. Upon entering they startedto loot houses and set them on fire. Most of the inhabitantshad managed to flee to the woods on Mount Kurevo and to theCroatian village of Surkovac before the Serbs arrived. TheSerb units were commandeered by Zoran Karlica who was replacedby Rade Bilbija when he died. When they took the village, thevillage was looted and the men were taken to camps - statesone of the witnesses.

After the attack on Hambarine there followed attacks onRakovcani, Rizvanovici, Biscani, Carakovo, Jugovci and Zecovi.Kozarac was attacked on May 24 and it is know for certain thatmore than 200 people were killed in the attack. On May 31, anevent occurred, judged to have been instigated, which sparkedoff Serbian revenge over the Muslims and Croats in Prijedor.People were killed, thrown off roofs, massacred, executed.

With the first attacks also come the establishment of camps:Keraterm, Omarska and Trnopolje in which all men, between 16and 60 years of age, were deported. Some of the prisoners werelater sent to Manjaca and Batkovici and so it is thereforedifficult to say exactly how many were killed. However,according to information and testimonies available, severalthousand were killed. Maybe even more than eight thousand,states the Times.

- A terrifying date for us was July 20 when the Serbs attackedfrom the direction of Prijedor onto the area of MountMatarusko where there was a whole series of villages in whichMuslims lived. That day they started cleansing the area of thelocal inhabitants. Those who were not killed or who had notescaped to the Kurevo woods were taken to the camps by theSerbs.

In the Muslim village of Tukovi, the Serbs killed some twentyinhabitants and about fifty inhabitants of neighbouringvillages were taken to the camps of Keraterm, Trnopolje andOmarska. The direct commanders of the Serbs who carried outthe massacre were chetnik commanders Mico Jurisic and DraganPintar.

After Tukovi, the Serbs continued their mass killings in othervillages. Some of the inhabitants were killed on theirdoorsteps, and groups of people who were being led to assemblypoints were executed along the way. The assembly point for thepeople of Biscani was in the "Bijela Zemlja" area where twentymen were executed. In the village of Mrkalji, some fiftypeople were killed in front of the house of Smail Mrkalj,while behind the "Rio" cafe, several people were killed.Several men were also killed in Kadici in the house of EdhemKadic.

That day, the Serbs killed about 800 people. The same dayBranko Jesic fired at the mosque in Biscani and later burnt itdown. Commander Dragan Tintor cut the hand off Suljo Tatarevicbefore his small son and father and then killed him. The sonof Slavka Antonic killed twelve people in front of the mosquein Carakovo and he wrapped the still living Muslim priest in acarpet and set him on fire. They murdered and cleansed thearea until July 23, states the witness of Serbian crimes M.C.

Rampage against civilians

That day on July 23, the so-called 6th Krajina Brigade of theSerbian Army set off from the area of the Sanski Most districttoward the village of Stara Rijeka inhabited exclusively byCroats. The next morning they literally ran over Stara Rijeka,Brisevo, the entire Kurevo woods, Raljas. That morning, injust the village of Brisevo, 77 civilians were killed. M.I.testifies to this event.

- Early in the morning at 3.30 they started to shell thevillage with 120 mm shells. This lasted until 5 p.m. They werepositioned in Ostra Luka, Batkovci, Redak and Rasavci on MountDragisica Glavica. The Serbian Army entered the villagebetween 5 and 6 p.m.

They came in from two directions; the 6th Krajina Brigade fromthe direction of Stara Rijeka past Begic's house and membersof the 5th Kozara Brigade from the direction of Raljasi andLjubija. The next day, about 10 a.m., a part of the 6thKrajina Brigade started to descend from the houses of theBuzuk family over Mount Graorac towards the rivuletsStarjenica and Mustanica and at the same time, the other partof the brigade arrived from the direction of Atilijina kosaover Mounts Bjeljevac, Ivandica Glavica and MarijanovaGlavica. They met at the house of Pejo Dimac and Ilija Atilijaand killed them. Then the caught Milan Buzuk, took him to hisown house and tortured him and shot him in front of his motherVikica. They took out his eyes, cut off his ears and cut hismuscles. Then they killed Marko Buzuk.

All night they raped and tortured the local inhabitants; theSerbs from the neighbouring villages were the most vehement.Ivica Mlinar, Luka Mlinar and Jerko Ivandic were killed withpicks, shovels and poles. They cut open Zdravko Matanovic'sstomach and tied his hands up with his intestines. KajaKomljen was raped to death. Her breasts were bitten off, teethmarks could be seen. She was found naked on the field whereshe had been raped. We buried her there. All nine members ofthe Matanovic family were killed in the stream near the houseof Fabo, Anto and Mladen Matanovic. Mato (father Vinko) Buzukwas stabbed with a knife and his wife Marija was hanged. Twoelderly people were burned to death when their house was seton fire by Dusan Radulovic known as Cicin or Zuti.

The massacre operation in Brisevo was commandeered by VeljkoBrajic, who was subsequently promoted to the rank of colonel.The commander of the 6th Krajina Brigade was Colonel Basara,later promoted to the rank of a general of the Serbian Army.Basara's associate was Nedeljko Rasula of the village ofCaplje, in the Sanski Most district.

Graves - silent witnesses

The dead victims of the Serbs in the village of Brisevo wereburied by the inhabitants in the morning while the Serbs stillslept. All the inhabitants agreed not to leave the villageuntil they had buried their dead even if it meant dyingthemselves.

In Brisevo there are fourteen graves in which lie Croatcorpses. In seven of the graves there is just one corpse andin two there are three, in one there are four. There is onewith six corpses and two with seven. There is also one gravein which 20 people were buried in the middle of July.According to eye-witness accounts, there are more than twentymass graves in the wider area of the villages of Brisevo andStara Rijeka.

In the area known as Volaric, in the village of Surkovac,there are two mass graves. In one there are twelve Muslims whowere brought here from the Muslim villages along the SanaRiver. When the Serbs unloaded the bodies, they ordered thelocal Roms to dig two graves by the evening. About 9 p.m. theSerbs from the village of Miskina Glava came to check whetherthey had finished, then they killed the Roms, nine of them,and buried them in the second mass grave.

In the woods of Kurevo more than a hundred Muslim women,children and men were killed.

In the Serbian village of Miskina Glava, in the localcommunity hall, in three days, fifteen people were killed withknives or other blades.

Ljubija, a surface mine - 130 killed.

Trzna, sand excavation pits, is the location of the grave inwhich the villagers of Jugovci are buried, most of them withthe surnames Hegic and Alagic, about 120 people in all.

The mass graves in the area known as Sjuncara, by the RiverSana and in the area of Prijedorsko Polje and the village ofBiscani, is the location where, according to eyewitnessaccounts, several hundred people and maybe even more than athousand are buried.

The mass grave of the surface mine Tomasica is the locationwhere the victims of Barracks No. 3 of the Keraterm prisoncamp are buried, all 150 of them.

Then come the mass graves in the pits of the surface mines ofStara Rijeka and Omarska.

One of the larger mass graves may be found near the village ofLjeskar, in Dubocaj, where the Serbs assembled the bodies ofthe Croats and Muslims that they slaughtered between July 20and 25, 1992.

Serbs destroying evidence

After the decision of the UN Security Council to establish aTribunal which would try those accused of committing warcrimes in the area of the former Yugoslavia, the Serbianauthorities of the districts of Prijedor and Sanski Most andthe Ljubija area started to destroy traces of the crimescommitted in these areas during 1992 and 1993.

In this way, in the area called Dubocaj, on November 5 1992,the Serbs burnt the corpses of their victims. According toeyewitnesses, the odour spread to Raljasi 3.5 km away.

In the same way, between July 1 and 12, 1993, Serbianauthorities and members of the police blocked the roadSvoznica which links Ljubija with the southern villages ofBrisevo, Stara Rijeka, Batkovci, Garavica, Gornja and DonjaRavska and Ovanjska. Underground explosions could be felt(houses several kilometres away shook) and the work of largemining machines could be heard.

Twelve days later the road was re-opened and passers-bynoticed that the area where mass graves had previously beenlocated had been dug up and that earth and stones had beenfreshly unloaded. Eyewitnesses believe that the Serbs hadtaken out the remains of their victims' corpses and taken themto Prijedor, most probably to the Tomasica mines where thecorpses were ground down by the ore grinding machines.

However, according to some accounts given by people whoarrived from these parts in 1995, this is unlikely. Theybelieve instead this to be a diversion and that the corpseswere taken away and thrown into disused mines in the vicinityof Stara Rijeka. It is supposed that the remains of corpsesfrom other mass graves are buried in this new, collective massgrave. If this is proved true then this mass grave containsseveral thousand victims.

It is also interesting that one of the witnesses, who is fromthe village of Tomasica, was told by an active member of theSerbian Army, that Serbian authorities had during November1992removed the bodies from the Tomasica mine and taken them toKozarac where between May 24 and 25, 1992 they had carried outa pogrom against the Muslims

.From all this we may conclude that the Serbs buried theirvictims in mass graves in areas of Muslim or Croatianvillages.

According to eye-witnesses, Serbian civilians and militaryauthorities of Ljubija and Prijedor probably carried outsimilar actions on other known and unknown mass graves in theLjubija and Prijedor districts.

We must not remain silent

Concerning the co-operation of Croatia with the InternationalTribunal for determining crimes committed in the formerYugoslavia, Luka Gavranovic, an employee in the CroatianInformation Centre (CIC), states:

- The co-operation between the CIC and representatives of theInternational Tribunal in the Hague is developing alongseveral lines. The most significant of course is organisingcontacts between witnesses and International Tribunalresearchers.

We have placed our entire archive, all testimonies and eye-witness statements which we have collected at the disposal ofthe Tribunal. We have also participated in preparing meetingsbetween witnesses and the researchers, just as we co-operatedwith Bassioni's Commission.

We have enabled contacts with witnesses. We have also co-operated with journalists interested in the crimes committed.In this way we were able to give more information to the twoNew York Times journalists who had been imprisoned by theSerbs and then expelled from the areas where the crimes hadbeen committed.

And it was only when the article was published in the New YorkTimes that floods of questions appeared as to why these massgraves had not been protected so far. Why did members ofBritish IFOR units in these areas, who literally saw bodies ofmassacred people, not relay this information? Or did they?Because, it is only with the efforts of us all and with theaid of eye-witnesses who survived these crimes that we will beable to reconstruct these events.

And that is why we must all show special respect to thosepeople who have gathered up the courage to testify and torelive again their horrifying ordeal.

Translated by Vladimir Vuksan,