Serb Witness Tells of Banja Luka "Terror"
|Publisher||Institute for War and Peace Reporting|
|Publication Date||31 May 2010|
|Cite as||Institute for War and Peace Reporting, Serb Witness Tells of Banja Luka "Terror", 31 May 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c0662f88.html [accessed 7 October 2015]|
By yigal Created 31 May 10 Former security service inspector says members of Serb unit were "masters of life and death" in the town.
The Hague tribunal trial of two former Bosnian Serb police officials heard last week about the "terror" inflicted on the non-Serb population by the Serbian Defence Force, SOS, in Banja Luka in April 1992.
Prosecution witness Predrag Radulovic, a former inspector with the state security service, SDB, of Republika Srpska, RS, told the trial of Mico Stanisic and Stojan Zupljanin that members of the SOS armed formation were "beasts in uniform" and "masters of life and death" in Banja Luka.
Zupljanin, who became an adviser to the Bosnian Serb president and Hague indictee Radovan Karadzic in 1994, is accused of extermination, murder, persecution, and deportation of non-Serbs in northwestern Bosnia between April and December 1992.
Stanisic is charged with the murder, torture and cruel treatment of non-Serb civilians, as well as for his failure to prevent or punish crimes committed by his subordinates.
Stanisic and Zupljanin are alleged to have participated in a joint criminal enterprise aimed at the permanent removal of non-Serbs from the territory of an intended Serbian state. They are accused of crimes committed between April 1 and December 31, 1992, in 20 municipalities throughout Bosnia, including Banja Luka.
According to the indictment, the two accused are held responsible for "imposing and maintaining restrictive measures against Bosnian Muslims and Croats", having thereby perpetrated persecution on a political, racial or religious basis, which is qualified as a crime against humanity.
Both defendants whose indictments were joined together in September 2008 have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Radulovic, an ethnic Serb, was testifying for the first time at the tribunal. At the beginning of the Bosnian war, in the spring of 1992, he was an inspector with the SDB, which came under the Centre of Security Services, CSB, in Banja Luka.
At the beginning of his testimony, Radulovic who is a trained lawyer - told the judges that Zupljanin had called him by phone from the tribunal and asked him to be a member of his defence team, which he refused. He did not say when the offer was made.
The witness said that in 1992, he was the chief of an operating group within the SDB which was acting in secret, signing reports with the codewords "Milos", "Sigma" or "Pukovnik".
The reports written by his group were not only sent to superiors in the Bosnian Serb interior ministry, but also - "with identical contents" - to the SDB of Serbia, Radulovic said.
Reports shown by the prosecution in court last week contained information about the activity of the SOS forces.
Radulovic said that in early April 1992 SOS troops had taken over all the important institutions in Banja Luka, blocked access to the city, set up control points and were "masters of life and death" and "a source of fear and terror" for the inhabitants.
In an SDB report from early April 1992, SOS units were described as "armed formations of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS)", which exerted pressure on military and civilian authorities and which gave people loyal to this party key positions, despite the fact that they "had neither professional nor moral qualifications for these jobs".
"Do the reports you wrote include information on what happened to non-Serb civilians in 1992?" Prosecutor Matthew Olmsted asked.
"Of course, I didn't differentiate between the victims. For me they all had the same status and I respected them all as tragic victims," Radulovic said.
Radulovic said that he always intended to inform Zupljanin, either in writing or in person, on all the crimes committed by police, army and other bodies, whenever he had found out about these crimes, not just in Banja Luka, but throughout Bosnia.
Radulovic told the court that Zupljanin received written reports at police management meetings and that on numerous occasions they even spoke about some of the events.
"The first time we spoke about this was when in the Doboj area I had noticed that members of the special unit of the Banja Luka police had committed certain crimes. I informed Stojan Zupljanin about that both in writing and personally in his office," he said.
On September 16, 1991, the SDS proclaimed a Serb autonomous entity in the Krajina region of northwestern Bosnia, ARK.
According to the indictment, Zupljanin was a member of the ARK's crisis headquarters in Banja Luka.
"Were you ever threatened because of that by anyone from the RS interior ministry?" Olmsted asked.
"Sure, people in the Milos team faced various problems. They were harassed and arrested I was personally harassed, too," he replied.
Radulovic added that he was considered a "traitor", and that he often faced threats. "Not just me, even my children. They even sent funeral shoes to my doorstop and threatened me by saying they'd put bombs into my children's mouths," he said.
The prosecutor returned to the SOS units and asked the witness who their members were. Radulovic answered they were "local criminals with a thick pedigree in police records".
"They committed everything, even the most heinous crimes: murder, rape, beating. They were beasts in uniform," he said.
According to SDB intelligence data in a document presented to the court and written by Radulovic and members of the Milos team, SOS chief Ljuban Ecim was personally close to Karadzic.
The former Bosnian Serb president is charged with crimes of genocide, persecution, extermination, murder and forcible transfer, which "contributed to achieving the objective of the permanent removal of Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from Bosnian Serb-claimed territory".
"In mid or late 1992, we found out that Karadzic had a close relationship with Ljuban Ecim and his family," the witness said.
Speaking of SOS members, the witness said that it was not only the non-Serbs who feared them, but also local Serbs who "didn't suit them".
"They became masters of life and death, the fear of the whole city. Banja Luka was literally kept under siege by their horrors," Radulovic said.
"Did they commit crimes against non-Serb residents?" the prosecutor asked.
"Yes, they harassed them and took everything they wanted. They even committed rape," the witness asked.
Radulovic said that the police had sufficient resources to stop
these actions, but did not react.
Members of SOS units were even officially incorporated into the Banja Luka CSB and became a part of the special purposes unit, he said.
When Radulovic once protested against this decision, Zupljanin allegedly told him that they were "Serb knights".
According to the indictment, "Stojan Zupljanin is criminally liable for crimes committed in the period April 1, 1992 to December 31, 1992 in the municipalities of Banja Luka, Donji Vakuf, Kljuc, Kotor Varos, Prijedor, Sanski Most, Skender Vakuf and Teslic (the Ark municipalities)".
The indictment says that "Zupljanin had operational control over the subordinate municipal and regional members and agents of the RS MUP (interior ministry) in the ARK municipalities. He made decisions for the subordinate units; assigned tasks to subordinates; issued orders, instructions and directives; ensured the implementation of his orders and orders issued by the RS MUP and bore full responsibility for their completion".
"Did [SOS units] continue carrying out crimes after they had joined the police?" the prosecutor asked.
"Of course, not just in Banja Luka, but also elsewhere, in Kotor Varos, Doboj, Sanski Most and other places," Radulovic answered.
Asked who their superior was once they joined the police structure, Radulovic answered, "De facto, it was Stojan Zupljanin, and later, I think they were commanded by the new chief of the SDB, Dragan Kijac."
Stanisic surrendered to the Hague tribunal in March 2005. Zupljanin remained in hiding until June of the same year, when he was arrested in the town of Pancevo, just outside the Serbian capital Belgrade.
The trial continues this week.
Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.