Location of Prijedor within Bosnia and Herzegovina
|Location||Prijedor, Bosnia and Herzegovina|
|Target||Bosniaks and Bosnian Croats|
|Perpetrators||Bosnian Serb forces|
The Prijedor massacre, also known as the Prijedor ethnic cleansing or the Prijedor genocide, refers to numerous war crimes committed during the Bosnian War by the Serb political and military leadership mostly against Bosniak civilians in the Prijedor region of Bosnia and Herzegovina. After the Srebrenica genocide, it is the second largest massacre committed during the war in 1992. According to the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Center (IDC), around 5,200 Bosniaks and Croats from Prijedor are missing or were killed during the massacre period, and around 14,000 people in the wider region of Prijedor (Pounje). As of October 2014[update], 96 mass graves have been located and around 2,100 victims have been identified, largely by DNA analysis.
Following Slovenia’s and Croatia’s declarations of independence in June 1991, the situation in the Prijedor municipality rapidly deteriorated. During the war in Croatia, the tension increased between the Serbs and the communities of Bosniaks and Croats.
Bosniaks and Croats began to leave the municipality because of a growing sense of insecurity and fear amongst the population which was caused by Serb propaganda which became increasingly visible. The municipal newspaper Kozarski Vjesnik started publishing allegations against the non-Serbs. The Serb media propagandised the idea that the Serbs had to arm themselves. Terms like Ustasha (Ustaše), Mujahideen (Mudžahedini) and Green Berets (Zelene beretke) were used widely in the press as synonyms for the non-Serb population. Radio Prijedor disseminated propaganda insulting Croats and Bosnian Muslims. As one result of the takeover of the transmitter station on Mount Kozara in August 1991 by the Serbian paramilitary unit the Wolves of Vučjak, TV Sarajevo was cut off. It was replaced by broadcasts from Belgrade and Banja Luka with interviews of Serb radical politicians and renditions of Serb nationalistic songs which would previously have been banned.
Political developments before the takeover
On 7 January 1992, the Serb members of the Prijedor Municipal Assembly and the presidents of the local Municipal Boards of the Serbian Democratic Party proclaimed the Assembly of the Serbian People of the Municipality of Prijedor and implemented secret instructions that were issued earlier on 19 December 1991. The "Organisation and Activity of Organs of the Serbian People in Bosnia and Herzegovina in Extraordinary Circumstances" provided a plan for the SDS take-over of municipalities in BiH, it also included plans for the creation of Crisis Staffs. Milomir Stakić, later convicted by ICTY of mass crimes against humanity against Bosniak and Croat civilians, was elected President of this Assembly. Ten days later, on 17 January 1992, the Assembly endorsed joining the Serbian territories of the Municipality of Prijedor to the Autonomous Region of Bosnian Krajina in order to implement creation of a separate Serbian state on ethnic Serbian territories.
On 23 April 1992, the Serbian Democratic Party decided inter alia that all Serb units immediately start working on the takeover of the municipality in co-ordination with the Yugoslav People's Army and units of the future Army of the Republika Srpska). By the end of April 1992, a number of clandestine Serb police stations were created in the municipality and more than 1,500 armed Serbs were ready to take part in the takeover.
A declaration on the takeover prepared by the Serb politicians from the Serbian Democratic Party was read out on Radio Prijedor the day after the takeover and was repeated throughout the day. When planning the anticipated takeover, it was decided that the 400 Serb policemen who would be involved in the takeover would be sufficient for the task. The objective of the takeover was to take over the functions of the president of the municipality, the vice-president of the municipality, the director of the post office, the chief of the police etc.
In the night of the 29/30 April 1992, the takeover of power took place. Employees of the public security station and reserve police gathered in Cirkin Polje, part of the town of Prijedor. Only Serbs were present and some of them were wearing military uniforms. The people there were given the task of taking over power in the municipality and were broadly divided into five groups. Each group of about twenty had a leader and each was ordered to gain control of certain buildings. One group was responsible for the Assembly building, one for the main police building, one for the courts, one for the bank and the last for the post-office.
The ICTY concluded that the takeover by the Serb politicians was as an illegal coup d'état, which was planned and coordinated a long time in advance with the ultimate aim of creating a pure Serbian municipality. These plans were never hidden and they were implemented in a coordinated action by the Serb police, army and politicians. One of the leading figures was Milomir Stakić, who came to play the dominant role in the political life of the Municipality.
Armed attacks against the civilians
After the takeover, civilian life was transformed in a myriad of ways. Tension and fear increased significantly among the non-Serb population in Prijedor municipality. There was a marked increase in the military presence of Serb formations in the town of Prijedor. Armed soldiers were placed on top of all the high rise buildings in Prijedor town and the Serb police established checkpoints throughout the town of Prijedor.
In the Stakić case, the ICTY concluded that many people were killed during the attacks by the Serb army on predominantly Bosnian Muslim villages and towns throughout the Prijedor municipality and several massacres of Bosnian Muslims took place and that a comprehensive pattern of atrocities against Bosnian Muslims in Prijedor municipality in 1992 had been proved beyond reasonable doubt.
After the takeover, Radio Prijedor propagated Serb nationalistic ideas characterising prominent non-Serbs as criminals and extremists who should be punished for their behaviour. One example of such propaganda was the derogatory language used for referring to non-Serbs such as Mujahideen, Ustaše or Green Berets. Both the printed and broadcast media also spread what can be only considered as blatant lies according to the ICTY conclusion about non-Serb doctors: Dr. Mirsad Mujadžić of the Bosniak ethnic group was accused of injecting drugs into Serb women making them incapable of giving birth to male children and Dr. Željko Sikora, a Croat, referred to as the Monster Doctor, was accused of making Serb women abort if they were pregnant with male children and of castrating the male babies of Serbian parents. Moreover, in a "Kozarski Vjesnik" article dated 10 June 1992, Dr. Osman Mahmuljin was accused of deliberately having provided incorrect medical care to his Serb colleague Dr. Živko Dukić, who had a heart attack. Dr. Dukić’s life was saved only because Dr. Radojka Elenkov discontinued the therapy allegedly initiated by Dr. Mahmuljin. The appeals were broadcast aimed at the Serbs to lynch the non-Serbs. Moreover, forged biographies of prominent non-Serbs, including Prof. Muhamed Ćehajić, Mr. Crnalić, Dr. Eso Sadiković and Dr. Osman Mahmuljin, were broadcast. According to ICTY conclusion in Stakić verdict Mile Mutić, the director of Kozarski Vjesnik and the journalist Rade Mutić regularly attended meetings of Serb politicians (local authorities) in order to get informed about next steps of spreading propaganda.
Strengthening of Serb forces
In the weeks following the takeover, the Serb authorities in Prijedor worked to strengthen their position militarily in accordance with decisions adopted on the highest levels. On May 12, 1992, the self-appointed Assembly of the Serbian People established the Serbian Army under Ratko Mladić’s command by bringing together former JNA (later Army of Serbia and Montenegro and Army of Republika Srpska) units.
Major Radmilo Željaja issued an ultimatum calling for all Bosniak citizens to hand over their weapons to the Serbian Army and to declare their loyalty to the Serbian Republic and to respond to the mobilisation call-ups. The ultimatum issued also contained a threat that any resistance would be punished. For the most part, the civilian population complied with these requests turning in their hunting rifles and pistols as well as their permits and in the belief that if they handed in their weapons they would be safe. House searches performed by soldiers of the homes of the non-Serb population were common and any weapons found were confiscated.
Marking of non-Serb houses
Many non-Serbs were dismissed from their jobs in the period after the takeover. The general tendency is reflected in a decision of the Serb regional authorities i.e. Crisis Staff of the Autonomous Region of Krajina (ARK) dated 22 June 1992, which provides that all socially-owned enterprises, joint-stock companies, state institutions, public utilities, Ministries of the Interior, and the Army of the Serbian Republic may only be held by personnel of Serbian nationality.
The announcements broadcast on the radio also obliged non-Serbs to hang a white cloth outside their homes as a demonstration of their loyalty to the Serbian authorities. Charles McLeod, who was with the ECMM and visited Prijedor municipality in the last days of August 1992, testified that while visiting a mixed Serb/Bosnian Muslim village he saw that the Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) houses were identified by a white flag on the roof. This is corroborated by the testimony of Barnabas Mayhew (ECMM), who testified that the Bosnian Muslim houses were marked with white flags in order to distinguish them from the Serb houses.
Attack on Hambarine
Hambarine was predominantly Bosniak village in Prijedor municipality. On 22 May 1992, Serb controlled Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) issued an ultimatum to the residents of Hambarine. The residents were to surrender several individuals alleged involved in attack on JNA. The ultimatum was not complied with and around noon the next day the shelling of Hambarine began. The shelling came from three directions from the north-west in the Karane area, from the area of Urije and from the area of Topic Hill. There were two or three Serb tanks and approximately a thousand soldiers during the attack. The bombardment of Hambarine continued until about 15:00. The Bosniak residents tried to defend the village, but they were forced to flee to other villages or to the Kurevo woods to escape the shelling. There were approximately 400 refugees, mostly women, children and elderly people, who fled Hambarine as a result of the attack that saw the Serb soldiers kill, rape and torch houses. A military operation was consequently concentrated on the Kurevo forest.
Attack on Kozarac
The area of Kozarac, surrounding Kozarac town, comprises several villages, including Kamičani, Kozaruša, Susici, Brđani, Babići. Before the Bosnian War approximately 98 to 99% of the inhabitants of Kozarac were Bosniaks, and the rest of the population were Gypsies, Ukrainians, Croats and Serbs.
After the Serb takeover of Prijedor, the population of Kozarac tried to control the perimeter of their town and organized patrols. After the attack on Hambarine, another ultimatum was issued for the town of Kozarac. Radmilo Željaja delivered the ultimatum on Radio Prijedor, threatening to raze Kozarac to the ground if residents failed to comply. Following the ultimatum, negotiations took place between the Bosniak and the Serb sides which were unsuccessful. Stojan Župljanin, later accused of war crimes by ICTY and one of the most wanted fugitive besides Radovan Karadžić and Ratko Mladić, who led the Serb delegation, said that, unless his conditions were met, the army would take Kozarac by force. As of May 21, 1992, the Serb inhabitants of Kozarac started to leave the town. Kozarac was subsequently surrounded and the phone lines were disconnected. On the night of 22 and 23 May 1992, detonations could be heard in the direction of Prijedor and fires could be seen in the area of Hambarine.
The attack started on 25 May 1992 and ended on 27 May at 13:00 hrs. A military convoy comprising two columns approached Kozarac, and its soldiers opened fire on the houses and checkpoints and, at the same time, shells were fired from the hills. The shooting was aimed at people fleeing from the area. The shelling was intense and unrelenting. Over 5,000 Serb soldiers and combatants participated in the attack. Serb forces included the 343rd Motorised Brigade (an enlarged motorized battalion) supported by two 105 mm howitzer batteries and one M-84 tank squadron. After the shelling, Serb forces shot people in their homes and that those who surrendered were taken to a soccer stadium of Kozarac where some men were randomly shot. After the people had been killed or fled their homes, the soldiers set fire to the houses. There was extensive destruction of property in Kozarac as a result of the attack. The houses had been not only destroyed, but leveled to the ground using heavy machinery. The medical centre in Kozarac was damaged during the attack. The attack continued until May 26, 1992 when it was agreed that the people should leave the territory of Kozarac. A large number of people in Kozarac surrendered that day. The Serb authorities explained that all those who wished to surrender should form a convoy and that a ceasefire would be in effect during this period. It was later learned that when the convoy, which left that day, reached the Banja Luka-Prijedor road the women and men were separated. The women were taken to Trnopolje and the men to Omarska and Keraterm concentration camps, which shocked the world when BBC reporters discovered them. A large numbers of women and children arrived in Prijedor on the day of the attack. The Prijedor intervention platoon, led by Dado Mrđa, Zoran Babić and others intervened and began to mistreat the women and children. Some time later in that day, buses arrived, and they ordered women and children to board these buses for Trnopolje camp.
No wounded had been allowed out of Kozarac. For example, according to Dr. Merdžanić's testimony before ICTY he had not been given permission to arrange the evacuation of two injured children, one of whom had her legs completely shattered, and he had instead been told that all the "dirty Muslims" (in Serbian language: balija) should die there, as they would be killed in any event. In the attack at least 100 people were killed, and 1,500 deported to concentration camps. A report sent by colonel Dragan Marčetić to the Serb Army Main Staff dated May 27, 1992 states that the wider area of Kozarac village, i.e. the area of the village of Kozaruša, Trnopolje, Donji Jakupovići, Gornji Jakupovići, Benkovac, Rakovic has been entirely freed of Bosniaks (80–100 Bosniaks were killed, about 1,500 captured and around 100–200 persons were at large on Mt. Kozara).
The Report of the Commission of Experts in Bosnia v. Serbia Genocide Case before the International Court of Justice states that the attack on Kozarac lasted three days and caused many villagers to flee to the forest while the soldiers were shooting at ‘every moving thing’. Survivors calculated that at least 2,000 villagers were killed in that period. The villagers’ defence fell on May 26. Serbs then reportedly announced that the villagers had 10 minutes to reach the town’s soccer stadium. However, many people were shot in their homes before given a chance to leave. One witness reported that several thousand people tried to surrender by carrying white flags, but three Serb tanks opened fire on them, killing many.
Keraterm factory was set up as a camp on or around 23/24 May 1992. There were four rooms in the camp, Room 2 being the largest and Room 3 the smallest. By late June 1992, there were about 1,200 people in the camp. Every day people were brought in or taken away from the camp. The numbers increased considerably by late July. The detainees were mostly Bosnian Muslims and to a lesser extent Croats. The detainees slept on wooden pallets used for the transport of goods or on bare concrete in a big storage room. The conditions were cramped and people often had to sleep on top of each other. In June 1992, Room 1 held 320 people and the number continued to grow. The detainees were given one meal a day, made up of two small slices of bread and some sort of stew. The rations were insufficient for the detainees.
The Omarska mines complex was located about 20 km from the town of Prijedor. The first detainees were taken to the camp sometime in late May 1992 (between 26 and 30 May). The camp buildings were almost completely full and some of the detainees had to be held on the area between the two main buildings. That area was lit up by specially installed spot-lights after the detainees arrived. Female detainees were held separately in the administrative building. According to the Serb authorities documents from Prijedor, there were a total of 3,334 persons held in the camp from 27 May to 16 August 1992. 3,197 of them were Bosniaks (i.e. Bosnian Muslims), 125 were Croats.
With the arrival of the first detainees, permanent guard posts were established around the camp, and anti-personnel landmines were set up around the camp. The conditions in the camp were horrible. In the building known as the "White House", the rooms were crowded with 45 people in a room no larger than 20 square meters. The faces of the detainees were distorted and bloodstained and the walls were covered with blood. From the beginning, the detainees were beaten, with fists, rifle butts and wooden and metal sticks. The guards mostly hit the heart and kidneys, when they had decided to beat someone to death. In the "garage", between 150-160 people were "packed like sardines" and the heat was unbearable. For the first few days, the detainees were not allowed out and were given only a jerry can of water and some bread. Men would suffocate during the night and their bodies would be taken out the following morning. The room behind the restaurant was known as "Mujo’s Room". The dimensions of this room were about 12 by 15 metres and the average number of people detained there was 500, most of whom were Bosniaks. The women in the camp slept in the interrogations rooms, which they would have to clean each day as the rooms were covered in blood and pieces of skin and hair. In the camp one could hear the moaning and wailing of people who were being beaten up.
The detainees at Omarska had one meal a day. The food was usually spoiled and the process of getting the food, eating and returning the plate usually lasted around three minutes. Meals were often accompanied by beatings. The toilets were blocked and there was human waste everywhere. Ed Vulliamy, a British journalist, testified that when he visited the camp, the detainees were in a very poor physical condition. He witnessed them eating a bowl of soup and some bread and said that he had the impression they had not eaten in a long time. They appeared to be terrified. The detainees drank water from a river that was polluted with industrial waste and many suffered from constipation or dysentery. No criminal report was ever filed against persons detained in the Omarska camp, nor were the detainees apprised of any concrete charges against them. Apparently, there was no objective reason justifying these people’s detention. The Omarska camp was closed immediately after a visit by foreign journalists in early August.On 6 or 7 August 1992, the detainees at Omarska were divided into groups and transported in buses to different destinations. About 1,500 people were transported on 20 buses.
The Trnoplje camp was set up in the village of Trnoplje on 24 May 1992. The camp was guarded on all sides by the Serb army. There were machine-gun nests and well-armed posts pointing their guns towards the camp. There were several thousand people detained in the camp, the vast majority of whom were Bosnian Muslim and some of them were Croats. According to approximation, on 7 August 1992 there were around 5,000 people detained there. Women and children were detained at the camp as well as men of military age. The camp population had a high turnover with many people staying for less than a week in the camp before joining one of the many convoys to another destination or concentration camps. The quantity of food available was insufficient and people often went hungry. Moreover, the water supply was insufficient and the toilet facilities inadequate. The majority of the detainees slept in the open air. The Serb soldiers used baseball bats, iron bars, rifle butts and their hands and feet or whatever they had at their disposal to beat the detainees. Individuals were who taken out for questioning would often return bruised or injured. Many women who were detained at the Trnopolje camp were taken out of the camp at night by Serb soldiers and raped or sexually assaulted.
Slobodan Kuruzović, the commander of the Trnopolje camp, estimated that between 6,000 and 7,000 people passed through the camp in 1992. Those who passed through the camp were not guilty of any crime. The International Red Cross arrived in the camp in mid-August 1992. A few days later the detainees were registered and received a registration booklet. The camp was officially closed down on September 30, although there is evidence to suggest that some 3,500 remained for a longer period, until they were transferred to Travnik in Central Bosnia.
Other detention facilities
There were also other facilities in Prijedor which were used to detain Bosniak and other non-Serb people. Such detention facilities included Yugoslav People's Army barracks, Miška Glava Community Centre and police building in Prijedor known as SUP building.
The JNA barracks in Prijedor were known as the Žarko Zgonjanin barracks. They were used as a transition detention center. Some people who were fleeing the cleansing of Bišćani were trapped by Serb soldiers and taken to a command post at Miška Glava. The next morning they were called out, interrogated and beaten. This pattern continued for four or five days. Several men from the village of Rizvanovići were taken out by soldiers and have not been seen since. Around 100 men were arrested in the woods near Kalajevo by JNA soldiers and reserve police and taken to the Miška Glava cultural club. The detention cells were located behind the main SUP building (police building). There was also a courtyard where people were called out at night and beaten up. Prisoners detained in this building were also regularly threatened and insulted. Guards would curse them by calling them "balija", a derogative term for Muslim peasants of low origin.
Killings in the camps
Numerous killings, both inside and outside the camps were committed during the Prijedor ethnic cleansing.
On the basis of the evidence presented at the Stakić trial, the Trial Chamber finds that over a hundred people were killed in late July 1992 in the Omarska camp. Around 200 people from Hambarine arrived in the Omarska camp sometime in July 1992. They were initially accommodated in the structure known as the White House. Early in the morning, around 01:00 or 02:00 on 17 July 1992, gunshots were heard that continued until dawn. Dead bodies were seen in front of the White House. The camp guards, one of whom was recognised as Živko Marmat, were shooting rounds into the bodies. Everyone was given an extra bullet that was shot in their heads. The bodies were then loaded onto a truck and taken away. There were about 180 bodies in total.
On 24 July 1992, the massacre at the Keraterm camp, known as the Room 3 massacre was committed as one of the first larger massacres committed inside the camp. New Bosniak detainees from the earlier-cleansed Brdo area were incarcerated in Room 3. For the first few days, the detainees were denied food as well as being subjected to beatings and abuse. On the day of the massacre, a large number of Serb soldiers arrived in the camp, wearing military uniforms and red berets. A machine-gun was placed in front of Room 3. That night, bursts of shooting and moans could be heard coming from Room 3. A machine gun started firing. The next morning there was blood on the walls in Room 3. There were piles of bodies and wounded people. The guards opened the door and said: "Look at these foolish dirty Muslims – they have killed each other". The area outside Room 3 was covered with blood. A truck arrived and one man from Room 1 volunteered to assist with loading the bodies onto the truck. Soon after, the truck with all the bodies left the compound. The volunteer from Room 1 reported that there were 128 dead bodies on the truck. As the truck left, blood could be seen dripping from it. Later that day, a fire engine arrived to clean Room 3 and the surrounding area.
- List of massacres in Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Role of the media in the Yugoslav wars
- Serbian war crimes in the Yugoslav Wars
- Trahan (2006), p. 178
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