UN did nothing in face of concentration camps
by Vjera Bogati
The UN peacekeeping forces' Zagreb headquarters received information about the possible existence of Bosnian detention camps a month before the story broke in early August 1992, the court heard last week [early February 2003]. However, ‘absolutely nothing had been undertaken’, witness Charles Kirudja told the court.
On 3 July 1992 Kirudja - who was coordinator for civilian affairs with the UN Protection Area North in central Croatia - sent a memo to his superiors in Zagreb citing ‘information about alleged concentration camps in Keraterm, Trnopolje, Omarska, Manjača and other places’ in north-west Bosnia.
Kirudja was testifying as a prosecution witness at the trial of Radoslav Brdjanin, a former Bosnian Serb deputy who is accused of genocide against non-Serbs. The witness said that the only reaction to his report was a ‘recommendation’ by the commander of the UN peacekeepers, Satish Nambiar, to use the term ‘detention centres’ instead of ‘concentration camps’. The content of the memorandum, he said, was then ‘leaked’ to the public, and ‘an inquiry was initiated from the seat of UN in New York as to how the information had reached the general public’.
However, reporters decided to verify the allegations. In August 1992, shocking reports and pictures of the detainees in Trnopolje and Omarska were shown to the world. In the period between Kirudja's memo and the arrival of the reporters at the camps, some of the gravest crimes were committed in Keraterm and Omarska. More than 150 Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) detainees in the former were killed in one night. A large number also died in Omarska. Following the journalists' discovery, the Bosnian Serb authorities closed down the two most notorious camps.
The witness then told the court that UN forces in UNPA North were able to witness a massive exodus of non-Serbs from north-west Bosnia that began in May 1992. The Bosnian Serb authorities asked the UN to help the evacuation of the Bosniak population that was allegedly voluntarily leaving the municipalities of Bosanski Novi, Sanski Most, Prijedor, Ključ, Bosanska Krupa and others.
‘I found it unusual that so many people wanted to desert their homes,’ said Kirudja. On 27 May 1992 he met the mayors of Bosanski Novi and Dvor na Uni, who wanted the UN forces to secure a safe passage for 5,000 refugees. Kirudja was told that these people were leaving because they did not want to fight and were in fear of being drafted into ‘Alija's [Izetbegović’s] forces’.
Similar requests were being repeated in the coming months when thousands of refugees crossed Bosnia's western border into Croatia. ‘At that point you could already call it ethnic cleansing,’ said Kirudja. The displaced persons had told him that they had been forced to sign statements saying that they were leaving voluntarily and renounced their property, he said. ‘These people knew where we were and expected our help,’ said the witness. He explained that he was frustrated by the fact that UN forces ‘could not do anything except writing reports’.
In a report from autumn 1992, Kirudja noted that 30,000 people had crossed the border between Bosnia and Croatia. ‘If the tendency continues, there is a risk that 200,000 Muslims be displaced in the same manner,’ he wrote. Authorities from Prijedor, Sanski Most and Bosanska Krupa continued asking for the UN's help in ‘evacuating’ the refugees.
Although warned that the international community would not condone such practice, the Bosnian Serbs seemed ‘determined to see their plan through, with or without the UN's help,’ said Kirudja, adding that all the officials he spoke to used almost identical explanations for what seemed to be a planned policy.
Having observed the movements of the representatives of the Serb authorities in his sector of Croatia, he concluded that they were being coordinated in Knin, while those in north-west Bosnia seemed to be organised from Banja Luka, where the regional crisis staff headed by Brdjanin was based. The coordination centre for them all was in Belgrade, the witness added.
Vjera Bogati is an IWPR correspondent in The Hague and a journalist with SENSE news agency. This report appeared in IWPR'S Tribunal Update No. 300, 10-15 February 2003. See www.iwpr.net