No End to Sanski Most Pain
Author: Merdijana Sadovic, The Hague
Uploaded: Friday, 17 September, 2004
IWPR reports how Krajisnik trial witness breaks down as he recalls wartime horrors in Sanski Most and the lingering effects of Bosnian Serb extremist policy.
When he entered the Hague tribunal courtroom this week, there was nothing
about witness Faik Biscevic to suggest that his testimony would take the
court by surprise and result in the trial against Bosnian Serb leader
Momcilo Krajisnik adjourning a day ahead of schedule.
Biscevic, a strongly-built 64-year-old with a pleasant face framed by
receding white hair, seemed calm and focused on September 6 as he began his
testimony on how Bosnian Muslims were murdered and driven out of the north
western Bosnian town of Sanski Most.
But his increasingly harrowing testimony culminated in a surprise rush of
emotion for the Serb people whose leaders had originally cleansed his
hometown of Sanski Most.
Citing ‘new evidence’ brought up by the testimony, Krajisnik's defence team
asked for and was granted more time to prepare before cross-examining the
Before the war broke out in Bosnia, Biscevic, a dentist by profession, was a
wealthy man and a distinguished member of Sanski Most's ethnically mixed
community. He also served as the local leader of the Democratic Action
Party, SDA, which represented mainly Bosnian Muslims.
Biscevic told how his colleague Nedeljko Rasula - leader of the local branch
of the Serbian Democratic Party, SDS and later mayor of Sanski Most - was a
close associate of the defendant Krajisnik.
In one photograph shown in the courtroom this week, Rasula stands proudly in
the company of Krajisnik and one the tribunal's most wanted fugitives,
former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, and other senior party
officials on the day the local SDS branch was established in early 1991.
Relations between the two men and their parties initially seemed good, but
Biscevic testified that Rasula would at least once a week go to Sarajevo and
Banja Luka, the cities where the SDS leadership was based. ‘We never doubted
for a second that he was consulting someone from a higher level,’ the
Biscevic described how the situation in his town deteriorated as the year
progressed and the SDS in Sanski Most municipality, backed by the
Serb-controlled Yugoslav National Army, JNA, began distributing weapons to
‘JNA helicopters were landing in Serb villages, and a bus with thin metal
plates instead of glass windows was regularly delivering weapons to Serb
citizens,’ Biscevic told the court, claiming that on one occasion, Rasula
told Serbs in a nearby village that ‘in just two hours’ he could ‘provide
them with enough weapons to keep them fighting for five years’.
The prosecution hopes that testimony such as this one will help them prove
that Krajisnik - the senior SDS figure and later speaker of the Bosnian Serb
parliament - planned and coordinated the takeover of municipalities in
Bosnia along with other SDS leaders.
Their ultimate goal, according to the indictment, was to create a Serb state
in Bosnia which would be free of other ethnic groups.
Sanski Most fell to the Serbs on May 26, 1992, after the majority Muslim
area of the town had sustained a full day of heavy shelling. Biscevic was
arrested the following day.
Displaying no visible emotion, the witness told the court how he was first
taken to the village of Magarice, where the Serb army was based, and was
beaten so severely that his ‘handcuffs fell off’. After the beating, he was
taken to the Serb-controlled radio station in Sanski Most where he was
forced to read a prepared announcement.
As evidence, the prosecution presented two audio recordings of the
statements Biscevic read out at the time.
In the recording, a radio presenter announced Biscevic as ‘the biggest
Muslim extremist, finally caught by Serb forces’.
A shaky voice, which Biscevic confirmed was his own, then said, ‘I call on
all Muslims and Croats to turn over their weapons to the legal Serb
authorities, so that the shelling, for which I am solely responsible, can
‘We are to blame for everything that happened and the Serb Army was forced
to do this [shell the town] because of our behaviour.’
While listening to the recording, Biscevic remained still and calm. On the
other side of the courtroom, the defendant was every bit as composed.
Krajisnik - smartly dressed in a dark suit, crisp blue shirt and a matching
tie - sat still, occasionally taking notes, pressing a hand against his
bushy eyebrows. He rarely looked at the witness.
After his unwilling appearance on the radio, Biscevic said he was taken to
the central prison in Sanski Most and then to the notorious Manjaca camp -
one of many in the area where Bosnian Muslims were starved, tortured and
killed, their bodies buried in mass graves which are still being discovered
in the area.
Two of Biscevic's three sons were also transported to Manjaca. They never
When prosecutor Mark Harmon asked the witness to describe how the loss of
his two sons had affected his family, the first hints of emotion showed on
Biscevic's face. He sighed, and swallowed hard.
‘We live because we have to,’ he said simply.
‘We are not dead, but it's as if we were. We don't know where our sons are
buried, and all we do