Dr Idriz Merdzanic from Prijedor says that after Radovan Karadzic invited foreign journalists to visit the prison camps to see that they in fact didn’t exist, he issued an order that was a ‘death sentence’ for hundreds of prisoners in Keraterm, Omarska and Trnopolje

Idriz Merdzanic, witness at the Radovan Karadzic trialIdriz Merdzanic, witness at the Radovan Karadzic trial

Dr Idriz Merdzanic from Prijedor is testifying at the trial of Radovan Karadzic. From late May to the end of September 1992, Merdzanic was detained in Trnopolje. Merdzanic’s previous testimony at the trial of Milomir Stakic in 2002 was admitted into evidence at Karadzic’s trial. The witness has now added more information about the preparations for the journalists’ visit to the prison camps in the Serb-controlled area.

According to the witness, after Karadzic promised the journalists that he would allow them to visit the prison camps to see that they in fact didn’t exist, he issued an order to ‘prepare and clean up’ the prison camps in Keraterm, Omarska and Trnopolje. ‘This order was a death sentence for many prisoners’, Merdzanic said, adding that there were ‘so many’ prisoners that the Serb authorities obviously didn’t know ‘what to do with them’.

In the case of Keraterm, a decision was made to transfer some of the prisoners to Trnopolje and to simply kill the rest, Merdzanic recounted. The Serb forces took some of the prisoners away. A machine gun was placed in front of a hangar that was to be emptied. The hangar gate was opened and about 100 persons were shot to death. Enes Crljenkovic survived the massacre and could give more details about it, Merdzanic told the judges.

The Omarska prison camp was made ready for the arrival of journalists: a number of prisoners were transferred to Manjaca and the women and children were taken to Trnopolje. A number of prisoners were ‘hidden’ and were transported to Trnopolje after the journalists left. Military beds with bed linen were provided for the small number of prisoners who remained in Omarska. These prisoners were shown to the journalists.

The Trnopolje prison camp was already full by the time the journalists’ visit was scheduled and several convoys were organized to make space for the prisoners arriving from Omarska and Keraterm. The women and children who had been brought to Trnopolje from Omarska were transferred to Prijedor in those convoys. The convoys for the first time included men; some of them were taken off a convoy and killed on Mount Vlasic.

In the cross-examination, Karadzic suggested that the witness was ‘adapting’ his evidence to fit the accused at whose trial he testified. Karadzic asked Merdzanic to explain why in his previous testimony he didn’t mention Karadzic’s order which was ‘a death sentence for hundreds of persons’ in the prison camps. ‘Because I wasn’t asked about it directly and I was not at your trial’, the witness replied.

Merdzanic says it ‘was not difficult to put together two and two’: given that Karadzic had personally promised to the journalists that they could come and visit prison camps it was obvious he was the only one who could have informed the Prijedor authorities about their visit. ‘I don’t claim he did or didn’t order those men to be killed; I only claim that this decision was a death sentence for the prisoners’, the witness explained.

Karadzic will continue his cross-examination of Dr Merdzanic tomorrow.