Safet Taci from Prijedor described what he saw during the massacre in the notorious Room 3 in Keraterm prison camp. In late July 1992, about 150 non-Serb prisoners were killed there. Taci was detained in a room next door. Mladic finds fault with blood pressure measurement procedure

Safet Taci, witness at the Ratko Mladic trialSafet Taci, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial

The working week at the trial of Ratko Mladic began this morning with the evidence of Safet Taci, a victim of crimes in Prijedor and witness of one of the worst mass murders in the war in BH. Before the conflict broke out, Taci returned from Zagreb, where he had been working, to the village of Hrnjici in the Prijedor area in a bid to get his wife and children out of there. Soon afterwards, Taci and hundreds of non-Serb civilians were arrested and brought to the Keraterm prison camp.

Taci was placed in Room 2. There were already about 500 Muslim and Croat prisoners in there; their ages ranged from 16 to 70. The room was overcrowded, Taci said. Some prisoners had been severely beaten, the hygienic conditions were terrible, the people crawled with lice and the walls were damp from the heat. The worst crime in the Keraterm prison camp happened in the night of 24 July 1992 when about 150 prisoners from Room 3 were killed, the indictment alleges.

The witness observed the incident through the door of the room in which he was detained. As Taci recounted, he saw lights and machine guns firing at the people who were calling for help and begging soldiers to kill them. Later he spoke to one of the survivors. The survivor told Taci that panic broke out when poison gas was released into the room. Prisoners broke down the doors and ran out and into the hail of bullets from two machine guns that had previously been placed in front of the building. In the morning, trucks arrived. Prisoners, including the witness, loaded the dead bodies and the wounded victims of the massacre onto the trucks. The witness said he never saw any of the wounded again.

Today, prosecutor Arthur Traldi showed a report of the VRS 1st Krajina Corps, stating that in the evening of 24 July 1992, 50 detainees were killed in an attempted ‘mass escape’ in the ‘Keraterm collection center’. Safet Taci said this was ‘completely untrue’. First, Keraterm was a prison camp, not a collection center, Taci said. He contends that about 200 persons were killed, not 50, and nobody had been trying to escape. In a bid to prove that the military report was true, Mladic’s defense counsel Miodrag Stojanovic referred to the witness’s previous statements in which he said that the detainees from Room 3 ‘were running all over the place’. Nobody ran before the gas was released into the room, Taci replied; at that point, the prisoners tried to get out and ‘get some air’. The witness didn’t have an answer when the defense lawyer put it to him that Serb police officers, rather than soldiers, were responsible for the Keraterm massacre.

Safet Taci was transferred from Keraterm to Trnopolje. On 21 August 1992, Taci was put on a convoy heading to Travnik across Mount Vlasic. En route, some of the prisoners, including Taci’s brother-in-law, were taken off the bus and vanished without a trace. The witness’s wife and children had been detained in Trnopolje as well, but they were transferred to the free territory by rail, in ‘livestock cars’, the witness said.

The accused was not in court at the beginning of the hearing to demonstrate his discontent with the Registrar’s decision to have his blood pressure taken by the security officers trained to do that. Mladic insisted on the medical staff measuring his blood pressure. After a brief delay and a warning by the presiding judge Orie that the trial would continue with or without him, Mladic returned to the courtroom. Today, Mladic refrained from waving papers about as he had done last week. The only item Mladic brought into court was his comb; he used it liberally during Taci’s evidence.

Rajif Begic, the sole survivor of the incident at the Vrhpolje bridge, began his evidence in the final session today. On 31 May 1992, about 20 Muslim men from the hamlets around Sanski Most were killed at the bridge. Begic already testified twice before the Tribunal, at the trials of Radoslav Brdjanin in 2002 and Momcilo Krajisnik in 2004.

At the beginning of his testimony, Begic described how the soldiers of the 6th Krajina Brigade stationed in the local primary school attacked his village, Donji Begici, on 25 May 1992. Six days later, Begic was arrested together with about 20 men from his village and the other villages in the area. They were told they would be taken to Sanski Most, where buses would be waiting for them to transport them further. It turned out they only got as far as the Vrhpolje bridge. Jadranko Palija, a soldier who was in charge of the prisoners’ transport, shot and killed four men in the column. Rajif Begic continues his evidence tomorrow.

Safet Taci, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial
Rajif Begic, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial