Former JNA colonel Osman Selak has testified about General Talic’s decision to reduce the number of victims in the attack on Kozarac in May 1992 from 800 to 80. Selak also described what he saw when he visited the Manjaca prison camp

Osman Selak, witness at the Ratko Mladic trialOsman Selak, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial

Retired colonel Osman Selak, former commander of the JNA logistics base in Banja Luka testified today at the trial of Ratko Mladic, former commander of the VRS Main Staff, about two meetings he attended in 1992.

At the first meeting on 27 May 1992, Colonel Marcetic informed the Krajina Corps commander Momir Talic that 800 persons had been killed that day in the attack on Kozarac; 1,200 were arrested. Selak contends that Talic looked at him at that moment, knowing that Selak was the only Bosniak there, and ‘corrected’ Marcetic saying, ‘you mean to say that 80 persons were killed’. The number was then put in a report that was sent to the VRS Main Staff. Today the witness showed the court the war-time notebook in which he had written the number Marcetic had mentioned, 800, rather than Talic’s ‘correction’. Selak also said that in the meantime as an associate of the Institute for War Crimes in Sarajevo, he had established that 2000 persons were killed in the wider region around Kozarac. ‘Apart from the genocide in Srebrenica, I say genocide was committed in Kozarac too’, Selak said.

The witness tried to get to the crime scene but his deputy stopped him; he was concerned that Selak would be liquidated once the truth about the events in Kozarac got out. Selak thinks that the death toll in the report sent to the Main Staff was reduced ten times because of the ‘personal responsibility of the commander’. As Selak explained, Talic ‘was not a bad man’ but had to implement the order of the superior command. ‘He was not pleased to do it’, Selak noted. However, Talic ‘didn’t take any measures against 343rd Motorized Brigade’ that was in Selak’s opinion responsible for the crime in Kozarac.

At the second meeting, General Talic issued the order establishing the Manjaca prison camp for about 2,500 prisoners of war. The facilities in the former training ground could be used to house 80 persons at the most, or 200 if military bunk beds were put in, Selak said. Selak visited the prison camp once it was up and running. In the stables, he saw about a hundred detainees mucking out the area. Some of them ‘had been beaten up, they had blood on their faces, Selak said. When Selak walked in, the prisoners were ordered to stand still and put their heads down. The scenes Selak saw ‘were so horrible that even today I shiver when I remember them’, Selak said.

In response to Mladic’s defense counsel Branko Lukic, Selak said that apart from the death toll, the Krajina Corps report contained another inaccurate claim: that the victims from Kozarac ‘died in combat’. According to Selak, those men were ‘liquidated’.
Defense counsel Lukic asked the witness a series of questions about the ethnic composition of the VRS and the BH Army, the response to the call up, the constitutional provisions about the referendum, and the arming and establishment of the Patriotic League and the Green Berets. ‘There was a lot of political issues at play but I didn’t get involved in that’, the witness said; as a consequence, he didn’t think he had the accurate information. The witness also said that he asked to retire in mid-May 1992 because he ‘knew what was coming’. Selak explained that he had received some threatening telephone calls and letters about the expulsion of Muslims and Croats from the army.

For the most part, Mladic followed Selak’s evidence without reacting. He did raise his voice though, when the defense counsel examined the witness about some military issues. Mladic at first contradicted the witness, but finally gestured to indicate he agreed with him. Selak’s cross-examination continues tomorrow or the day after tomorrow after the evidence of the witness who will testify via video link from Sarajevo. The witness will speak about the ethnic cleansing of the Novi Grad neighbourhood in Sarajevo and the massacre of ‘at least 47 Bosniaks’ in a bus en route from Rajlovac to Pale on 14 June 1992.