Nermin Karagic testified today at the trial of Ratko Mladic. In late May 1992, he managed to avoid death by sheer luck. He was already lined up by the wall of the football stadium in Ljubija, waiting for his turn to be killed. Ratko Mladic’s defense counsel tried to prove that the reserve police, not the army, were responsible for the Ljubija massacre

Nermin Karagic, witness at the Ratko Mladic trialNermin Karagic, witness at the Ratko Mladic trial

Nermin Karagic from the village of Rizvanovic near Prijedor gave evidence at the trial of Ratko Mladic. The transcript of Karagic’s previous testimony at the trial of Milomir Stakic was admitted into evidence. Stakic was convicted of persecution, extermination and deportation of non-Serbs in Prijedor in 1992 and is serving a 40-year prison sentence. In the briefest summary so far, the prosecutor only mentioned at the beginning of the examination that ‘Karagic survived the massacre at the Ljubija Football Stadium in July 1992’.

In late July 1992, Karagic, who was 17, was captured as he was trying to flee together with his father and a large group of men before the Serb forces that were ‘cleansing’ the Muslim villages in the Brda area near Prijedor. Some of them were killed immediately after the arrest, while others were transferred to the Culture Center in the village of Miska Glava. ‘There was a good old man there, he gave us water. When dawn broke, the old man was gone. The suffering began. We had to sing to get water’, the witness recounted at Mladic’s trial.

While they were still in Miska Glava, the detainees guessed what awaited them, the witness said. They heard the guards standing in front of the room where the prisoners were kept that they would ‘gouge their eyes out because that’s what these guys did to our people’. From the village of Miska Glava the detainees were taken to the football stadium in Ljubija. The Serb soldiers ordered them to stand in two lines by the wall and then started beating and killing them. The soldiers beat up the detainee standing next to Karagic to death with rifle butts. Karagic was in the last group; when his turn came, an army major asked the soldiers if they intended to carry the bodies away themselves. ‘They stopped killing us and made us carry the bodies into the bus’, Karagic explained.

The smaller group of detainees which included the witness was left alive but only for a while. The Serb soldiers continued killing the detainees near the Ljubija mine as the bodies were unloaded. Karagic made a desperate bid to save his life and fled from the bus. By sheer luck, he was able to save his life. At one point, Ivo Atlija, who had also fled after the attack on the Croat village of Brisevo, helped Karagic in his flight. Atlija and Karagic met once again a decade later in The Hague in 2002 when they both appeared as witnesses at the Stakic trial.

Mladic’s defense counsel Branko Lukic represented Milomir Stakic at his trial. Stakic had instructed him not to cross-examine Karagic because of, as he put it, the witness’s ‘mental condition and the suffering he went through’. This time Lukic didn’t spare the witness in a bid to prove that the reserve police, not the army, were guarding the culture center in the village of Miska Glava. At one point, Judge Orie warned the defense counsel to ask specific questions in order not to confuse the witness.

As he answered Lukic’s questions, the witness said he saw only the guards wearing the JNA standard issue ‘olive drab’ uniforms around the Culture Center. The witness also saw members of some ‘delegation’; they wore light brown uniforms. In the examination-in-chief, the witness said that he heard the guards in Miska Glava threaten the detainees with the impending arrival of the 6th Krajina Brigade. The witness also said that he was so afraid at the time he didn’t pay attention to the clothes worn by the soldiers in the football stadium. However, the witness did clearly remember that a VRS major was in charge.