In a bid to paint the conditions in the Trnopolje 'reception centre' in the rosiest light, Mladic"s defense witness Branko Beric claims that non-Serb civilians ate better food than their Serb guards. In fact, he said, they could roast meat. They could prepare lamb to celebrate Eid. He went as far as to compare the camp with a Hyatt hotel. Milenko Djuric from Kotor Varos completed his evidence before Beric took the stand. Djuric blamed the 'mothers of Serb boys who had been killed' and other civilians bent on revenge for the massacre of about 150 Muslims in the village of Grabovica

Branko Beric, defence witness at Rako Mladic trialBranko Beric, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial

Ratko Mladic's defense will call a string of witnesses who will all testify via video link this week. The first was a former member of the Serb Territorial Defense from Kotor Varos, Milenko Djuric. His testimony broke a record: it was over in nine minutes, He confirmed the accuracy of the statement he had given to the defense. Mladic's lawyers read out the summary of the statement in court, and that was it.

In May 1992, the witness was drafted and assigned to the Territorial Defense. His task was to guard his village, Rastik. In late June, he was captured by the BH Army soldiers from a neighboring village, Vecici. He and the other Serb captives were held in a basement. They were beaten and abused. Some were killed. In his statement, Djuric notes that his tormentors were convicted at the BH State Court and sentenced to long prison sentences.

He was released after 105 days in captivity. Later he learned that the local Serbs retaliated for the losses they had suffered by killing Muslim prisoners in Grabovica. He heard that the Bosnian Serb troops had been unable to prevent the revenge. As he noted, the 'mothers of Serb boys who had been killed' were the most aggressive. The defense had no questions for the witness and the prosecution decided not to cross-examine him, apparently because the prosecution felt that hear-say could not refute the evidence that Mladic's soldiers were to blame for the massacre of about 150 prisoners in Grabovica.

After Djuric completed his evidence, the defense called Branko Beric, who had been brought to the same place to testify via video link. Beric served in the logistics base of the Prijedor Territorial Defense. The commander of the logistics base was also in charge of the Trnopolje camp. The prosecution alleges that it was one of the three camps that existed in Prijedor, while the defense contends it was 'a reception centre' where non-Serb civilians could seek shelter. The witness was in Trnopolje day in day out from late May to late July 1992.

As he praised the conditions in Trnopolje, the witness noted that non-Serb civilians had better food than their Serb guards because they received daily supplies from the International Red Cross. They also had an infirmary and were allowed to spend their days at home and go back to the camp at night. He reiterated the argument aired many times by the defense, that Trnopolje was not fenced in. The reason why there is a fence in the footage made by the foreign journalists in the summer of 1992 is because the journalists were put inside a fenced-in area. The footage shows malnourished young men. The witness claims one of them was emaciated because he had had tuberculosis before the war. According to him, 'no one as much as gave flick to an inmate' in Trnopolje, let alone killed any civilians. Compared to Omarska and Keraterm, the conditions in Trnopolje were like 'in a Hyatt hotel', the witness said. He did not dispute the claim that Omarska and Keraterm were prison camps.

Why then did the Muslims who were in Trnopolje call it a camp? Beric says that after the war he was told by them that they would get various privileges in third countries if they stated they had been detained un camps, which is why they mislabeled the reception centre a camp.

In the cross-examination, prosecutor Traldi put it to the witness that civilians were taken out of Trnopolje to be killed in other locations. The witness told him he knew that the police would take some people out, but he did not know whether they ended up in Omarska, Keraterm or execution sites. In his statement to the defense, Beric was 'categorical' that the camp warden Slobodan Kuruzovic 'never raped anyone'. The prosecutor told Beric he actually had no idea what the warded did by night, but Beric was adamant that 'a charming gentleman who used to be a teacher before the war', such as Kuruzovic, had no need to rape anyone, especially not 'ladies whose hygiene was poor due to their circumstances'.

Since Beric claimed that Trnopolje was guarded by the Territorial Defense, not by Mladic's troops, the prosecutor showed several exhibits that speak to the contrary, including a report by the Prijedor police chief Simo Drljaca who states that 'the open-type reception center in Trnopolje is secured by the VRS', and the testimony of Major Kuruzovic from the trial of Milomir Stakic, head of the Prijedor Crisis Staff, who claimed that after the first few days, the Territorial Defense handed over the security in Trnopolje to the military.

Branko Beric, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial
Milenko Djuric, defence witness at Rako Mladic trial