UN official Charles Kirudja testifies at the trial of Momcilo Krajisnik that Serb authorities in Bosanski Novi and Dvor na Uni tried to conduct the deportation of Muslims from Krajina under "international auspices."

Charles Kirudja, witness at Krajisnik trialCharles Kirudja, witness at Krajisnik trial

Charles Kirudja, former UN coordinator for civil affairs in Croatia’s "Sector North," was amazed when the mayor of Dvor, a town on the Croatian side of the Una river, addressed him on 26 May 1992 with a request to secure the crossing of about 5,000 Muslims from the neighboring town of Bosanski Novi. Appearing as a prosecution witness at the trial of Momcilo Krajisnik, Kirudja told the court how the mayor of Dvor kept stressing that the Muslims were "moving out voluntarily" and that their passage en route to Austria and other countries should be filmed by international TV crews in order for the world to see that Muslims were able to "pass through Serbian territory with full security."

Kirudja first asked him why he was making this request on behalf of the mayor of a town located in another country. "This is part of the new reality in the form of Serb republics," came the reply. Kirudja understood that on that stretch of the Una River, where the left bank was controlled by Croatian Serbs and the right by Bosnian Serbs, the international border did not exist. He concluded that the authorities in Dvor (in Croatia) and Bosanski Novi (in BH) had agreed to foist this already highly suspicious "voluntary evacuation" of Muslims on the United Nations.

Kirudja immediately rejected the proposal. The next day, a delegation from Bosanski Novi came to his office unannounced with the same request but with an addendum: the 5,000 Muslims were just a part of the total number of people "wanting to leave." In fact, there were 13,000 of them in the municipality, and they all wanted to leave. As Kirudja said today, it was then that his "eyes started to open."

"You want the United Nations to turn people still living in their homes into refugees," he told the delegation and demanded an explanation as to why so many people all of a sudden were so eager to leave their homes. The mayor of Bosanski Novi admitted that some Serb paramilitary groups were putting pressure on the Muslim population, but claimed that the authorities of the Serbian Republic of BH had no part in that. He assured him that the authorities in fact tried to "protect the Muslims" in this way. Kirudja rejected the second request for "mass evacuation under the auspices of the international community."

A few days later, the mayor of Banja Luka, Vojo Kupresanin, came to the UN office and said that about 15,000 Muslims from Prijedor, Kljuc, Dubica, Sanski Most and Banja Luka, who allegedly did not want to live in the Autonomous Region of Krajina, were heading towards Dvor and that they would be followed by another 15,000 quite soon. Kupresanin wanted the UN and Western countries "to see what they would do with them."

Members of the UN Danish Battalion reconnaissance company confirmed that this had nothing to do with any "wishes" of Muslims. They saw a large number of detainees at the football pitch in Bosanski Novi. They stood in such a way that they formed the universally recognized call for aid – SOS.

"It was just the tip of the iceberg" of what the UN coordinator would learn about the "new reality." As he patched together a picture of the real state of affairs on the basis of refugee statements and other eye-witness accounts, Charles Kirudja sent a series of reports to his superiors in the UN stating that this was a forcible relocation of the population, or rather, deportation--the result of the policy pursued by leaders of the Serbian Republic of BH. He was the first official to alert the UN about the existence of concentration camps. In his report to his superiors dated 4 July 1992, he listed the camps in Keraterm, Trnopolje, Omarska and Manjaca. Another month would pass, however, before the famous TV footage taken in the camps was aired, alarming the world public.

The testimony of Charles Kirudja is set to continue.