5 Bosnian Serbs convicted of war crimes in Omarska camp trial

Friday, November 2, 2001

Associated Press WriterTHE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) -- Five Bosnian Serbs were convicted Friday of war crimes and sentenced to prison terms of up to 25 years for murder and torture at a prison camp in Bosnia.

Judge Almiro Rodrigues of the U.N. war crimes tribunal told the men they had all known about or participated in rape, murder and persecution at the camp as part of a "widespread, systematic system of camps" intended to wipe out the non-Serb population in Prijedor.

"You participated in this hellish orgy of persecution," he said, reading out the court's verdict for over an hour. "You knew what was happening."

The court found them guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes and handed down prison terms of five to 25 years.

Prosecutors had asked the panel of three U.N. judges sentence the men to between 25 years and life. The defendants all pleaded innocent and requested their cases be quashed.

Mitigating circumstances reduced some of the sentences.

The U.N. court has rendered sentences of up to 46 years against Muslims, Croats and Serbs held responsible for Balkan atrocities in the decade of wars that resulted from the break up of the former Yugoslavia.

Images of half-naked, starved inmates at the Omarska camp run by Bosnian Serbs in 1992 during the Bosnian war jolted the world's conscience and prompted calls for intervention.

About 6,000 Muslims and Croats were held in Omarska -- a former mining complex about 12 miles from the Bosnian town of Prijedor -- and two other nearby camps.

Four of the defendants, Miroslav Kvocka, 44, Milojica Kos, 38, Mlado Radic, 49, and Dragoljub Prcac, 64, were convicted of running Omarska as commandants and deputy commanders. A fifth defendant, taxi driver Zoran Zigic, 43, was found guilty of torturing and killing prisoners.

Omarska was one of three camps in the Prijedor region of northern Bosnia, along with Keraterm and Trnopolje. They operated for about five months in the spring and summer of 1992. Prosecutors compared Omarska to the Nazi death camps of World War II.

New arrivals were reportedly beaten with batons and rifle butts and jammed into stiflingly hot rooms with no beds and meager sanitary facilities, prosecutors stated.

While most of the prisoners were male, several dozen women were kept at the facility and were forced to mop floors littered with hair and teeth and stained with blood. The women were raped nightly by guards, prosecutors said.

The Omarska trial is the first at the tribunal to deal with a "system of concentration-style camps" aimed at the creation of a greater Serb state.

The judges based their conclusions on testimony from 140 witnesses and over 400 documents presented in 113 days of hearings.

Three other suspects were indicted by the tribunal in 1995 for alleged crimes at Omarska, one of them for genocide. Zeljko Meakic, Momcilo Gruban and Dusan Knezevic remain at large.

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