Concentration Camp Survivors in Bosnia Detail Executions
Reading Eagle, page A16.
5 August 1992.
By Ron Gutman
ZAGREB, Croatia – Serbian guards at the Omarska concentration camp in Bosnia daily executed Bosniak and Croat prisoners from the thousands being held in at least three locations in the sprawling former mining complex, according to an interview conducted by Newsday Tuesday.
Guards selected seven or eight victims at random each night using a flashlight in a darkened warehouse where 600 to 700 prisoners were packed together, according to a 53-year-old Muslim camp survivor, who asked to be identified only as “Hujca.”
“The next morning, they were not there,” Hujca said. Guards returned the next day to select a team of young men to bury the dead, some of whom had been shot through the mouth. Others had had their throats slit, he said.
Hujca did not witness the killings himself. On one occasion, he saw eight corpses covered with blanket. On other days, members of the burial crew told him what they had seen.
Hujca’s narrative, along with a new indirect account obtained Tuesday about prisoners kept in an outdoor pit at Omarska, added grisly new details to eyewitness accounts published by Newsday on Sunday.
Newsday decribed allegations of thousands of deaths at the Omarska iron mining complex and at a separate camp in Brcko in northeast Bosnia.
The new disclosures added to an emerging picture of the Omarska camp and of what international human rights agencies fear may be slaughter on a huge scale. The United Nations Security Council Tuesday night demanded that all prison camps in the region be opened for impartial international inspection.
Serbian officials in Bosnia have denied that any civilians are being held in prisons.
Yugoslav Prime Minister Milan Panic, who presides over a government that now consists only of Serbia and Montenegro, acknowledges that prison camps are being maintained. He has said that he cannot confirm or deny the existence of death camps and favors the closing of camps on all sides.
In the interview, Hujca said he was held in a warehouse for 12 days in May, jammed into a room packed so tightly that no one could lie down to sleep. He had been a fighter with the Bosnian defense force, but disposed of his submachine gun and was not detected when he joined townspeople from Kozarac, a town in northwest Bosnia conquered by Serb forces in May.
But thousands of civilians were detained by Serbian units, and all of them ended up at Omarska.
Hujca was held in Omarska during the same period as another survivor named “Meho,” whose account Newsday described Sunday. Both men said that 8,000 prisoners — most but not all of them men — were held at the time.
The Bosnian government estimates that there are not 11,000 prisoners there. Meho was held inside a metal cage that was part of an ore loader in the mine. Hujca was in a warehouse in another part of the facility. Like the prisoners in the ore loader, those in the warehouse were malnourished, Hujca said.
They received “a tiny piece of bread” ever 24 hours.
In addition, an indirect account provided details of the conditions within a huge open pit where hundreds of prisoners were held.
Prisoners were summoned by guards to climb more than 100 feet to the surface, never to come back, according to Fahrudin Ganic, 30, a member of the Bosnian Muslim defense force, quoting a 15-year-old Muslim boy who had been confined to the pit for more than a week in mid-June. The boy did not know what became of them.
When it rained, the prisoners stood in the mud without shelter. Ganic said the boy told him. There were no toilets, no beds, and the men stood or crouched in close quarters with their bodily waste.
Ganic and two other Bosnian fighters who had recently arrived from north Bosnia also said they had witnessed a massacre in the village of Biscani two weeks ago in which at least 150 people were gunned down at short range by Serb forces.