On 6 December 1992 The New York Times described a May 1992 attack in Prijedor:
"When the attack began, Serbs from the village guided the tanks to the homes of certain Muslims…and the inhabitants were asked to come out and show their identity cards. Many of those who did were summarily executed…The bodies of the dead were carried away by trucks, which left a trail of blood. Those not killed on the spot were transferred to a convoy heading toward Omarska, a Serb concentration camp.”
What happened in the Prijedor area was among the most brutal crimes of the war. The survivors of the round-ups were taken to three camps. The objective of these camps was to support the systematic "cleansing" of the Prijedor area of non-Serbs. Many were taken to the Omarska camp. Others were sent to camps in Keraterm and Trnopolje. By the autumn of 1992, after an international outcry, the camps were closed.
Prijedor is in the north-west of Republika Srpska, not far from the Croatian border. Before the war, the municipality had a population of 112,543 – 44 per cent Bosniak, 42 per cent Serb, and 6 per cent Croat.
Omarska Camp, August 1992
Twenty kilometres southwest of Prijedor, Omarska is an iron mining and ore processing facility. In May 1992 it was transformed into one of the most brutal prison camps in Bosnia. An estimated 5,000 Muslim and Catholic civilians, including thirty-seven women, were held illegally as prisoners at Omarska. It was officially termed an investigation centre, its detainees accused by the Bosnian Serbs of "paramilitary activities".
Torture, starvation, and dehumanizing conditions were part of daily life. On any given day, dozens of prisoners might be killed. Many of the atrocities occurred at the infamous White House, an old first-aid station for miners. Interrogations, frequently accompanied by severe beatings, were conducted on a daily basis. In particular, Bosnian Muslim and Bosnian Croat political and civic leaders, intellectuals, the wealthy, as well as other non-Serbs considered "extremists" (or simply assumed to have resisted the Bosnian Serbs) were subjected to beatings and mistreatment, which often resulted in death.
Mujo - Satko Mujagic at Omarska camp 9 August 1992
"After arriving at Omarska one quickly realized that it was not only a prison for interrogations, but a place for torture; a concentration camp in which civilians were killed and tortured for no reason or purpose," former inmateSatko Mujagic – “Mujo" – has written. He was taken to Omarska with his father in April 1992.
In a graphic personal account of what he calls "the anguish, evil and bloodshed of Omarska", Mujo describes how he kept the will to live and overcame a near-fatal attack of dysentery:
"It was during those hot and bloody July days, when Mujo became sick and had to stay behind and sleep when everyone else ran to get their lunch, the only meal of the day, that Mujo and his father received money from his mother. Looking back, this is what had decided their fate. Mujo's father started buying small pieces of soap, bread and cigarettes. It was risky; if the guards found out about the money he could be killed. With his father's help Mujo slowly started to recover…Looking at his old man through the fog of illness, Mujo dreamed of freedom. Since his father hadn't given up, Mujo decided that he could not give up either, even though death was knocking at the door and asking to take his soul. Even though death seemed like the only possible outcome, Mujo kept the will to live."
The camp was closed in late August 1992, following exposure of the atrocities in reports by Newsday reporter Roy Gutman. The horror of the camp was exposed worldwide in dramatic TV reports on ITN, the British news channel, and by Ed Vulliamy of The Guardian. “Omarska was a monstrosity," reported Vulliamy, "an inferno of murder, torture and rape. It was a stain upon our century." He later wrote:
"The men are at various stages of human decay and affliction; the bones of their elbows and their writs protruded like pieces of jagged stone. From the pencil thin stalks to which their arms have been reduced…There is nothing quite like the sight of the prisoner desperate to talk and convey some terrible truth that is so near yet so far, but who dares not. Their states burn, they speak only with their terrified silence, and eyes inflamed with the articulation of stark, undiluted, fear-without-hope.”
(Seasons in Hell, Ed Vulliamy, 1994)
Other men from Prijedor were sent to Keraterm, a former ceramics factory on the eastern outskirts of Prijedor. It began operating on 24 May 1992 and held up to 1,500 prisoners. According to testimony taken by the U.N:
"Conditions in Keraterm were atrocious; prisoners were crowded into its [four] rooms, as many as 570 in one room, with barely space to lie down on the concrete floors… Prisoners were called out, attacked with bars and batons and made to beat each other… Some who were called out never returned."
Another 4,000 older men women and children were incarcerated at Trnopolje, a formerly Bosniak majority village. The camp enclosed the entire village. Trnopolje was enclosed by barbed wire and surrounded by machine gun emplacements. The camp consisted of a school building and the former municipal centre and theatre. Prisoners were also held in tents.
When Omarska and Keraterm were closed in August 1992, the surviving prisoners were moved to Trnopolje.
Trnopolje was also a deportation centre. Deported prisoners were often first forced to sign an agreement to "voluntarily" relinquish all of their property. In early October 1992, Trnopolje was officially closed.
Some of the RS officials responsible for running the camps have since been indicted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Some have been convicted, while others are still awaiting trial at the ICTY. Three have just been convicted by the War Crimes Court in Sarajevo.
The guilty men:
Three men have already been convicted by the ICTY for crimes committed in the camps around Prijedor.
Milomir Stakić a politician from Prijedor, was sentenced to 40 years in prison
Duško Sikirica, commander of the Keraterm camp, sentenced to fifteen years after pleading guilty to crimes against humanity
Predrag Banović, former guard at Keraterm, sentenced to eight years after pleading guilty to twenty five different charges
Three other war criminals were convicted by the Bosnian War Crimes Chamber in May 2008.
Željko Mejakić, in charge of Omarska, was sentenced to 21 years for "killings, unlawful confinement of the captives in the camps, torture, sexual abuse, persecution and other inhumane acts such as confinement of the detainees in inhuman conditions, harassment, humiliation and other psychological abuse"
Momčilo Gruban, leader of one of the three guard shifts in the Omarska camp, was sentenced to 11 years for crimes against humanity
Duško Knežević was sentenced to 31 years for killings, torture and other inhumane acts, and sexual assault at the Omarska and Keraterm camps