Jezik / Language:
7 December 2015

Witnesses Describe Abuse and Poor Living Conditions at VIZ Prison in Ljubuski

Jasmina Djikoli BIRN BiH Sarajevo

State prosecution witnesses described the poor living conditions at the VIZ prison in Ljubuski, where they were held from May 1993 to March 1994. They testified at the trial of seven former prison managers and guards charged with the abuse of former prisoners.

The state prosecution has charged Ivica Kraljevic, Mato Jelcic, Slavko Skender, Stojan Odak, Vice Bebek, Vinko Radisic and Dragan Milos with war crimes in Ljubuski.

According to the charges, Kraljevic, Jelcic and Skender were managers of the VIZ military investigation prison, located in the police building in Ljubuski, for various periods of time from September 1993 to March 1994. More than 100 Bosniaks from the municipalities of Mostar, Livno, Stolac, Jablanica, Maglaj, Zepce and other parts of Herzegovina were detained there.

The defendants have been charged with holding detained civilians and prisoners of war in inhumane conditions. They allegedly allowed the mistreatment of prisoners, gave them very little food and ordered them to perform forced labour.

Odak, Bebek, Radisic and Milos, former guards at the VIZ prison, have been charged with participating in the abuse of detained civilians and prisoners of war.

Alija Bidimlic, a former member of the Bosnian Army in Mostar, testified at today’s hearing. Bidimlic said he was arrested by the Croatian Defense Council on May 15, 1993. He said he was taken to the Ministry of Internal Affairs building for interrogation, and was then taken to Ljubuski.

“It was an old prison built during the Austrian period. I was detained in room number seven. A few other members of the Bosnian Army, as well as journalists from the Mostar wartime station, were already there. Seventeen of us were held in that small room,” Bidimlic said.

Bidimlic said the cell was overcrowded and that prisoners slept on a concrete floor without blankets. According to his estimate, approximately 200 prisoners were detained in the prison in Ljubuski at that time.

Bidimlic said the prisoners were allowed to go out to the yard each morning. He said they had two meals per day and enough water for their hygienic needs. He said they were allowed to use the toilet uninterruptedly during his first detention at the facility.

He said he was transferred to several other locations after June 5, 1993, including the Heliodrom detention camp in Mostar and Dretelj, near Capljina. He said he was taken back to Ljubuski in late September.

“My second stay in that place was totally different...I was brought to the same room – room number seven. It was the same room, but some other people were in it. The conditions were worse than in Dretelj. We had one meal per day...Even the people younger than me fainted. There wasn’t enough space to stretch our legs in the cell. There was no water, so I didn’t bathe at all in the following months. They sent us to the toilet in groups...They just kept telling us, ‘Faster, faster’...The word ‘faster’ still echoes in my head,” Bidimlic said.

He said he wasn’t abused during his detention, but heard that other detainees were subjected to mistreatment and abuse.

“Rudi Jozelic was beaten in all possible ways every day. He used to be a pilot who left the Yugoslav National Army and joined the Bosnian Army...I still can’t understand how he managed to stay normal after having been beaten up so much,” Bidimlic said.

Mufid Kajtaz was the second state prosecution witness to testify at today’s hearing. Kajtaz said he was transferred from the Heliodrom detention camp to the VIZ prison in Ljubuski in September 1993.

“A guard whose last name was Milos recognized me at the entrance. I remember we went down towards the basement, but he changed his mind on the staircase and took three of us upstairs into a cell. We were given a mattress and sheets. Others didn’t have that,” Kajtaz said.

He said he was not abused during his stay in Ljubuski, but he saw other detainees being hit in the yard twice.

“One day Rudi was with us. A guard forced him to pretend he was an airplane. The guard didn’t like how Rudi landed. He hit him with a shovel...I noticed the intensity of the blow...The shovel broke,” Kajtaz said.

Kajtaz, crying, described the living conditions in the Ljubuski prison. He said he didn’t bathe until approximately February 1994.

“I remember there was snow, which wasn’t typical in Ljubuski...We took a bath in the yard. The last manager, Skender, ensured that we had hot water,” Kajtaz said. He said in addition to hot water, Skender gave them more bread.

“When I was leaving the detention camp, I shook hands with Skender and thanked him for the hot water,” Kajtaz said. He said he was released from the detention camp on March 19, 1994.

The next two witnesses will be examined on December 17.

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