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9 December 2015
News

State Prosecution Witnesses Describe Forced Labour in Mostar at Puljic Trial

Marija Taušan BIRN BiH Sarajevo
State prosecution witnesses testifying at the Mile Puljic trial said prisoners from the Heliodrom detention camp were forced to work on Santiceva Street in Mostar. Prisoners were wounded and killed while working.

Mile Puljic, the former commander of the Second Battalion of the Second Brigade of the Croatian Defense Council (HVO), has been charged with allowing his subordinates to take detainees held in the Heliodrom detention camp to locations where they performed forced labour and were used as human shields.

A protected witness known as S-5 said he was a member of the Croatian Defense Council until July 4, 1993, when all of the Bosniaks in his unit were disarmed and taken to a detention camp.

“I was wounded on September 17, when I ran away from a human shield in Bulevar...some were killed and left lying on the road, while others were wounded,” S-5 said.

S-5 said the prisoners gathered in front of the health center in Bulevar every morning. He said Vinko Martinovic (also known as Stela), the former commander of the Mrmak Unit, was in charge and distributed tasks to the prisoners. He said he saw the markings of the Mrmak Anti-Terrorist Group at that location.

“He decided where each of us would go,” S-5 said. He said none of the soldiers introduced themselves to the workers on Santiceva Street.

The Hague Tribunal sentenced Martinovic to 18 years in prison for the detention of civilians at the Heliodrom detention camp, for ordering detainees to dig trenches as well as other war crimes.

Former prisoner Senad Djelilovic also testified at today’s hearing. He said he was wounded while performing forced labour on Santiceva Street. He said he saw members of the Ninth Battalion, as well as Ivan Zelenika from the Second Battalion, on Santiceva Street. He said Zelenika and other superiors issued orders on the work to be done.

During his cross-examination by the defense, Djelilovic confirmed that during the investigation phase of the case he had said that another member of the Anti-Terrorist Group, named Ivan, distributed tasks to prisoners.

Djelilovic was asked how he distinguished between soldiers on Santiceva Street.

“We were afraid to look at them. They had almost the same uniforms, black uniforms,” Djelilovic said.

State prosecution witnesses Semir Omerika and Husein Aleckovic confirmed that they were wounded while performing forced labour on Santiceva Street, while Azer Terko said he was physically abused in a facility on the same street.

“We were waiting for someone to pick us up...A soldier punched and kicked Memedalija. He turned towards me and asked me why I was laughing. Then he punched me and extinguished a cigarette on my neck,” Terko said.

The witnesses said they were severely worked, frightened and fatigued during their detention and forced labour, and lost a significant amount of weight.

Puljic has also been charged with forcible disappearances. The indictment alleges that Puljic and members of the Second Battalion arrested two individuals in May 1993 and took them to an unknown location. Their remains were exhumed later.

A protected witness known as S-6 said he heard that the Drace brothers were abducted from their apartment in Mostar. He said he lived in the same building at them.

“There were two soldiers. They knocked at my door. I knew Pegi. He told me to stay in the apartment. They went to Drace’s. I heard shouting,” S-6 said.

The trial will continue on December 16.

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