Notorious Bosnia prison camps emptied before Red Cross visits Unofficial visits show one camp is shut down.

August 10, 1992|By Chicago Tribune

PRIJEDOR, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- The most notorious prison camps in Serbian-held areas are being systematically emptied by sending inmates to lesser-known camps or by dispelling captives to refugee centers in other parts of former Yugoslavia, visits to the sites reveal.

Two dozen prison camps operated by Serbian commanders in northern Bosnia are due to be inspected this week by the International Committee of the Red Cross. A British parliamentary delegation also is in the war-ravaged republic seeking to view conditions in the camps.

But unofficial visits to the area around Prijedor, where the most controversial camps have been operated, revealed that prisoners are being shunted out of the more well-known camps -- and that at least one has been shut down completely.

As a result, the Red Cross may not get an accurate picture of conditions and goings-on inside the camps.

Inmates at the Manjaca prisoner-of-war camp told reporters that Muslims previously held at Omarska, described by former detainees as the most brutal of the camps, have been transferred out of Omarska and into Manjaca in recent days.

Manjaca is the most public operation in the Serbian prison camp system, as groups of reporters have been escorted on tours of the site in visits sponsored by the Serbian leadership in Bosnia.

Tours of Manjaca, formerly used as a cattle pen, began two weeks ago, even before the current controversy swelled with accusations that Serbians were operating "death camps" in northern Bosnia.

The prison camp inside the Keraterm ceramics factory in Prijedor, labeled by former inmates as second only to Omarska in the level of violence directed against detainees, has been shut down.

A lone guard stood watch yesterday outside the plant, which covers several acres of an industrial park on the outskirts of town.

"Yes, there were many Muslim prisoners here," he said. "All the prisoners have been moved within the last month. I do not know how many, and I do not know where they went."

The two-story, steel-and-concrete complex had been heavily fortified during its tenure as a prison. But on Sunday, the half-dozen bunkers outside the plant were empty. The only signs of war were broken windows and several areas on the outside wall bearing marks of concentrated gunfire.

One refugee interviewed last week at a transit camp in Karlovac, the first Croatian city outside the Serbian-controlled area, said he was in the Keraterm prison as recently as June 19. He said 780 Moslem men were held in conditions that amounted to war crimes.

The refugee, Djemal Ceric, 31, said the men were ordered to sit in their own urine and excrement for weeks at a time while victims were ordered outside for beatings and execution.

Mr. Ceric said he witnessed 14 deaths during his three weeks of detention at the camp. Eight men, he said, were executed with firearms by Serbian irregular troops.

"Three died from bullets that ricocheted" from rifles fired by some of the 50 heavily armed guards, who regularly shot into the air or around the men to discipline the crowd, he said.

One died during the daily beatings, when he was clubbed to death with a rifle butt, he said.

"And two men were dumped into the corner of the factory to die" from injuries received in their beatings, Mr. Ceric said.

Mr. Ceric said he survived only because he was expelled to a refugee center in his home region, Bosanski Novi to the northwest, where he was forced to sign away his home and property before being ejected into Croatia. He described it as a program of "ethnic cleansing."

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