Accused of War Crimes, Many Serbs Walk Free

Sisters, wives of indicted cover up men's whereabouts

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Zheljko Kos stands at the bar of the only restaurant in the Bosnian Serb village of Omarska, which he owns, studying a posted list of those indicted by the International War Crimes Tribunal at The Hague. Mr. Kos, dressed in a designer sweat suit, has reason to read. His brother, Milojica Kos, is one of the 74 names on the list.

Across the street is the now-abandoned site of the Omarska concentration camp, where Milojica's crimes allegedly occurred. He is indicted for being a shift commander at the camp, where up to 3,000 Muslims are believed to have been detained, tortured, and many murdered.

Many Serb men from this area of northwestern Bosnia were apparently involved in the camp's operation - and another like it at Keraterm. Many have been indicted.

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But until now, neither local authorities nor NATO-led peacekeeping troops have been willing to arrest them, so they have lived relatively free. But that could be changing.

Increasingly, the indicted men's lives of impunity are seen as impediments to peace in Bosnia. As long as they go unpunished, the rationale goes, simmering resentment will remain and violent retribution could occur.

"The whole peace process rests on this issue," said Robert Frowick, the retired US diplomat who heads the Bosnia mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, one group responsible for overseeing the capture of those indicted. "There will not be a better moment than right now" to apprehend the indicted men, he said recently.

So far, only the rhetoric against the criminals has ratcheted up - no action appears imminent. Still, many residents are nervous. "Can I make a copy in the fax machine?" Kos asks, referring to the poster, around which men have gathered to search for the names they know.

Prijedor, a city of 135,000 Serbs a few miles west of Omarska, has 20 indicted war criminals, more than any other city in Bosnia.

A town haunted by crimes

Prijedor is so haunted by the war crimes of which its native sons are accused that at times it seems as if the city itself is indicted by the Tribunal. The name of the city in Bosnia is instantly associated with the two nearby concentration camps.

Only one of the indictees from this area, Dusan Tadic, is on trial at The Hague. A three-judge panel is expected to rule in the case early next year. Mr. Tadic faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

The rest of the 20 indicted war criminals are still in Prijedor, or have gone underground.

The families of indicted war criminals in Prijedor are uncomfortable when an international visitor drives through town. Many feel it is just a matter of time before their son, husband, or father is arrested and sent to The Hague for trial. They insist that crimes were committed by all three sides during Bosnia's 3-1/2 year war and it is not fair that their family member is specially stigmatized by indictment.

A year into the peace, 67 of Bosnia's 74 indicted war criminals are still free. Western governments have been reluctant to risk violent confrontation that could come in the attempt to arrest the indicted men.

In spite of the fact that no one has been searching for Bosnia's war criminals, the families of the indicted feel persecuted.

"We are scared the war will never end for us," says Jasna Kvocka, the wife of Miroslav Kvocka, an indicted man who was the Prijedor police duty officer as recently as Oct. 23. "We just want to raise our two daughters. That's it. Leave us alone."

Mrs. Kvocka is one of the few hundred Muslims left in Prijedor - and untypically she is married to a Serb. Before the war, there were 40,000 Muslims and 40,000 Serbs. Most of Prijedor's former Muslims now live in the nearby city of Sanski Most, which is out of Bosnian Serb control.

"My three brothers were held in Omarska," adds Jasna Kvocka. "If my husband is sent to The Hague, they will come from America to testify on his behalf. He helped my Muslim family members escape from Omarska."

"Would a war criminal indicted for killing Muslims be married to one?" asks a neighbor of Kvocka.

Families of indictees have concocted stories to throw hypothetical investigators off the track of their loved ones.

"Dragan Fustar? Well, let's see, there is a Fustar family in Banja Luka, and one in Pale. But I don't know about a Dragan in Prijedor," says his mother, leaning out of a window, at the address for her son printed on the poster of indicted war criminals, 41 First of May Street.

"Forty-one?" says Fustar's wife, leaning out of an adjacent window. "This has always been No. 37." The house is located between the house numbered 39 and the one numbered 43. A number sign has been pulled from the house.

The indictment against Fustar says in July 1992 he had 20 Muslim prisoners of the Keraterm concentration camp, which backs up to his home, executed after six other prisoners escaped. The Muslim inmates of the camps were imprisoned solely because they were Muslim.

An atmosphere of fear

In 1992, when war came to Prijedor, "It was like everyone was drunk, but they weren't drunk. There was this atmosphere of fear," says a man from Prijedor who asked not to be identified.

In the months leading up the war, "someone would knock on your door at night and hand you a gun. People were not normal at the time."

As the man points to a field where a Muslim mosque and graveyard used to be before the war, a young man drives by on a motor scooter.

"That's one of the Banovic twins, I'm not sure which one."

Predrag and Nenad Banovic are indicted for a total of six murders between them at the Keraterm concentration camp. Their parents insist they are good boys, who are not responsible for the crimes.

"Maybe they stole a few things. Cars, you know," says a young man at a cafe. But the Tribunal has accused Predrag of killing six Muslim detainees at Keraterm and of three other murders committed with his brother.

Still, many are pushing for the arrest of these men. "Without justice," writes the independent International Crisis Group, "it will be impossible even to begin the process of reconciliation which is so necessary if this country is to be put back together."

The Walking Indicted: Where Are They Now?

Of 74 people in Bosnia indicted for war crimes, about 20 are near the Serb town of Prijedor. The Monitor uncovered information about the following eight:

*Nenad Banovic. Soldier at Omarska and Keraterm concentration camps. Indicted for killing three Muslim detainees. Living at home in Prijedor.

*Predrag Banovic. Soldier at Omarska and Keraterm concentration camps. Indicted for killing six Muslim detainees. Still in Prijedor.

*Dragan Fustar. Shift commander at Keraterm camp. Allegedly ordered the murder of 20 Muslim detainees. Lives in Prijedor and is unemployed.

*Nikica Janjic. Visitor to Omarska camp. Indicted for beating Muslim prisoners. Friends and father say he killed himself in September 1995.

*Milojica Kos. Shift commander at Omarska camp. Indicted as a superior officer for acts of subordinates, including rape and murder. Keeping low profile in Omarska, where his brother runs a restaurant.

*Miroslav Kvocka. Deputy Commander at Omarska camp. Accused as a superior officer for crimes committed at Omarska, including rape and murder. Until Oct. 23, was working at Prijedor police station. May have gone into hiding in November.

*Zeljko Mejakic. Commander at Omarska camp. Indicted as a superior officer for crimes at Omarska. Served as recently as Oct. 20 as deputy station commander of Omarska police station.

*Zoran Zigic. Officer at Omarska and Keraterm camps. Reported to be in Serb prison for an unrelated murder.

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