THE HAGUE | 03.04.2013.

FRIENDSHIPS FLOURISHED IN BATKOVIC PRISON CAMP

Gojko Cekic, former commander of the Batkovic prison camp, contends that the detainees in that prisoner facility weren’t beaten, forced to work, carry ammunition or dig trenches. The detainees and guards were on such good terms that ‘friendships flourished’ among them. Youths below the age of 18 were brought in by mistake; this was corrected immediately, the witness claimed

In his statement to Karadzic’s defense team, former commander of the Batkovic prison camp Gojko Cekic claimed that the detainees in the ‘collection center’ ate the same food as guards, were kept warm in winter and received medical care. Cekic also argued that he never ordered the guards to ‘physically abuse’ anyone. If his orders were violated, perpetrators were punished, the witness claimed.

In August 1994, Cekic took over from Djoko Pajic as the commander of the Ekonomija ‘collection center’ in the village of Batkovic near Bijeljina. Cekic was in charge of ‘organizing the set-up’ in the center on the orders of the East Bosnia Corps commander. Cekic said that soldiers captured on front lines were brought to Ekonomija. The Corps military police and security officers interrogated the detainees to establish if any of them had committed war crimes against Serbs. The guards and detainees were on such good terms that ‘friendships were born’ between some of them, Cekic claimed.

The indictment alleges that at least six captives were killed in the Batkovic prison camp from June 1992 to June 1995. According to the adjudicated facts, the conditions in the prison camp were bad. Prisoners didn’t get enough food and water, they had to dig trenches, carry ammunition to the front lines, work in fields and factories and bury the dead. Some prisoners were beaten three times a day, sexually assaulted and forced to beat one another.

In the cross-examination, the prosecutor confronted the witness with some of the adjudicated facts. Cekic claimed that ‘while I was in the prison camp, I didn’t know’ that detainees had to sleep on concrete floors or use a hole in the ground as the toilet. Cekic also said that he didn’t know that a young man died of diabetes and some other prisoners died of heart attack. The witness also denied that detainees were taken out to do forced labor or that they had to fetch ammunition. Finally, Cekic said that he didn’t know Avdo Palic was detained in the prison in Vanekov Mlin in Bijeljina. After the fall of Zepa, Avdo Palic disappeared without a trace.

After the fall of Srebrenica, a number of people were brought to the Batkovic prison camp. According to the witness, they had fought for the BH Army or had joined its ranks during the break-out. The witness said that some of them died of the wounds they had sustained before they were captured, not because of lack of medical care or because of the bad conditions in the prison camp. The detainees included youths between 15 and 18 years of age and old men. In the re-examination, Cekic said that during the capture the VRS wasn’t able to separate them from the rest of the men. The youths were later released ‘unilaterally, without any compensation for the Serb prisoners’: by that he meant that they were not exchanged.