The dead have been the focus of substantial news coverage regarding the former Yugoslavia this past week. The gruesome story of a refrigerated truck from Kosovo that was found in the Danube in 1999 surfaced with the remains of some fifty people in it it, many of them women, children and old men.
Hague Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said that 4266 corpses had been found in some 600 mass graves in Kosovo. In Bosnia, 76 presumed victims of the Susica concentration camp near Vlašenica were removed from mass graves and buried in a Muslim cemetery. In the Knin Krajina area of Croatia, officials investigating the deaths following the 1995 "Operation Storm" Croatian offensive were hampered by the booby traps on some of the bodies the Serb soldiers buried in a mass.
There were also discussions about a documentary aired on American public television earlier this year in which Serb eye-witnesses said that the bodies of some 1500 Kosovo Albanians had been burned in a furnace at the Trepča mine complex in Kosovo in 1999 (IWPR Correspondent 2001).
More and more victims
The number of victims of war and conflict continues to grow. The Macedonian army reported that it had killed some thirty ethnic Albanian insurgents in its current tank and helicopter assault on villages in the Kumanovo region. This follows the recent killing of eight Macedonian police and soldiers by the insurgents on Mount Sara, near Tetovo.
In Kosovo, Danish KFOR troops were responsible for the death of a young man allegedly shot in the back after fleeing the car he was in at a KFOR checkpoint. Earlier, an elderly Serb woman died after inhaling tear gas used by KFOR troops in an attempt to break up Kosovo Serb protests against customs posts and duties on goods from Serbia. A seventeen-year old Serb boy died after a drive-by shooting by Albanians.
In the Preševo valley, an Albanian child was badly wounded by shrapnel in a clash on 12 May between Yugoslav security forces and the Liberation Army of Preševo, Medvedja and Bujanovac. On 17 May, a Yugoslav army captain was killed and another died later in hospital after an attack by ethnic Albanian rebels in south Serbia.
Then there is the deaths of Bosniak women in Foča in 1992 for which no perpetrators have been brought to justice. Of the 375 Bosniak victims of the war identified so far in the Foča area, 40 per cent were women, a much higher proportion than elsewhere in Bosnia, where the figure was around 12 per cent (Klarin and Bogati 2001, p.4).
The preferred victims
Deliberate killings of women in the conflicts of the former Yugoslavia have sometimes been linked to their situation as party activists, or their status as lawyers, doctors and community leaders or to their involvement in the conflict as nurses or combatants. Others, however, were the victims of rape, mistreatment and deliberate murder. The high proportion of female victims in Foča suggests that many were among the latter.
Details of the horrifying treatment of Muslim women in Foča following the 1992 Serb offensive emerged to some extent during the trials of Dragoljub Kunarac, Radomir Kovač and Zoran Vuković, who were sentenced to 28 years, 20 years and 12 years respectively for their parts in the extended detention, rapes and mistreatment of young girls and women in Foča in 1992 and 1993. Kovac and Janko Janjić, who was indicted but blew himself up to avoid standing trial at the Hague, had earlier reportedly been found guilty of the murder of Muslim women who had been detainees in the Partisan hall in Foča and sentenced to 20 years each in a trial held in absentia in Montenegro.
The Hague Tribunal trial did not deal with any charges of murder, although one of the alleged rape victims, a twelve-year-old girl, was allegedly sold to a soldier who was never identified and has not been seen or heard from since. Three of indicted in the Hague's case still remain at large. The case is the most organised, systematic and large-scale rape case from the Bosnian war, which has so far not been dealt with by any court. It was also characterised by the extreme youthfulness, and in one case advanced pregnancy of the victims, as well as the intensity of the rapes and the extent to which forced prostitution was involved.
During the trial, Dragoljub Kunarac gave as one of his alibis an overnight stay in the Velčevo complex. He went so far as to produce a former soldier who had been a sentry at the complex to testify that he had stayed there on the night in question. Kunarac had a house in the Aladza area of Foča, where he usually resided, along with the ten or so Montenegrin paramilitaries who were under his control and who were also involved in raping the victims he brought them.
The Velčevo complex, according to two informants of the journalist Roy Gutman, was the location not only of the local Serb political headquarters, guarded by several hundred paramilitaries, but also of a women's prison which had been turned into a concentration camp for Muslim women.
Gutman (1993, pp. 162-163) reported that the women who had been held there after the Serb takeover in 1992 were believed to have been killed or were still held there at the time he was writing. Gutman's information on the complex came from Muharem Omerdzic, an official of the Muslim benevolent association Riyaset, and Enver Pilaff who had been head of the Muslim Democratic Action Party in Foča. They had obtained this information from refugees or the families of women who were still being detained in Bosnia.
Kunarac's evidence of having stayed at Velčevo during the relevant time period merits possible further investigation into him and his alibi. Also, Foča is a relatively small town, as is Nikšić from which many of the Montenegrin paramilitaries came. There may be more than a few people in both, some possibly former contacts or military colleagues of those found guilty or indicted in the Foča rape case, if not the parties themselves, who could cast light on the comparatively high representation of women among Muslims murdered in Foča in 1992 and 1993.
The Tribunal can and has used assurances of possible leniency with regard to their own crimes for those who serve as witnesses to the crimes of others, something which might encourage potential witnesses to come forward.
Heather Field, 4 June 2001
Heather Field is Senior Lecturer in Contemporary European Studies at Griffith University in Brisbane and a Fellow of the Contemporary Europe Research Centre of the University of Melbourne.
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FreeB92 (2001), "Knin Corpses "Booby-trapped," FreeB92, 9 May, p 4 of pp 1-7.
IWPR Corresponent (2001), "Kosovo Atrocity Cover Up," IWPR's Balkan Crisis Report, 11 May, pp. 1-3 of pp. 1-7.
Gutman, Roy (1993), A Witness to Genocide, Element Books, Shaftesbury, Dorset.
Klarin, Mirko and Vjera Bogati (2001), "Foča Prison Trial—Court Tries to Establish Fate of 'Missing' Inmates," IWPR's Tribunal Update 214, 29 March, pp 5-6. of pp. 1-6.