Author: Edin Ramulić

SILENCE AS AN ALIBY

It was supposed to be a routine liquidation of civilians, one of many that were committed by the intervention squad of the Prijedor police forces in 1992. A path carved into rocks on the slopes of Vlašić mountain seemed appropriate to them. A cliff with sharp rocks and a deep and deadly abyss below it simply lured them into stopping the buses with 200 men on board. These were the men that they singled out from a convoy on August 21, 1992, while persecuting non-Serb population from Prijedor. They were already professional killers, members of the intervention squad of the Prijedor police forces that had already killed several hundreds of civilians, whose bodies were lying in suburbs surrounding Prijedor. If one reads the rulings, their names are mentioned as members of a firing squad that killed people in front of a mosque in Čarakovo, as those that tortured and killed detainees in front of the detention camp Manjača, those who took away many inhabitants of Prijedor that disappeared without a trace. There is almost no serious crime without the participation of members of the intervention squad of the Prijedor police forces. The commander of the squad is Miroslav Paraš[1], an active policeman whose superiors appointed him to manage reserve police officers, who became part of the most notorious squad of death in Prijedor, in part voluntarily and in part because they were selected, and the competition was really stiff. Around 40 members of the squad, distributed into two divisions, produced deaths 24 hours a day, in two shifts.

On that August 21, 1992, they were setting a personal record – they intended to kill 200 people at once. They believed the dangerous cliffs to be an additional guarantee that death would be certain for the victims that had been randomly singled out from a convoy of more than thousand persons. Miroslav Paraš was in charge of the whole operation, and he received orders from his superior, Dušan Janković. Paraš was the one who selected people to be executed by a firing squad, he was the one who decided where the buses should be stopped. He lined up the civilians in two rows, ordered them to approach the edge of the abyss and asked the civilians in the first row to go down on their knees on the very edge. Together with other members of the squad he shot at people that disappeared in front of him either because they were hit or because they jumped into the abyss.

Although that day they went to a café in Kneževo after having committed the crime, which was over in less than half an hour, in order to make a toast for a successfully performed job and distribute the loot consisting of money and gold they took from the victims, it soon turned out that they committed numerous and unforgivable mistakes on that day. It turned out that the mountain wasteland was actually an area of crucial importance for inhabitants of Kneževo, which back then was called Skender Vakuf. The water supply network received water from this area and there was the risk of an environmental disaster and infectious diseases caused by the decay of bodies. The brigade of the Armed Forces of Republika Srpska from Kneževo reacted first, since it was their zone of responsibility, and soon there were other reactions and an investigation was initiated by military and civil authorities from Banja Luka.

This routine task that involved the liquidation of Muslims from Prijedor turned into a real nightmare for members of the intervention squad of the Prijedor police forces. War criminals have never had more trouble with the bodies after their crimes anywhere else. Nowhere in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They were forced to go down into the abyss and remove the decomposing bodies during August heat. The crane they brought from Prijedor broke down after they had pulled only four bodies, so that they started burning bodies, covering them with rocks and pushing them into a brook. It turned out that they had not been sufficiently efficient when they killed the victims, since as many as 12 people managed to survive the bullets and fall from a sharp cliff of more than 40 meters. For a while the policemen that killed these people were afraid of an arrest and had to hide in the holiday cottage of Darko Mrđa, who was the first to answer for that crime before the ICTY in The Hague.

Soon after that, the intervention squad was sent to a real theater of war in Eastern Bosnia, where the killers learned the difference between a real fight and killing unarmed civilians. They can be found on the list contained in the report of the HQ of the First Krajina Corps in October 1992, in which the following is stated: ''Police officers of the Police Station Prijedor left their positions and fled back to their places of origin. Criminal charges must be immediately brought against every individual and other measures taken to inform the public. Their names are to be published in the local newspapers and broadcast on the radio, including a message that these are persons who are unwilling to defend the interests of the Serb people and sacrifice themselves for the creation of a Serb state.'' This statement was signed by General Momir Talić.

Soon after the crimes committed in Korićanske stijene, the intervention squad was dissolved, but not because of this crime, it was rather dissolved because it was no longer needed – the largest part of the non-Serb population had already been persecuted, and those less fortunate were buried in individual and mass graves. Back then, nobody seriously resented the members of the intervention squad because they had killed civilians in Korićanske stijene, but rather because of the fact they had done it without the knowledge and consent of the local military and civilian authorities in Kneževo and because of the fact that they had not made sure that the bodies were properly buried. As a result of a decree adopted by the former President of Republika Srpska, Radovan Karadžić, Miroslav Paraš received the medal of major Milan Tepić in April 1993, and his superior, the chief of police, Dušan Janković, who was sentenced to 27 years in prison by the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina for the crime committed in Korićanske stijene, received the medal of Miloš Obilić as a result of the same decree.

Miroslav Paraš was killed February 08, 1994, in the war theatre in Bihać, together with other seven police officers from Prijedor. As an act of revenge, their colleagues and former members of the intervention squad committed a series of crimes against the remaining Bosniaks in Prijedor. Radoslav Knežević, Drago Radaković and Draško Krndija were sentenced to prison for having committed these crimes before the District Court in Banja Luka in 1994. Radoslav Knežević was also convicted before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the case Korićanske stijene. In addition to Dušan Janković and Radoslav Knežević, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina also convicted Zoran Babić, Milorad Škrbić, Željko Stojnić, Saša Zečević and Marinko Ljepoja. Damir Ivanković, Gordan Đurić and Ljubiša Ćetić have concluded a plea bargain.

All of them were police officers and this crime is the greatest known crime committed by the police forces of Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina. High police officials have never distanced themselves from this crime, on the contrary, there are regular events at the police building to commemorate the death of Miroslav Paraš and other policemen. Visitors can see his statue and name, which are part of the monument in the entrance hall, immediately after they enter the building. In addition to his statue, there is also the statue of Željko Bulić, a member of an intervention squad, which also participated in the massacre in Korićanske stijene. The monument does not include the names of police officers from Prijedor, who were detained in detention camps in Prijedor and tortured there, such as Emir Karabašić and most other non-Serb police officers, who were killed in 1992.

The name of Miroslav Paraš is also engraved in the monument in his place of origin, Donji Garevci, a suburb of Prijedor. The monument does not contain the names of three children, Alen, Ajdin and Maida Dženanović, who were killed in their home in that suburb on July 22, 1992 by perpetrators that remain unknown.

In 2012, the city authorities, together with associations of war veterans, organised the opening ceremony of a monument with the names of killed members of the Serb army and police forces on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the war. The monument was called a ''stone flower'', alluding to the famous monument of Bogdan Bogdanović in Jasenovac, and carved the name of Miroslav Paraš in it. Hardly anyone in Prijedor poses themselves the question whether it is advisable to compare the death of soldiers, including soldiers like Miroslav Paraš, with the death of innocent civilians in Jasenovac. The location of the monument is highly questionable, too. It is located in the park that used to belong to the secondary school centre in the immediate proximity of secondary schools in Prijedor. Elvir Kararić, who was killed by Miroslav Paraš in Korićanske stijene, had attended a secondary school in front of which there is a monument with the name of his murderer. The sixteen-year old student of that school still has not received a monument with his name in Prijedor in spite of the fact that for years, there has been an initiative to build a monument for killed children.

The commander of the intervention squad, a police officer from Prijedor and notorious murderer, Miroslav Paraš, received a medal while still alive and after he died, his name is preserved for eternity, written on three monuments in public spaces that were financed from the city budget. And nobody is bothered by it. Over the past two years, there were collective burials of victims, and most of these victims were killed in Korićanske stijene. Many unnecessary, superfluous and empty words are pronounced during these burials and in press statements, and nobody, absolutely nobody points out how problematic is the fact that memorials are built for persons in case of whom there are established court facts that they committed war crimes during their lives.

The authorities of Prijedor have never denied the crime in Korićanske stijene, during the first ten years, they financed the transport of families of victims to commemorations. Every year, the city authorities allocate funds from the city budget, planned under the item for the burial of missing persons, to the accounts of two majlises of the Islamic Community for the maintenance of graveyards of killed veterans. At the same time, the very same authorities finance monuments that contain the name of the person who is the most responsible perpetrator of the crime in Korićanske stijene, but also numerous other crimes in Prijedor. This is possible only with the tacit assent of the local political representatives of Bosniaks, but also the majlis of the Islamic Community that organise collective burials of victims. The whole problem of war crimes boils down to a humanitarian act of dignified burial and the wording: ''May it not be forgotten''. Instead of insisting on determining the responsibility, strengthening the capacities of the judiciary, encouraging witnesses, ensuring institutional distancing from war criminals, everything comes down to burials, religious rites and some imaginary narrative about oblivion. In the end, the families of victims accepted that it was sufficient to find the mortal remains and bury them. Nobody expects new court proceedings.

Silence reigned also during the search for the bodies of victims in Korićanske stijene. In 2003, exhumations started, but only in 2017 it was established that the mortal remains of victims had all the time been in the location of crime. This had been claimed since the very beginning by witnesses before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A witness, Velimir Vrabčić, claimed that they took a mine expert with them in order to bury the bodies under stones. The accused, Damir Ivanković, said in his statement that he took the Head of the Institute for Missing Persons, Amor Mašović, to the location and showed him personally where the crime was committed. They were supposed to search the area a bit better and dig the soil, however ''experts'' had their own theories, excuses and methods useful only for stalling the process. Since associations of war detainees have taken over the organisation of commemorations in Korićanske stijene, nobody asks about the responsibility of those that have remained unpunished. During the first commemorations organised since 2001 by the Association of Women from Prijedor, ''Izvor'', names of police officers from the intervention squad were read and requests were made to determine their responsibility. One of the names was Saša Zečević, the Head of the Traffic Department at the Police Station, who heard his name in Korićanske stijene, where he came as a member of police security forces. Later on, he was arrested in his police uniform and convicted of the crime in Korićanske stijene. Commemorations on August 21, media reports and two protests in front of the building of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, created public pressure that resulted in indictments against 13 policemen. There are no more such requests, so that the remaining members of the intervention squad of the Prijedor police forces can sleep tight. One of them is Željko Zec, who was the most brutal one during the pillage of persons in the convoy. After they had stopped firing, he additionally threw bombs in the abyss to kill victims who survived. He is supposedly in Australia, under a false name, but he can certainly sleep tight, because once the remaining bodies located at the identification hall in Sanski Most are buried, nobody will be mentioning Korićanske stijene and requesting justice for the victims. Former members of the intervention squad are located in Germany, Serbia, but most of them still live in Prijedor. Nobody is looking for their colleague, Draško Krndija, who was standing behind Paraš, while they were emptying whole sets of ammunition into civilians above the abyss in Korićanske stijene. He has not even showed up during the pronouncement of the judgment at the District Court in Banja Luka in 2005 and he has been a fugitive ever since. He has been hiding for a longer period of time than the once notorious fugitives Mladić and Karadžić, and he has been forgotten not only by institutions, but also by those who organise burials of victims and represent families of victims in the public.

It is silence that constitutes a problem, not oblivion. As a result of silence of the Bosniak political elite in Prijedor, the name of Miroslav Paraš is engraved in three monuments and it was paid for by funds from the public budget filled also by taxes paid by families of his victims. If anyone had protested against it, local authorities would maybe have re-examined what kind of monuments are being financed and in whose honour and remembrance they are built. If there had been a request by associations of war detainees, maybe at the hall of the police station building, there would be a plaque with the names of police officers killed in detention camps. Silence brings safety, as Ivo Andrić, a Nobel prize winner, wrote. Safety for war criminals.

 

Edin Ramulić, is a human rights activist from Prijedor. He is a former journalist and editor of three issues of a book about missing persons Ni krivi, ni dužni. He is continuously engaging in providing support to witnesses and victims of war crimes and gathering information about missing persons. By doing so, he wishes to contribute to processes of building a culture of remembrance and facing the past. He is the president of the Foundation for Building a Culture of Remembrance in Prijedor and he is currently establishing a centre for documentation and information in that city.

 

Photo: Edin Ramulić, mortal remains of victims in Korićanske stijene   


[1] For more information see: The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, 3472_1K_BZ_i_dr._prvostupanjska_21_12_2010-2.pdf

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