News 11 Apr 11

Bosnia: Visit to Former Detention Camp Highlights Dispute

A visit by German students to the former Omarska detention camp in western Bosnia highlights an ongoing dispute over access to the site between former detainees and the company that bought the mining complex.

Eldin Hadzovic
Sarajevo

On Monday, a group of 31 students from the Munich Academy for Social Pedagogy, led by their professor Manfred Patermann, will visit Omarska, the site of the most notorious detention camp established by Bosnian Serb authorities during the war in the 1990s.  

The Hague Tribunal established that the prisoners of the camp were held under armed guard, in brutal conditions. They were murdered, raped, sexually assaulted, severely beaten and otherwise mistreated. Prosecutors compared Omarska and several other camps around Prijedor to those run by Nazis.

The goal of their school project, professor Patermann told Balkan Insight, is to present a country in the post-war period to students, who will learn about the social needs of the people living there and what help they need to rebuild their country.

While Patermann says that he requested access to the entire site of the former detention camp, the company that owns the complex has said they will only be permitted to visit the notorious ’White House’, described by the Hague Tribunal as a small building where particularly severe beatings were administered.

“It is impossible for us to let them inside the mine facilities, as we can’t interrupt the production for that,” Predrag Sorga, a PR officer at Indian firm AcelorMittal, which owns the coal mine complex, told Balkan Insight.

Satko Mujagic in Omarska 1992
Satko Mujagic in Omarska 1992

Former Omarska detainees say that AcelorMittal's decision to allow access to only one part of the former detention camp highlights the perennial dispute over access to the site and the delay in finding a solution to the establishment of the memorial centre there.

Sudbin Music, member of the Association of Prijedor Victims of war 'Prijedor 92’, who will join German students on Monday, told Balkan Insight that they fear that the response from the mine administration could be the same on May 9, when former detainees will mark Camp Prisoners' Day at Omarska.

Satko Mujagic, former camp prisoner at Omarska, said that detainees reached agreement with Roeland Baan, Mittal’s CEO for Europe, in January 2005, ensuring that access to the camp would be guaranteed for future visits.

Acelor Mittal also announced in December 2005 in Banja Luka that the ’White House’ would become a memorial, financed by the company.

“We also agreed that the ’White House’ would not be used by the company and kept in current state,” Mujagic said, adding that the ’White House’ has since been painted so traces of blood can no longer be seen.

“Nowadays,” Mujagic stressed, “There is still no memorial there and no access to other camp buildings.”

“We can’t visit the whole complex and can’t even take any photos,” Music said.

Pedrag Sorga, the PR officer at Acelor Mittal, said that the company had received the detainees' request for a commemoration on May 9, but no decision had yet been taken on access to the site.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia established that from May to August 1992, Serb forces which had seized power in Prijedor collected and confined more than 3,000 Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats from the area in the administrative centre of an iron ore mine, a few kilometres from the predominantly Serb village of Omarska.

The Omarska camp housed many of the local Muslim and Croat elite, including political, administrative and religious leaders, academics and intellectuals, business leaders and others, who led and influenced the non-Serb population.

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