News 29 Dec 17

Bosniaks ‘Used as Wartime Forced Labour’ by Croats

Bosniaks alleged to a Croatian news magazine that in 1993-94, they were forced to work in a Mostar-based factory that was managed by Dragan Covic, who is now the Bosnian presidency’s Croat representative.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Dragan Covic speaking at the UN. Photo: UN Photo/Cia Pak.

Croatian weekly news magazine Novosti on Friday published testimonies from Bosniak ex-prisoners who alleged that they were forced to work at the Soko factory in the southern Bosnian city of Mostar in 1993-94, during the Croat-Bosniak conflict in the country.

Novosti also published a document from 1993, signed by the current Croat representative on the tripartite Bosnian presidency, Dragan Covic, who the general director of Soko at the time.

In the document, which was first published by Bosnian media in 2013, Covic asked the management of the Mostar military-investigative prison for ten Bosniak prisoners to be put to work at Soko, guarded by the factory security.

Covic has strongly denied that he was responsible for using forced labour.

An alleged prisoner, identified by Novosti as Samir, to the magazine that he was held by the Bosnian Croat force, the Croatian Defence Council, HVO in the town of Stoc in 1993 and first brought to the Dretelj prison.

After Dretelj, he was sent to dig trenches on the battlefront against the Bosniak-led Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina and then transferred to another prison camp, Heliodrom. After a while, he was sent to work at Soko.

“When we [inmates] would remain alone by ourselves, these older soldiers would approach us, some drunk Homeguards [Croat soldiers] threatening to kill us,” he said, but added that there was no physical abuse.

Another alleged inmate, Huso Obradovic, said that he was arrested and put to work at Soko for six months. He alleged that he often saw Covic entering the factory.

“Almost every day we used to see him, he would walk right by us. He never looked nor talked to any of us,” Obradovic said. He also added that the detainees were not physically abused at Soko.

Novosti quoted Covic as telling Croatian Radio-Television, HRT on December 17 that he denied the allegations about forcing prisoners to work at Soko.

Covic told HRT that everything he did personally between 1992 and 1995 was “more than honourable, decent and humane”.

In March this year, media reported that the Bosnian prosecution had launched an investigation into 11 high-ranking officials of the wartime Croat-led statelet of Herzeg-Bosnia, among them Covic.

Some of the Bosniaks who talked to Novosti confirmed that they had testified to the authorities in the investigation.

Berislav Pusic, who approved the sending of prisoners to Soko – as shown in another document published by Novosti – was sentenced to ten years in prison by the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in November.

Pusic, who was the head of the commission in charge of all HVO prisons and detention facilities, was found guilty of approving forced labour by prisoners, which the court found was a breach of the Geneva Conventions.

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