Feature 07 Dec 12

Ilijas War Victims Lament Justice’s Snail’s Pace

About 200 people from Ilijas were killed in spring 1992 following a Bosnian Serb assault on the town and surrounding villages – and over 50 remain missing. Yet almost no one has yet been held responsible.

Justice Report
Ilijas/Photo by BIRN

The Cantonal Prosecution in Sarajevo and the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina have initiated several investigations against more than 120 persons concerning crimes committed in the 1990s in the territory of the municipality of Ilijas.

But victims of the war feel deeply dissatisfied, saying they fear that they will not live to see justice done on behalf of themselves or their lost loved ones.

About 200 people were killed in Ilijas, which lies about 18km from Sarajevo, in May and June 1992, following an attack of the Army of Republika Srpska.

The Cantonal Prosecution says it is investigating 120 persons for war crimes committed at the territory of Ilijas, while the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina says investigations are open in two cases against six persons for these crimes. However both prosecutions give few details.

Only one person has been jailed for, among other things, the crimes committed in Ilijas.  Biljana Plavsic, the former president of Republika Srpska was sentenced to 11 year in prison after pleading guilty before the Hague Tribunal. She was freed in October 2009.

Families of the victims say they are angry about the slow pace of prosecuting those who were responsible, saying they want at least to find the remains of their loved ones. More than 20 years on, the remains of 54 persons are still not found.

Villages attacked:

Survivors recall that the Bosnian Serb army and police attacked the villages of Bioca, Ljesevo, Kadric, Luka and the centre of Ilijas in May and June 1992.

The men who were not killed on the spot were imprisoned and in some cases tortured in a number of locations.

These included the elementary school in Gornja Bioca, the Iskra warehouse, the basement of the train station in Podlugovi and the “27th July” junior school in Ilijas.

Gornja Bioca was the first village to come under attack on May 29, 1992. Two persons were killed and another three were wounded in the attack, while the men were taken away to detention facilities.

“Our neighbours and friends disguised themselves in paramilitary uniforms and came with [Serb paramilitary] cockades on their heads to our homes and captured us,” Sabahudin Sehic, from Gornja Bioca, recalled.

“Huzeir and Zahid Selimovic, father and son, were killed. They came to their home and shot Huzeir through the door, and when they broke down the door, they took out his son and killed him, too,” he added.

A first-instance verdict of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in December 2011 acquitted Srpko Pustivuk of involvement in the attack on Gornja Bioca.

During the attack, Sehic said that local Bosniaks [Muslims] were arrested and detained in the elementary school.

“We were interrogated, tortured, starved in the school... Some were taken to the police for questioning and ended up in mass graves,” Sehic said.

He added that after seven days the detainees were transferred to the Iskra warehouse in Podlugovi, where they were detained for another 75 days.

 “We had no food, hygiene, and we got fleas, but also infectious diseases. People fell unconscious,” Sehic added, noting that they were later transferred to other facilities, like the Planjina house in Semizovac.

Sehic says his long detention has left mental and physical scars that the years have not effaced.

After the attack on Bioca, the Bosnian Serb army and police attacked the villages of Ljesevo, Kadarici, Luka and the center of Ilijas in June 1992.

Shot dead on a hillock:

In an interview with BIRN, Habiba Fazic said that her husband was killed along with another 21 Bosniaks in Ljesevo.

A Bosnian Serb soldier struck her husband with the rifle butt and then they drove him off, along with other men, to a hillock, she said.

After she heard a burst of gunfire, Fazic says she fainted. When she came to, a neighbour told her the men been killed.

Those who are not killed were then taken to the Iskra warehouse in Podlugovi, where some were subjected to various tortures.

One local from Ljesevo, who was a protected witness at the Hague Tribunal trial of Vojislav Seselj, the Serbian Radical Party leader also charged over crimes committed in Ilijas, said conditions in the Iskra warehouse were grim.

“We stayed two-and-a-half months in the Iskra warehouse with hardly any food or water. There was no toilet so we got a variety of infections,” he said.

“One officer from the ‘Seselj’s Guard’ [paramilitary formation] took Bakir Sehic out. After the war, we found him in a grave,” the protected witness, who was also detained in the Planjina house, following Iskra, said.

Zilka Rizvo, from Ilijas, said her son and husband were taken from their home on June 5, 1992, and detained in the Iskra warehouse, from where they were transferred to the Planjina house.

“I found the body of my child in Semizovac,” Rizvic said.

The Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in October this year indicted Branko Vlaco for crimes committed in Vogosca, Ilijas, and other Sarajevo municipalities.

Unlike the inhabitants of Bioca and Ljesevo who were detained in the Iskra warehouse, the men from the village of Kadarici and Luke, after arrest, were detained in the “27th July” school in Ilijas.

Ibrahim Avdibegovic/Photo by BIRN

Ibrahim Avdibegovic was detained in the gym of the school for a month. His son, grandson, brother, cousin and son-in-law were taken away from there on July 6, 1992, and have never been seen again. Avdibegovic, who is now 91, said the younger men were taken to another room and beaten.

“They beat them and did various things to them. There were about 50 men in that room, all youngsters”, said Avdibegovic, noting that his only desire now is to find the bones of his loved ones while he is still alive.

His daughter-in-law, who lost her son, said it was a crime also that they still did not know where the bones of their loved ones lay.

“Our neighbours know where they killed them, where their bones are, but they do not want to tell us,” Zekija Avdibegovic said.

She recalled that her son was only 17 when he was taken away from the school in Ilijas and disappeared without trace.

Survivors note that some women were among those who remain missing from the Municipality of Ilijas.

The Institute for Missing Persons of Bosnia and Herzegovina states that among 152 victims from Ilijas who have been exhumed are the bodies of 11 women and three children aged four to 18.

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