Investigation 10 Dec 07

JUSTICE REPORT INVESTIGATES: Multiple Versions of the Truth

The crimes committed against Sarajevo's Serbs are once again the subject of heated discussions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Justice Report analyses the available data and talks to the victims' families, who are longing for the truth more than ten years after the crimes were committed.

By Nidzara Ahmetasevic and Mirna Mekic (Balkan Insight, 26 Apr 06)

Predrag Salipur was 29 years old when he was killed on October 18, 1993 by his fellow soldiers, members of the 10th mountain brigade of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ABiH. He left behind a daughter, wife Katrina and parents who are still searching for Predrag's body.

Predrag's father, Momcilo, who is also from Sarajevo, was in his weekend house in Pale when the war started. He received the news of his son's death in November 1993. Only after the war ended, in 1995, did he find out that the soldiers of the ABiH were responsible for Predrag's death.

"Immediately after the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed, the very next day, I came to Sarajevo to seek the truth," Salipur told BIRN's Justice Report. "I am still looking for it today.

"Exhumation in Kazani, the location where [my son] was killed, was completed during the war. The discovered bodies were then transferred onto the cemetery at the auxiliary stadium Kosevo."

During the war, the auxiliary football ground of the Kosevo Olympic stadium was turned into a cemetery because there was not enough space to bury the dead in ordinary graveyards.

"The body of my son was buried there together with the other 27 exhumed bodies [from Kazani]. They were not put into a mass grave. Number 24 marked Predrag's body bag. But the body was then identified," Salipur said.

He said that Predrag's body was exhumed for the second time in 1998, and claimed it was taken to Lukavica, to the Commission for Missing Persons of Republika Srpska, RS.

"Nobody called me to take the body. Since then, I don't know what was done with my son's remains," Salipur said.

"Today I say that they killed him twice: first while he was alive in Sarajevo, and later the Serb side killed him when he was already dead."

Although Predrag Salipur was a soldier in the ABiH, his family does not receive the benefits guaranteed to the families of those who were killed during the war.

But Momcilo Salipur cares more for other things. He hopes that every written word about his son can bring him a step closer to the truth.

The story of another Sarajevo Serb family, Komljenac is similar. Members of the 10th mountain brigade took Marina, 67, and Radoslav, 72, from their home at the end of June 1993. Their throats were slit and their bodies were disposed of in Kazani in the vicinity of the old part of Sarajevo.

Their daughter, who still lives and works in Sarajevo and prefers not to be identified, is searching for the remains of her parents.

"A few years ago they dug up Kazani and found a bone that, based on DNA analysis, belonged to my mother. At least that is what they said to me," she told Justice Report.

"My sister who now lives in Canada came here and we were planning the funeral. Then the people from the Commission for Missing Persons of the Federation came and asked for that one bone. They looked at it and said that DNA analysis was not done. To this day they did not return that bone and I am still looking for the remains of my parents," she claims.

She was also a member of the ABiH during the war. In 1997 she sent a letter to the president of BiH at the time, Alija Izetbegovic, asking him to help her in her search for her parents. She never received an answer from him or any of the authorized institutions.

Predrag Salipur and Marina and Radoslav Komljenac are only three names of a number of Serbs who were killed in Sarajevo during the war.

The murders of Serbs took place in all parts of the city, but the most famous locations are Kazani, Dobrinja, Velesici and Pofalici.

The exact number of murdered people is not known, but different sources have varying figures. These figures are disputed by different sides of the conflict, the governments and by the victims' families themselves.

Sarajevo consists of ten districts and the disputed deaths and numbers concern only four of these. The four were government-controlled districts which were under siege from the Bosnian Serb army.


While the number of dead is difficult to determine, the number of those who were tried for crimes committed against Sarajevo's Serbs is more easily determined.

The government in Sarajevo claims that they resolved the issue of the murders committed by the soldiers of the 10th mountain brigade a long time ago.

The 10th mountain brigade of ABiH was commanded by Musan Topalovic Caco, whose name has become synonymous with the crimes committed not only against Serbs living in the city during the siege but also Croats and even Bosniaks.

In late 1992 and for much of 1993, Serb citizens would disappear from their homes never to be seen again, and civilians of any nationality were seized on the streets and taken up in the hills to dig the trenches. Many of these crimes were blamed on Caco's brigade.

In October 1993, the BiH wartime government launched an operation to put an end to the terror campaign against its besieged citizens. Caco was killed during the action.

For years his body lay in an unmarked grave. In 1997 it was dug up and he was buried as a hero in Sarajevo's cemetery with other ABiH soldiers.

During the war, BiH prosecutors issued sixteen indictments for crimes committed against Sarajevo's Serbs. Combined jail terms of 33 years and eight months were handed down to those found guilty of these crimes.

However, none of the indictments or judgments viewed the crimes committed against Sarajevo's Serbs as war crimes.

Only the indictment issued against Samir Bejtic, a former member of the 10th mountain brigade, was classed as a war crime. His trial has been ongoing for the past five years.

The office of Sarajevo's cantonal prosecutor told Justice Report they could not say how many cases were processed during and after the war for crimes committed against the city's Serbs.

Victims' families are angered by the reluctance to class the crimes against Serbs as war crimes.

"To me it doesn't even matter what sentence they will get. But it is important that their crime is categorized as a war crime," the daughter of Marina and Radolsav Komljenac said.

Momcilo Salipur said the same and added that he believes that the people who were in the government during the war must also be held responsible.

"I hold them responsible because they didn't control Caco. People who defended their city, their country, their people, were killed," he told Justice Report.


Retired ABiH general, Jovan Divjak, also claims that the wartime government did not react in a timely and decisive manner.

"It is a fact that the government didn't process sufficiently and investigate when something happened. And it is not true that the crimes in Sarajevo weren't known about, discussed and written about. They were talked about since day one," General Divjak told Justice Report.

"There was always a story, but no adequate reaction. The politicians did not undertake necessary measures."

However, he cautions that it is "impossible" to talk about the suffering of Sarajevo Serbs as he believes victims should not be separated on basis of their ethnicity.

"Why talk about Serbs or any other people and separate the victims that way?" he asked. "Bosniaks, Croats and all others were killed here the same way. All of those who didn't do what they were asked to do suffered."

Bodies of members of other ethnicities were also found along with the Serbs in a mass grave at Kazani and other places of execution in Sarajevo. They were killed by members of various units of the ABiH.

Veljko Droca, the vice president of nongovernmental organization Serb Citizen Council, SGV, in Sarajevo, is also of the opinion that the wartime Sarajevo government did not react on time.

"It is a fact that there were no punishments. It is the government's fault. The responsible people from the Party of Democratic Action, SDA, for example, have never stated their position. The truth is they could have done more to prevent and investigate those crimes," Droca told Justice Report.

"Some party structures, individuals from the SDA, were always the problem because those commanders were their favourites. I also have to say that some dignitaries of the Islamic community visited the brigades that executed those crimes. I am not saying that they told them to kill, but they also didn't tell them not to do that. If they did they would certainly have some sort of influence."

A group of international scientists working in a group called the Scientific Initiative in a report called "Safe zones" also points to the responsibility of the government headed by Alija Izetbegovic.

Among other things, the report states that "Izetbegovic never even tried to punish those who were responsible, most probably because at the time the city needed all armed persons. Perhaps later the same logic was applied by some in the government who refused to disable the functioning of criminal gangs, even when they on their own punished individual Serbs for everything that was going on.

"Izetbegovic was the only person who could neutralize leaders of gangs such as Ramiz Delalic Celo or Musan Topalovic Caco in the summer of 1993, after they started abusing the population in the city. The gangs that functioned in the city are guilty for most of the civilian murders within the surrounded city, including both Muslims and Serbs."

The number of Serbs who were killed during the three and half years of siege of Sarajevo is not known and the numbers vary from source to source.

In March last year, the government of Republika Srpska publicised a preliminary list of 2,435 names of Serbs who were killed in Sarajevo and 575 who are missing.

"This is a preliminary list and further investigation is ongoing," Radovan Pejic, spokesperson of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of RS, MUP RS, said more than a year ago.

At the time, he claimed that "according to available information, the number of dead could be doubled".

Back then, MUP RS was investigating another 2,079 names of potential victims. But there have been no amendments to that list to this day.

Pejic told Justice Report that investigations are still taking place. He also said that most of the murders are being treated as war crimes, but "we expect to determine through further investigations the manner in which those people were killed".

He says the names of those who were killed by artillery or sniper fire from the Serb position above the besieged city are not on the list.

The list, which can be found of MUP RS's web site, does not offer more details than names and last names of persons. There is no information about when somebody was born or killed or disappeared, so it is very difficult to determine the accuracy of the list.

Some informal checks carried out by other organisations found inconsistencies on the Bosnian Serb government's list.

For example, the name of Katarina Salipur is on the list, the wife of Predrag who was killed. Her father-in -law, Momcilo, told Justice Report that Katarina has been living and working in the United States since the end of the war.

The Commission for Missing Persons of the Federation also claims that this list contains a number of other names of persons who are still alive or who died after the war.

They also claim that the names of Bosnian Serb soldiers who were in the ABiH and died in combat are on the list.

This commission also said that on the list of the missing persons they found 100 names of persons who are either alive or whose fate is known.

The data from the Commission for Missing Persons of RS also differs from that of the Bosnian Serb government.

President of this commission, Milan Bogdanic, told Justice Report that they were searching for 779 missing Serbs from Sarajevo.

In a book by Marko Mikerevic, called "The Sarajevo Kazani of Death", the author claims that around 10,000 Serbs were killed and a few hundred went missing.

"We have to be honest and give the exact data. According to my statistics, the number of missing persons of Serb nationality, on the territory of ten municipalities of Sarajevo, is 845," Mikerevic said.

In his 320-page book, Mikerevic, sometimes in detail, describes numerous murders of Serbs and other crimes committed against Serbs in Sarajevo.

However, the accuracy of the data in his book is often questioned as it relies on the information received through the word of mouth or the author claims that he was personally present at the crime scene.


The SGV doubts the accuracy of Mikerevic's claims.

"We at SGV don't have the numbers that we can talk about. But there is no way that we are talking about thousands of people," Droca told Justice Report. "Nobody can claim that high a number."

He believes different organisations and individuals should stop manipulating with the numbers.

"Official institutions should deal with that. There is a prosecutor's office. It is known whose job is to deal with that," the vice president of the SGV explained.

He says that RS politicians are often trying to politicize the issue of the fate of Sarajevo Serbs during the war.

"I have to say that in the past few years that issue has been raised in the Republika Srpska right before significant political events. I think politicization is the objective and not the truth," he said.

Droca said that none of the organizations or institutions in RS contacted his organisation regarding this issue, although most of the members of SGV spent the war in Sarajevo.

President of the Commission for Missing Persons of the Federation, Amor Masovic, said that, according to the data that they have and which deal with the ten pre-war municipalities of Sarajevo, 266 persons of Serb nationality are missing.

"Within that number, 56 are persons missing in action," Masovic said.

The non-governmental organisation Research and Documentation Centre, IDC, from Sarajevo is the only organization which scientifically tries to establish the exact number of the dead and missing in all towns of BiH.

Based on the research completed in Sarajevo, IDC determined that the total number of persons, of all ethnicities, killed in the ten municipalities of Sarajevo is 14,041.

Although IDC has not completed its work, the data collected so far shows that majority of the victims in Sarajevo were Bosniaks with a total of 9,663 killed, of which 5,918 were soldiers and 3,745 civilians.

The total number of Serb fatalities was 3,431. Of this number, 2,497 were soldiers of the Yugoslav National Army, JNA, and Bosnian Serb army, and 934 were civilians.

The total number of dead Croats according to the IDC is 649, of whom 265 were soldiers and 384 civilians.

According to IDC's data, the fate of 613 Bosniaks, 290 Serbs and 39 Croats, citizens of Sarajevo, is still unknown and they are filed as missing persons.


Speculation about the number of missing and dead Serbs in Sarajevo provoked some controversy.

Numerous victims associations together with official institutions from the RS and the Federation are requesting that a special commission for establishing the truth about events in wartime Sarajevo be formed.

This commission would be established in a similar manner to the Commission for Srebrenica which was formed in the RS with the aim of determining the facts about the massacre in the eastern Bosnian enclave.

General Divjak thinks the formation of a commission would put a stop to the manipulation of victim numbers.

"There is no way that there were thousands of murdered [Serbs]. But to talk about numbers, to separate victims [on the basis of nationality] is manipulation," he said.

"[The manipulation] will survive for as long as there is no commission that would give the public the results of investigations."

"The formation of a commission is very significant," Milijana Bojic, president of the Association of Families of Detained and Missing persons of RS, told Justice Report. "That commission is important because it would be fair for the relationship of the people who live here."

In January 2004, the parliament of BiH said it was necessary to form a commission that would determine the truth about the events in Sarajevo during the period between 1992 and 1995. The deadline for forming the commission was end of 2004.

That same year, the families of missing Sarajevo Serbs sent over 120 requests to the Constitutional Court of the Federation of BiH, asking for the commission to be formed.

On May 27, 2005, the constitutional court ordered the Government of the Federation to send all available information to the families and to form the commission.

As the commission was not formed, around 50 families of the missing persons protested in Sarajevo at the beginning of April this year.

"For thirteen years they have been looking for their missing family members. The people are bitter. The government has done nothing regarding that issue, as for example the RS has done in the case of Srebrenica," Milan Bogdanic, who headed the Commission for Srebrenica, said.

The RS government formed this commission after numerous pressures of international organizations in BiH, and the data they discovered forced the leaders of RS to admit the extent of crimes committed in Srebrenica.

Bojic says that Serb victims are treated unfairly.

"Bosniaks cannot have the exclusive right on many things including the victims," Bojic told Justice Report. "I agree that commissions for all killed and missing people should be formed, but the issue of missing Serbs should be resolved first because Sarajevo is the biggest grave of Serbs."

Divjak agrees that a commission is necessary. "They should all sit down and talk, and from that discussion we will find out who is guilty of what," he said.

"If we don't achieve truth and justice, then there is no chance for BiH. We need a commission that will discover the truth about Sarajevo. It should be established and it must determine how all were killed."

Droca, on the other hand, is of the opinion that a commission is not necessary and that prosecutors' offices should deal with these crimes.

The Government of the Federation of BiH on April 10 said that it had made strenuous efforts to identify all missing persons, but could not establish a commission for Sarajevo because part of it is in Republika Srpska.

Instead, it proposed setting up a joint commission with the Bosnian Serbs. Their premier Milorad Dodik urged the Federation to press ahead with the proposed body, but declined to address the problem of working on RS territory.


The highest international body in BiH, the Office of the High Representative, OHR, is also supporting the formation of the commission for determining the events in Sarajevo during the war.

In a recent announcement, the OHR said that "in Bosnia and Herzegovina there are around 16 decisions of the Human Rights Chamber regarding the cases of missing persons, which government institutions throughout the country have ignored until now, including the Government of the Federation of BiH which ignored the decision of the Human Rights Chamber in the case 'Sarajevo Serbs'.

"Regardless of earlier indications that there is readiness to establish a mechanism for discovering the truth in this case, it seems that the Government of the Federation of BiH is now retreating. That is unacceptable."

The families of the victims are exasperated.

"Everyone is manipulating the numbers. The truth is probably somewhere in between," the daughter of the murdered Komljenac couple said.

"After everything, it is difficult to have faith in anyone," this woman, who is still searching for the remains of her parents, went on. "After 13 years it seems to me that this country would rather forget everything. This is an endless game!

"Regardless of everything, I never thought of leaving Sarajevo, the city I was born in. But perhaps now I want my children to leave because I am very disappointed."

She does not know whom to blame for the fact that she still cannot bury her parents, but she is not giving up on the search.

Momcilo Salipur also does not want to give up on the search for the remains of his son Predrag.

"I know that everyone is mentioning numbers, but I don't know what the exact number is. I only know that 29 bodies were dug up from Kazani and that the body of my son was among them. I don't know where it is now".

Justice Report has been informed by Amor Masovic, president of the Commission for Missing Persons in the Federation, that the body of Predrag Salipura was given over to the Commission for Missing Persons in RS. The latter's president Milan Bogdanic, however, denies that.

"He was in the Army of BiH and he was killed by his fellow soldiers. The body was not given over to the RS commission," Bogdanic told Justice Report.

"My son defended his city. He was born here. And I am glad that he was in the Army of BiH because that is where he belonged. Sarajevo is our city. We were born here and we will die here," Salipur said.

"I already bought graves for my family in Sarajevo. I will bury my son there too. I just wish I could find him so that I can lay him to rest."

Nidzara Ahmetasevic is the editor of BIRN's Justice Report. Mirna Mekic is a Justice Report journalist. Justice Report is BIRN BiH on line publication. To read more or subscribe go to

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