Serb Rebuffs Torture Allegations, Limits Visit by Foreign Journalists

The Washington Post
August 11, 1992

PRIJEDOR, Bosnia – Are Serb leaders in Bosnia trying to cover up evidence of brutal prison camps?

In an effort to prove otherwise, Prijedor Police Chief Simo Drljaca escorted a group of foreign journalists to the Keratern ceramics factory, which Bosnia’s Slavic Muslim-led government alleges was used as a detention and torture facility for several thousand Muslim prisoners.

Drljaca showed the journalists a workshop building that he said was used only on July 24 and 25 to house 500 captured Muslim militiamen. He laughed off allegations that thousands of Muslims had been held in factory buildings for several months and repeatedly mistreated.

But this particular building showed no signs of recent habitation. No human grime or refuse, no lingering smells of sweat or waste. Drljaca said the warehouse had been cleaned up after the prisoners were transferred, but the floor was coated with a layer of dust that seemed far too thick to have accumulated in two weeks. It seemed, in fact, that the building had been vacant for a very long time.

Later in the day, the journalists were taken to a detention camp at Trnopolje, about 15 miles away, where several Muslim prisoners said in interviews that they had been held for two months at the ceramics factory and regularly beaten before being abruptly transferred on Aug. They said about 2,000 Muslims had been interned there, and that some had died. The inmates said they were held in three storage warehouses at the Keratern factory and had never been near the workshop building that was shown to journalists.

Drljaca had refused to permit an inspection of several warehouses about 200 yards away from the workshop building. He said the warehouse were sensitive “military sites” that, for security reasons, could not be viewed or photographed by outsiders. During the journalists’ visit, no military activity was visible at the warehouses.

Author: Peter Maass

I was born and raised in Los Angeles. In 1983, after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley, I went to Brussels as a copy editor for The Wall Street Journal/Europe. I left the Journal in 1985 to write for The New York Times and The International Herald Tribune, covering NATO and the European Union. In 1987 I moved to Seoul, South Korea, where I wrote primarily for The Washington Post. After three years in Asia I moved to Budapest to cover Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I spent most of 1992 and 1993 covering the war in Bosnia for the Post.