TRNOPOLJE DETENTION CAMP: HELSINKI WATCH REPORT,
OCTOBER 1992-FEBRUARY 1993
All text courtesy of Human Rights Watch, Helsinki Division
Copyright 1992/1993 Human Rights Watch
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In late May, part of the predominantly Muslim village of Trnopolje, in the
municipality of Prijedor, was transformed into a detention camp, primarily
for non-Serbian women, children and elderly persons. The Serbian authorities
who administered the Trnopolje camp referred to it as a "refugee reception
center" or "an open camp" for Muslims who were "hiding from Muslim
extremists." Between May and August, Trnopolje was a detention camp, similar
to, but less brutal than, the Keraterm, Omarska and Manjaca camps. After
Trnopolje was discovered by the Western press in late July 1992 and the
barbed wire that surrounded it was removed, the Trnopolje camp became, de
facto, a "ghetto" or holding center for non-Serbs in the area. Most of those
detained in the Trnopolje camp lived in tents, the school or other buildings
within the camp's perimeter.
On the basis of interviews with former Trnopolje detainees, at least three
categories of persons interned in the Trnopolje camp can be identified. The
first category included those who were kept at the Trnopolje camp after
Serbian forces attacked and forcibly displaced the non-Serbian population in
the area. Women, children and elderly persons comprised the majority of such
forcibly interned persons. The men who had been forcibly displaced from
their villages were most frequently detained in the Omarska, Keraterm or
Another category of detainees included those persons, mostly men, who were
transferred to Trnopolje after the Omarska and Keraterm camps were closed.
At first, these former camp inmates were separated from the rest of the
detainees in Trnopolje and were frequently interned in the school, where
some were beaten.
A third category of detainees included Muslims and Croats who voluntarily
abandoned their villages in Serbian-occupied regions of northwestern Bosnia
and came to Trnopolje, thinking it was safer for them to remain in the camp
than in their homes. These people believed that they would be registered by
the ICRC at Trnopolje and resettled in another country. When the camp became
overcrowded, Serbian authorities deported the Trnopolje detainees from the
area, at first in cattle cars and then in buses. Those taken from the ghetto
were sent to Muslim and Croatian controlled areas of Bosnia.
Although abuses in the Trnopolje camp were more random and not as bestial as
in Omarska, Keraterm and Manjaca, gross abuses did occur. Men were taken
from the camp by guards and were subsequently "disappeared." In a few cases,
detainees were shot at random by guards. Trnopolje inmates were forced to
bury the bodies under orders of the Serbian authorities that administered
R.K., an eighteen-year-old Muslim student from Kozarac, and members of her
family were taken to the Trnopolje camp after the fall of their village on
May 27, 1992. She claims that other villages also were attacked in late May
and that their inhabitants were forcibly interned at the Trnopolje camp.
According to R.K.:
"About 5,000 to 6,000 people were brought in on May 27. All the villages in
the area were "cleansed". They were given an ultimatum similar to ours: We
had to give up or be bombed by planes. Banja Luka is only forty kilometers
from us, and they had the capabilities to do something like that, so we all
took the threat seriously."
"They took us to Trnopolje by bus. Then the buses turned around and came
back with the men. When we got to Trnopolje, we went to the fields. We saw
the buses arriving and we started to look for our men. They wanted to lock
up the men in a separate room but someone fired a shot and then the men
scattered into the crowd with the women. Then they started to shot in the
air. They were shooting near the building to scare us."
Mehmet, a man in his fifties, said that the camp's residents were poorly fed
and that many people got dysentery. He claims that two or three people died
of diseases. Mehmet asserts that conditions worsened on a daily basis during
his internment but that the situation improved after a visit by the ICRC.
Mehmet remained in the community hall for the duration of his fifty-day stay
in the ghetto. Mehmet believes that approximately two hundred people
disappeared during his fifty days in the camp:
"There was a big yard behind the community hall. The yard was full of the
vehicles in which people had driven to get to the camp. A warehouse and a
school also were [within the confines of the camp]. The [wire fence]
enclosure was a sort of circle surrounded by machine-gun nests--you could
move a little but not far, not much. sometimes it was difficult [to move]
because 6,000 people were in the enclosure. They were bringing in people all
the time, and the population fluctuated between 2,000 and 6,000. Every day
they went through lists and pulled people out for beating or killing. I
didn't see people being killed; I only saw corpses. No one tried to look or
listen too much."
When asked which people were called from the lists and taken from the
ghetto, Mehmet replied:
"They were looking for people who had quarreled with their neighbors and
were fingered by them: teachers, professionals, rich men. Only the working
class lived. People who knew how to read and write were taken away every
day. No teachers survived."
Mehmet reported that the soldiers who stood guard over the detainees were
responsible for "disappearing" those called from the aforementioned list.
Mehmet reasoned that these soldiers were local Serbs because soldiers from
outside the area would not have been able to identify the detainees.
Rasim, a former resident of the village of Brdjani, was brought to Trnopolje
on May 26. One month after his arrival, Rasim was one of at least eight men
chosen to dig the graves for those who had been killed in the ghetto.
According to Rasim:
"My brother, six others and I were taken by some men to a place where there
were corpses on the floor. When we were digging the graves, some soldiers or
guards from the camp watched us and then three police officers replaced
them. There were three bodies [to be buried] and I knew two of the
[victims]. One was a man named Ante, who worked in the school in Kozarac,
and the other was his son, Zoran. The day before, these men [those whom they
were burying] had come from Omarska. Both had the back halves of their heads
missing and one had been shot through the eye. We found the third corpse in
a burned-down house, near a group of burned houses. This was an old corpse;
it was falling apart and the head had been bashed beyond recognition."
Rasim said that he buried Meho Krajina and Tofa Furic, both of whom had
their throats slit. He also buried a third man whom he recognized but whose
name he did not know; this corpse had a bullet wound in its head. All three
men were buried on the same day and all had been interned in the Trnopolje
ghetto. Rasim also said he buried a man named Aziz Talic, whose throat had
been slit. He claims that Hase Softic, Braco Pidic and Vaskan Fazlic also
Rasim reported that the men he buried had been killed in one of the
following scenarios: leaving the Trnopolje ghetto to scavenge for food,
after being "disappeared" from the ghetto, or in the ghetto itself and
during the "ethnic cleansing" of villages in the area.
Ismet, a forty-year-old resident of the village of Trnopolje, told Helsinki
"[The Trnopolje ghetto] is not a refugee reception areaÑonly after the ICRC
came, did they [i.e., the Serbian authorities] begin calling it [that]. We
were first kept in the elementary school and the camp eventually spread
around the school, which became its central locus point."
"The camp was about three hundred square meters and about 4,000 people were
detained there [at the time of my detention]. There were guards walking
aboutÑusually fifty during a given shift. The guards would walk among us in
the camp and take people away from time to time, including women."
"Four men beat me that day--one was an interrogator and there were three
others present. They beat me for half an hour. They kept asking me, "Where's
the gun--who had a pumparica?" I don't even know what that is; later I was
told that it's some type of U.S.-made gun that resembles a hunting rifle.
They kept beating me."
Edin, a repairman from Kozarac, worked as a cook for about thirty-five days
in the camp and claims to have gotten to know the camp authorities well. He
reported that a special unit acted as "escort" for those being evacuated
from the camp or as "security" guard. According to Edin:
"At the end of July, a French woman journalist driving a car with Belgrade
plates came to the [Trnopolje] camp. Then more prisoners arrived. Seventy
buses from Keraterm arrived. Prisoners from Omarska also arrived. Then the
wire encircling the camp was dismantled on August 3. After the wire came
down, we were allowed to walk out of the camp if we left our identification
papers [with the guards]. The guards would ask when you would be back and
you could say by 9:00, and all would be fine, but they'd tell you that if
you were late you'd be butchered."
According to Edin, a bribe of one hundred German marks would buy a release
form, which is the way Edin secured his release from Trnopolje on August 21.
Sulejman, a young farm worker from Kevljani spent seventy-five days in the
Omarska camp before he was transferred to the Trnopolje ghetto. According to
"In Trnopolje, we could eat by stealing from garden, finding potatoes, and
so forth. We went to destroyed houses and took food from those gardens.
Guards would follow us and shoot at us; it was pure luck if you managed to
get away. We were provided the same amount of food as at Omarska, but we
were allowed to walk about. This period lasted only fifteen days.
Thereafter, they provided no food--only water--until the ICRC came. The
people were sustained by scavenging, if someone could go into the village." RETURN TO UNCONQUERED BOSNIA HOMEPAGE