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Brother defends Serb accused of Omarska terror

As Dusan Tadic's trial starts, his brother tells Emma Daly he is no war criminal
Kozarac - Mladen Tadic tells his story well, his phrases polished in interview after interview, his sincerity total. He is a walking PR campaign for his brother, Dusko, who goes on trial today at the Hague charged with crimes against humanity - specifically the torture and murder of Muslim men held at Omarska, a prison camp set up by the Bosnian Serbs in the summer of 1992 to hold the victims of "ethnic cleansing".

Dusan Tadic, his brother says, has Muslim friends (the charges include an allegation that he murdered one such friend) and even spoke out against the thugs looting and burning Muslim property in his home town, Kozarac.

"He is totally innocent," Bosko, a middle-aged man wearing an electric- purple shell suit, said. "They say that all those houses that are not destroyed were saved by him. He protected them."

Perhaps he did, though, if so, his efforts came to nought. Virtually every house in Kozarac, once predominantly Muslim, stands gutted and abandoned, torched to ensure that the inhabitants who escaped would never come back. Along the main street, lined with flowering chestnut trees, only a few buildings stand, those belonging to Serbs.

One is the cafe that once belonged to Dusko, now run by Mladen. A piebald pig reaps for scraps beside the wooden tables that stand outside and three surly soldiers play pool at an outdoor table. They are not from Kozarac, and their unfriendly demeanour suggests they have been sent to keep an eye on Mladen.

The local authorities and in particular the police chief in nearby Prijedor are not happy, Mladen says, with the Tadics' campaign to clear Dusko. "Normal people, our neighbours, our friends, are supporting us as much as they can," he said. "However the people who should be helping us the most are not giving us any support."

This, Mladen claims, is because Dusan, a local official, "knew what was actually happening here". And when he tried to protect the town from the upheaval, Mladen says, Dusan was press-ganged and sent to the front. He escaped and is now wanted for desertion by the Serbs in Bosnia.

"He's accused by the Serbs of being a deserter and by the Muslims of being a war criminal. That's a contradiction," Mladen said, firmly. The allegations of torture and murder are probably true he admits: but his brother is the victim of mistaken identity. "There is one man here who looks like Dusko's twin and I think he is the one," Mladen explained. "But he has the full protection of the police."

One plank of the Tadic defence is that Dusan was never at Omarska; he certainly did not work there as a guard, but that is an element that makes the allegations yet more heinous. The war crimes tribunal contends that Dusan tortured for fun, that he turned up at Omarska looking for a twisted good time. He is accused of forcing one prisoner to bite off the testicles of another; the second man died.

Dusan has spent a year in solitary confinement at a purpose-built prison block in Schevenginen. "He can hardly wait to get the trial started. He is really looking forward to it," said Mladen, who has to visit another brother in the city of Banja Luka to connect with Dusan's weekly phone calls. "He is confident he will prove his innocence."

So far neither Dusan's wife, Mira, or his two brothers still in Bosnia, have raised the money for a plane ticket to the Hague, Mladen said. Dusan's expertise in karate - the cafe is filled with black-and-white photos of Dusan and Mladen in karate kit - has stood him in good stead over the past twelve months, Mladen said.

"He has good living conditions at The Hague, including a gym where he can exercise. That has kept him going because you can imagine what it is like to live alone in the jail," he added. "There are some days when he is in a very good mood but other times he is down and he cannot understand for example why none of the local officials will help his case."

The official Serb line towards the tribunal has gradually changed, from outright hostility (it was set up as part of the supposed global conspiracy against Serbs) to demands that it investigate crimes committed against Serbs. But there is no acknowledgement yet that the war-crimes process is a necessary precursor to a real peace in Bosnia.

Still, a few people in Kozarac, the kind of sleepy, small town that ought to exist in happy obscurity, will admit to the need for some justice. "All those who acted in an evil way towards other human beings, who killed or raped, should face the tribunal, be they Serbs, Muslims or Croats," Mladen said. "If my brother is guilty he should stand trial. But he is not guilty."

Letters, page 12