Inside a people-processing plant for 'ethnic cleansing'

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AN ARMED Serbian guard yesterday stood outside the gates of a ceramics factory at Prijedor in northern Bosnia. 'Yes, there were prisoners here. They were Muslims. But they left a month ago,' he said.

The factory, called Keraterm, appears as No 70 on a list of 105 places in Bosnia- Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, that Bosnian Muslim and Croatian human rights groups allege are Serbian 'concentration camps'. The heart of the factory consists of three long, squat blocks forming three sides of a square. Conflicting accounts are given of what happened at Keraterm, but on one point everyone agrees: it was a detention camp where Serbian forces held hundreds of Muslim prisoners.

Djemal Ceric, 31, a Muslim from the nearby town of Bosanski Novi, said that he was held at Keraterm from 31 May to 19 June. In that time, he alleged, eight Muslim prisoners were deliberately shot dead, four died in prolonged beatings and two more died from injuries incurred during beatings. Other Muslims, he said, suffered wounds from ricocheting bullets that Serbian guards fired close to them as a form of intimidation.

Mr Ceric, speaking in the Croatian town of Karlovac, said the ceramics factory contained 780 male prisoners while he was there: he remembered the figure because the Serbs instituted a morning roll call in which they read out each detainee's number. He said prisoners aged 16 or below and 60 or above were separated from those aged 17 to 59, and were fed one meal a day of beans, bread and water. Those aged 17 to 59 'were not fed at all and were not allowed to use a toilet, so they sat in their own excrement'.

Mr Ceric said that, after three days of interrogation, his captors realised he was not a resident of Prijedor, and he was transferred to a sports field in Bosanski Novi that was being used as a detention centre. There he was forced to sign a document abandoning all claims to his property. Then on 23 July, he was ordered to cross into Croatia, where he ended up in Karlovac, awaiting permission to be evacuated to Germany.

Mr Ceric's allegations of killings and beatings at Keraterm have not been independently confirmed, but two residents of Prijedor, one Serb and one Muslim, confirmed yesterday that the factory had been a detention centre. The Serb, Rajko Lekanic, said the prisoners were Muslim fighters who had been rounded up after the Bosnian Muslim 'Green Beret' force had attacked Prijedor on 30 May. He alleged that many thousands of Serbs had died at the hands of what he called the 'Muslim fundamentalists'.

The Muslim, Nusret Trepic, said the factory had contained about 1,000 Muslim prisoners, including his brother, Fahim, who had spent seven days there. However, he emphasised that his brother had suffered no mistreatment. He said the Serbian authorities had moved the prisoners out of Keraterm over a 10-day period beginning about a month ago. They were taken to Trnopolje, another detention centre that the Serbs had used as a transit point for driving Muslims out of their native areas.

The operation at the factory, therefore, appears to have been a textbook example of 'ethnic cleansing', the practice by which Serbian forces in Bosnia have compressed entire Muslim communities into places of detention, then expelled them in order to 'purify' the region for Serbs.

According to a report last week by the Bosnian, Muslim and Croatian human rights groups based in Sarajevo, Trnopolje contained 4,000 prisoners and the ceramics factory 3,000. In the entire Prijedor area, the groups said, 13 detention camps held a total of 34,358 prisoners. Other camps were alleged to be in Sarajevo, Zvornik, Visegrad, Bijeljina, Foca, Doboj, Brcko, Stara Gradiska and Donji Vakuf.

The International Red Cross said on Saturday that it had been granted access to a dozen Serbian-run camps, including one at Omarska, in the Prijedor area. Television pictures of emaciated prisoners at Omarska stirred worldwide outrage. But reporters who visited the camps of Manjaca, near the Serbian stronghold of Banja Luka, at the weekend said that hundreds of prisoners had been transferred there from Omarska and other detention sites in the past few days. In the case of Keraterm, that process appears to have started even earlier.