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Friday, 2 November, 2001, 13:22 GMT
Omarska: A vision of hell
Omarska prisoners
Accounts from Omarska horrified the world
Not since World War II had the faces of half-starved, semi-naked prisoners stared out from behind barbed wire in Europe.

But if the pictures were shocking, what followed created an even greater vision of hell.

Gradually, accounts emerged of breathtaking inhumanity dealt out on the inmates of Omarska prison camp by their Bosnian Serb captors in the spring and summer of 1992.


The European Union described the camps as "repulsive and despicable" after British radio, television and newspaper journalists gained access in August 1992.

Ed Vulliamy of The Guardian newspaper, wrote at the time: "The internees are horribly thin and raw-boned.

"Some are almost cadaverous, with skin like parchment folded around their arms; their faces are lantern-jawed and their eyes are haunted by the empty stare of the prisoner who does not know what will happen to him next."

The stories pricked the world's conscience and brought calls for intervention. The United Nations war crimes tribunal on the former Yugoslavia was created the following year.

About 6,000 Muslims and Croats were held in Omarska, a former mining complex 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the Bosnian town of Prijedor.

Prosecutors at The Hague tribunal say that when Bosnian Serbs took power in the north-west of the country, they tried to create a territory "ethnically cleansed" of non-Serbs.

At Omarska - and smaller camps at Keraterm and Trnopolje, also in northern Bosnia - new arrivals were reportedly beaten with batons and rifle butts, and crammed into stiflingly hot rooms with no beds and meagre sanitary facilities. They were fed a starvation diet.

Although most prisoners were male, several dozen women were kept at Omarska and were forced to mop floors littered with hair and teeth, and stained with blood.

The women were allegedly raped nightly by guards.

There are also accounts of inmates being forced to carry out atrocities on each other.


Prisoners were interrogated between 8am and 6pm.

Inmates told of hearing beatings and screaming and reported seeing dead bodies taken out and left on the ground.

Sometimes, they said, the guards would play music very loudly to drown the screaming.

But not everyone believed the accounts to be true.

British magazine Living Marxism claimed that the British TV broadcaster ITN had used camera angles and editing to create the barbed wire images of the Trnopolje camp. ITN sued for libel and won the case.

See also:

30 Oct 01 | Europe
Milosevic trial date set
23 Oct 01 | Europe
Bosnian Croats freed on appeal
03 Jul 01 | Europe
At a glance: Hague tribunal
03 Jul 01 | Europe
What is a war crime?
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