The Injustice of the Kazani Pit Killings

The killings at Kazani during the 1991 Yugoslav Civil War are something we may have heard about but have little knowledge regarding what really happened. The killings took place at the foot of the Trebević Mountain near the Olympic city of Sarajevo, which is where the 14th Winter Olympic Games were held in 1984. The Kazani pit is located on Mount Trebević, approximately 1.5 kilometers north of the city center, and was under the control of the Bosnian Muslims. According to Wikipedia, the Kazani pit killings refer to the mass murder of ethnic Serbs that lived inside the besieged city of Sarajevo by the notorious Mušan Topalović, nicknamed Caco, commander of the 10th Mountain Brigade in the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina. “He exercised absolute power over neighborhoods, press-ganged recruits, ran black market smuggling, kidnapped and ransomed rich people, organized rapes, allocated empty houses, and executed Serb fighters and civilians” as stated by Wikipedia. The reason there is little known about the Kazani pit killings is the fact that it happened on Muslim territory and the Bosnian government has deliberately hid this gruesome history while perpetrating an injustice to the victims and their families.

Marina and Radoslav Komljenac with their grandson Stefan in 1991

It is the story of Radoslav Komljenac and his wife Marina that has put a human face on what happened in Kazani. While this history is now in the past, it’s tragic outcome lives in the hearts and minds of Radoslav’s and Marina’s daughters, Slobodanka and Davorka, who have spent their lives trying to get justice, as well as recovering the remains of their parents so that they could give them a proper burial. But as we all know, getting justice for the murder of innocent civilians is not easy to come by, especially in the Balkans where political agendas and racial policies outweigh justice and human rights. Even worse, the murder of innocents is accepted if it is perpetrated by your own. Thus, it is no surprise that the Bosnian government protects its Muslim war criminals who have eradicated innocent civilians of other religious denominations and ethnic groups, mainly Serbs.

The Kazani pit, located in Boguševac, was used as an execution site and mass grave by Mušan Topalović and his forces. Vice president of the Federation of Bosnia Milan Dunović honours victims on Kazani in 2016. Photo: Anadolu

On the evening of June 26, 1993, Radoslav and Marina Komljenac were forcefully taken from their apartment for execution. Brigade Commander Muśan Topalović Caco of the 10th Mountain Brigade in the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina ordered the arrest of Serbs, including the Komljenacs, after a grenade had killed six children in the Dragica Pravica Street where the Komljenacs lived. The Komljenacs were taken by Caco’s henchmen, Armin Hodžić and Samir Bejtić, and then brought to Caco’s brigade headquarters before they were driven by car to Kazani in Boguševac. 
Radoslav and Marina Komljenac were then forced to climb a steep hill on foot to the Kazani pit early the following morning of June 27th where Samir Bejtić passed them on to Omer Tendžo and Asif Alibašić with orders that Mevludin Selak and Refik Čolak kill them.  Both Radoslav and Marina were elderly and invalids.  Marina had a hip prosthesis and one leg was shorter than the other.  She had undergone hip surgery just prior to when the war had started, and then had a second surgery during the war.  The fact that she could climb a steep cliff with a poor hip and shorter leg is incomprehensible.  Radoslav was also an invalid who had suffered an injury to his elbow in WWII.  It seemed rather nonsensical that the victims were served hot cocoa and given blankets once they had climbed to the Kazani pit just before they were slaughtered.

The Kazani pit killings, like most mass killings, were gruesome and cowardly, especially when you consider the Komljenac couple were elderly and invalids. Radoslav Komljenac was killed by Mevludin Selak, who was handed a knife by Omer Tendžo, as they approached the edge of the Kazani pit. Selak threw Radoslav to the ground covering his mouth with one hand as he slashed his throat and his wife Marina watched screaming. Refik Čolak, taking a knife from Asif Alibašić, then threw Marina to the ground where he knelt beside her covering her mouth with one hand and proceeded to slash her throat. Refik Čolak, Omer Tendžo, Asif Alibašić, and Mevludin Selak threw the bodies into the Kazani pit. Marina was 67 and her husband Radoslav was 72 years of age. The number of people killed in Kazani is unknown, while the Bosnian government has taken every measure to hide the events of the massacre.
After Radoslav and Marina were murdered, their oldest daughter Slobodanka Komljenac was informed that her mother’s crutch was found during the initial exhumation. The crutch was offered to Slobodanka but she refused to take it. She requested that the remains (bones) be exhumed and recovered for proper burial. Slobodanka, who still lives in Sarajevo, made it her mission to find her parents alone and without any support from authorities. The victims of the Kazani murders were exhumed on November 9, 1993. 

Along a barb wire fence separating the tennis court in Koševo and St. Joseph cemetery, a trench was dug on the tennis court side in which the remains of the victims of Kazani were laid. Remains of the murdered victims were buried in bags with metal plates on which was written the identification status (which was NN for everyone since they were unidentified) and both the date of exhumation and liquidation.

On November 27, 1998, Slobodanka Komljenac escorted the representatives of the War Crimes Commission from Republika Srpska to the trench at the tennis court where unidentified bodies were buried. They had no idea where to look or what to look for. The War Crimes Commission re-exhumed the remains and transferred them to the town of Lukavica in East Sarajevo, which was the Serb side, for further identification. The remains were blackened as a result of high temperatures caused by burning of tires thrown into the pit. This complicated the identification of the charred remains. Slobodanka was invited by the War Crimes Commission from Republika Srpska to be present during the identification of the remains removed from 27 plastic body bags of which one bag included the bones of dogs which were thrown into the Kazani pit prior to the executions.

Every bone from those bags had passed through Slobodanka’s hands for examination in hope of finding some remnant of her parents. Slobodanka hoped to find a metal part that was implanted as a result of her mother’s hip replacement. Furthermore, she kept a keen eye in hope of finding a deformed bone from her father, whose elbow was wounded by the German Nazis during WWII. To her dismay, she never found any bones belonging to her parents, but was happy for the families of other victims who had identified the bones of their loved ones.

Slobodanka and Davorka Komljenac with Slobodanka’s son Aleksandar at Kazani in June 2013

On November 29, 2004, two bones believed to be from Marina Komljenac were found. Marina Komljenac was identified on the basis of a skeletal remain that evaporated during DNA analysis. Marina Komljenac was identified by the Office for Tracing Detained and Missing Persons of Republika Srpska. The remains were exhumed on August 22, 2001, specified as “NN-9” on the death certificate issued on December 14, 2004. On March 15, 2005, the second bone, 12 cm in length, was released to Komljenac’s daughters who wanted to fulfill their parents wishes to be buried in the family tomb at Sarajevo’s Bare city cemetery.

When Slobodanka and Davorka Komljenac arrived at the Bare cemetery to bury their mother’s bone, they were greeted by Bosnia and Herzegovina officials who were accompanied by an unknown Muslim doctor.  They insisted that the bone be handed over for DNA analysis to be conducted in the city of Tuzla in order to confirm this was the bone of Marina Komljenac.  They explained that the bone would be returned in a couple of months after DNA analysis was completed.  The bone was never returned.

A few years later, Slobodanka and Davorka Komlljenac were informed that the bone didn’t belong to their mother. They believe their mother’s bone was destroyed on purpose to hide evidence of the Kazani pit massacre. The bones of Radoslav Komljenac have never been identified. The daughters were unable to find the remains and bury their parents with dignity. Davorka believes that her mother’s bone was taken under false pretenses as if it was stolen, and a proper burial was never fulfilled. To this day, she regrets handing over the only bone that was left of her parents.

A total of 14 members of the BiH Army were found guilty for the crimes in Kazani and they received prison sentences of 10 months to 6 years.  The Military District High Court of Sarajevo, under the judicial council of judge Muhamed Podrug, adjudicated the criminal charges against the 10th Mountain Brigade.  The court had reached a judgment on December 23, 1994, convicting the accused for a prison term of a minimum of 10 months to a maximum of 6 years.  In reference to Article 36 Section 1 of the Criminal Code of BiH, the following individuals were convicted: Zijo Kubak, Refik Čolak, Esad Tucaković, and Mevludin Selak were sentenced to a term of 6 years; Omer Tendžo and Asif Alibašić were sentenced to a term of 4 years and 4 months; Senad Hasić, Samir Seferović, Sabahudin Žiga, Samir Ljubović, Esad Raonić, and Senad Haračić were sentenced to a term of 10 months; Armin Hodžić was sentenced to 5 years and 8 months; and Sead Kadić was sentenced to a term of 4 years.  The murderers were released after three months and later seen in public.

Slobodanka Komljenac was in a state of disbelief when the murderers of her parents, namely Selak Mevludin and Refik Čolak, were given only 6 years in prison.  It was obvious that there was a conflict of interest.  In other words, a Muslim Bosnian government established by NATO, the UN, and the West was granted authority to prosecute Muslim soldiers charged with war crimes.  This allowed the Bosnian government and their courts to hide evidence and hand out sentences as they wished.  And when they were charged of murder, they would later be amnestied regardless if they were found guilty.  Slobodanka attended the trial proceedings where the murderers of her parents were present.  She sat with a woman, assumed to be the wife of Omer Tendžo who had handed the knife to the man who slaughtered her father.  This was a surreal moment filled with emotion for Slobodanka which would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Several Muslim soldiers were jailed for not reporting the crimes and its perpetrators, but were released in short time.  Everybody knew, but nobody cared.  In his testimony, Asif Alibašić admitted, “It’s true I knew about these criminal acts and didn’t report it, and the whole town knew these things happened, and the Supreme Command and the Interior Ministry knew”.  There was a conspiracy among the Muslim majority where silence became an accepted norm.  “Caco is gone, but those who gave the orders remain”, said Zlatko Dizdarević, editor of the magazine Svijet.  “As long as the silence about that is a conceived political act, there is no Bosnia and there will be no Bosnia.  With the stories about Caco and those above him, the final blow to Bosnia’s image has definitely and irreparably been inflicted. . . . Nothing will be the same, but maybe this is better, because the future cannot be built on false myths.”

Since the trial took place in Sarajevo under an internationally-recognized judicial process of the Court of Sarajevo, the Hague Tribunal considered the case to be closed.  This allowed the court to overturn decisions and allow war criminals to go free.  Only one person has been convicted of war crimes related to the killings at Kazani – brigade member Samir Bejtić.  The trial of Samir Bejtić for crimes at Kazani before the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo turned out to be what would be considered the equivalent of a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in a game of Monopoly.  Samir Bejtić was arrested in Germany in 2002 according to published sources and then extradited to Bosnia and Herzegovina.  In 2006, he was sentenced to 14-and-a-half years and then acquitted of the charges twice, in 2008 and 2011.  The Supreme Court revoked the Cantonal Court’s verdicts each time, blaming violations of the criminal process.  In 2015, the Supreme Court of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina revoked the previous verdict under which Bejtić was acquitted of the charges and returned the case to the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo for a retrial for the murder of three Serbs and complicity to murder of six others.  Today, Samir Bejtić is a free man and can be found at a local Sarajevo coffeehouse drinking a cappuccino while reading his favourite comic strip.

You can imagine the shock of Slobodanka and Davorka Komljenac when they were told that the murder of their parents was graphically illustrated in a comic strip.  The comic strip was published in the book The Fixer: A Story of Sarajevo – a journalistic comic on the Bosnian War, written by Joe Sacco.  And to add insult to injury, the names of the murderers, Melvudin Selak and Refik Čolak, are used in the comic strip.  I wonder if Joe Sacco ever considered what it would be like to see your own parents being murdered in a comic strip.  Slobodanka and Davorka believe this was a vicious attempt to rub it in their faces.  It’s a disgrace to the victims and their families, and no matter how you look at it, it was done in poor taste and puts a black eye on journalism and publishing.  It’s beyond me why this book is still available on Amazon.  The last time I checked, they also had a paperback version.

The Fixer comic strip illustrating the Komljenac murders with names of murderers – Mevludin Selak and Refik Čolak
The Fixer comic strip illustrating the Samir Bejtić murder of Duško Jovanović

In the second comic strip, the witness to the murder says, “I just saw that Samir Bejtić cut off Duško Jovanović’s head and Caco kicked it into the depth”.  The murders at Kazani were both brutal and inconceivable.  “Testimony of Samir Seferović” is acknowledged at the bottom of the comic strip.  I just can’t get this vision out of my head of Samir Bejtić laughing at a comical portrayal of his dirty deeds while the Bosnian government has hoodwinked the Hague and the entire West by freeing its murderers.
The trials in Sarajevo were equivalent to a kangaroo court and conducted to appease international protocol.  As for Mušan Topalović Caco, he was arrested on a warrant issued by the Bosniak political authorities on October 26, 1993, in the Trebević attack which left nine soldiers and police officers of the BiH Army dead.  Caco was killed a day later in an attempt to flee.  He was buried in a secret grave but was later exhumed and given a hero’s burial in Sarajevo.  This was condemned by many veterans and families of fallen ones, as Caco never fought on the front lines nor did any of the men under his direct command.  Caco was a musician before the war.  Whoever suspected that he would one day become a brigade commander and psychopathic murderer.  To the rest of us, Caco has left a legacy of a hardened war criminal with no moral boundaries or human decency.  The Kazani murderers were all civilians prior to becoming war criminals.  One of the Komljenac murderers, Refik Čolak, was known to be a mechanic.

Charge d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy to BiH Nicholas Hill accompanied by Slobodanka Komljenac at Kazani near Trebević on November 13, 2014

On November 13, 2014, Charge d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy to BiH Nicholas Hill made a visit to Kazani to investigate and pay his respects to the civilian victims, mostly ethnic Serb residents of Sarajevo, who were murdered during 1992 and 1993.  Hill assured Slobodanka Komljenac, the daughter of Radoslav and Marina Komljenac, that helping families of the deceased find closure remained a US priority.  During the visit, Slobodanka informed Hill that she had received confirmation that her mother’s partial remains were among those exhumed from Kazani, but she and her sister Davorka were still awaiting identification of their father’s remains. 

Nicholas Hill acknowledged that sites of war crimes must be located and remains of victims exhumed, identified, and buried with dignity and justice served.  He also indicated that for individuals, families, and communities to heal, it was essential that all relevant institutions rededicate themselves to working cooperatively in this important effort.  Furthermore, judiciary institutions, to include the Prosecutors Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Institute for Missing Persons, have a vital role in the identification of crime sites and their remains.  Although Charge d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy to BiH Nicholas Hill promised that he would help, Slobodanka and Davorka never heard from Nicholas Hill again nor did they receive any assistance from the US government.

Slobodanka and Davorka Komljenac never received any compensation from the Bosnian government for the murder of their parents and confiscation of their property, specifically their apartment in the Bistrik community of the Municipality of Stari Grad from which Radoslav and Marina Komljenac were taken.  The Komljenac apartment was occupied by Muslims 15 days after killing them.  The property was never returned to Komljenac’s daughters on the basis that the request for the return of the apartment was not submitted within the legal deadline.  After the initial occupant Meho Čustović moved out, Bečan Maida, who had represented the Komljenac’s in the real estate transaction, moved into the same apartment.

Radoslav Komljenac was granted the new apartment in Bistrik by the League of Veterans from World War II in 1989 in exchange for his apartment in the Grbavica community in Sarajevo where he lived with his wife Marina since 1952.  It was obvious that the confiscation of Serbian and non-Muslim properties was an accepted norm without legal repercussion.

The injustice of the Kazani pit killings was further exacerbated by the killing of two other Komljenac family members by Muslim forces in Sarajevo.  Momćilo Komljenac, the brother of Radoslav, was killed by a Muslim sniper on May 2, 1992 at the beginning of the war.  As Momćilo was sitting in an armchair in his living room, the sniper’s bullet took his head off in front of his 10-year-old granddaughter.  Also, Momćilo’s wife, Katica Komljenac, was forcefully removed from her apartment by Muslim soldiers and killed.  Her body was never identified.  Momcilo and Katica’s son Siniša, a soldier on the Serbian side, and their daughter Jelena are also searching for the remains of their mother.  According to Siniša, the Muslim contingent told the command of the Serbian army that they would give up Siniša’s mother’s body and those of others in return for the Serbian part of Sarajevo known as Grbavica, which was later lost to Muslim forces.  Radoslav, Marina, Momćilo, and Katica Komljenac were citizens of the city of Sarajevo and were killed as civilian victims of war.

Svetozar Pudarić was the first to officially go to Kazani in 2012 as the Vice President of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Federation and made a proposal for a Kazani massacre memorial at a cost of 5000 convertible marks in Bosnian currency.  In early 2021, Benjamina Londrc Karić, serving as the 39th mayor of Sarajevo, and the Bosnian government had agreed to erect a monument in memory of Sarajevans killed by renegade members of the Bosnia and Herzegovina Army led by Muśan Topalović Caco.  On November 15, 2021, a monument was unveiled atop of the Kazani pit.  The monument listed 17 names of victims, but no names of the perpetrators who committed the murders.  The omission of other victims and the ambiguous text was a diplomatic decision to downplay the scope and brutality of the crimes.

The Kazani Massacre Memorial erected on November 15, 2021 at the site of Kazani killing pit

Slobodanka Komljenac had refused to take a photo with the 30-year-old mayor of Sarajevo, Benjamina Karić, next to the Kazani massacre monument at the Kazani pit commemorating the victims.  Slobodanka has refused on account of omission of the names of the murderers who had slaughtered non-Muslim Sarajevans and then thrown their bodies into the Kazani pit.  Such a photo would be disrespectful to her parents, not to mention a publicity stunt.  Mayor Benjamina Karić refused to meet with Slobodanka when she tried making contact earlier in regard to conveying the truth about her parents and other victims killed at Kazani.  According to Davorka Komljenac, “My sister and I are so sad and disappointed.  No names of the killers are written on the plaque.  This is the last updated fact of the injustice after 29 years of searching for our parents”.   The monument commemorating the victims of the Kazani pit killings is symbolic of political correctness rather than moral and legal justice.  If there was an ounce of justice, the Kazani pit murderers would not be free men roaming the streets of Sarajevo today.

Although the monument was intended to pay tribute to the memory of the murdered victims, it was erected for political reasons without telling the truth of what happened and who the murderers were.  Furthermore, the victims were not acknowledged.  Only seventeen names were inscribed on the monument.  What happened to the rest of the names?  What happened to what could have been thousands of people thrown into the Kazani pit?  There are records indicating that up to 3000 people were murdered in Kazani, but there is yet no official number of confirmed dead. 

A documentary Nema Ali! (translated to There is no ‘But’) produced by Mebius Film and the Institute for War and Naval Reporting (IWPR) in 2015 seeks the truth about who was responsible for the Kazani killings and where the victims disappeared. The documentary indicates that there was a collective responsibility shared between the army, the state, and those in authoritative positions for the murder of civilians in Kazani. The documentary opens questions as to what happened at the Kazani pit. In 1995, The Serbian Civic Council had a list of 750 murder victims. There were claims that over six and a half thousand victims were thrown in the Kazani pit, but Jovo Divjak, a Bosnian army general who served as the Deputy Commander of the Bosnian army’s main staff until 1994, said that this number is not feasible and borders on propaganda. The number of victims is a numbers game and the truth about the number of victims killed at Kazani may never be known. However, the number of 17 victims at Kazani is far from the truth.

Only a handful of people attended the unveiling of the monument, and families of victims had no reason to come if their loved ones were not acknowledged. The Komljenac daughters were promised that the name of the brigade and names of the murderers would be inscribed on the monument, but such promises had been overturned by wartime Muslim sympathizers and their conspirators, much like those responsible for the murders. At the very least, the monument should have made reference to Muśan Topalović Caco and his 10th Mountain Brigade as those responsible for the murders at Kazani pit. In the meantime, the murderers – whose names have been protected – can visit the monument at the Kazani pit as free men thanks to the Bosnian government and their corrupt justice system.

What happened at Kazani, and its aftermath, was an abuse of justice, which Slobodanka and Davorka Komljenac could not live with and continue their search to this day for the remains of their beloved parents. They will never be at peace until justice is served and the remains of their parents are found and put to rest. At the end of the 1991 Civil Yugoslav War, the killers of the Kazani pit were never prosecuted for war crimes nor convicted for their horrendous crimes. They are still at large and living freely in Sarajevo, while the victims of the Kazani pit killings have been all but forgotten. It’s only the stories of the victims, like the story of Radoslav and Marina Komljenac, that keep their memories alive. But before it’s all over, there will be a higher court to judge the murderers of Kazani one day. Ecclesiastes 3:17-19 – “God shall judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work”.