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May 1997

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[New Statesman - 16 May 1997]

LETTERS - Legal facts about Trnopolje

How predictable of Mick Hume of Living Marxism to write a letter about a war of which he saw nothing and knows nothing (Letters, 9 May).

My reference to Living Marxism in your Arts section (25 April) was a passing one, inserted at the suggestion of the NS, during a review of paintings by Peter Howson and excellent photographs by Tom Stoddart, both of whom spent time in Bosnia during the war, unlike Hume and his friend Thomas Deichmann.

Hume's tiny groupuscule specialises in daft policies, such as: an insistence that Aids is a myth, enthusiasm for Saddam Hussein, opposition to gun control and a thankfully fruitless endorsement of Neil "Sleaze" Hamilton MP. To these it adds the more pernicious one of support for the Bosnian Serbs, which never quite declares itself as such.

The magazine and its small party, the Revolutionary Communists, have hit on a good publicity wheeze. They and Deichmann accuse ITN and me of conspiracy to fabricate the important story of the camps run by Bosnian Serbs for Muslim and Croat civilians, which we revealed in August 1992.

Absent from the war, Hume now writes an ill-informed outburst to the New Statesman, focusing on the Trnopolje camp - one of the less murderous of the Serbian gulag. Nevertheless, last week judges in the Hague issued a verdict on Trnopolje, which now becomes legal fact: that Trnopolje was "the culmination of the campaign of ethnic cleansing, since those Muslims and Croats who were not killed at Kereterm and Omarska (two other camps) were, from Trnopolje, deported".

The judge rules that: "beatings and killings did occur" in Trnopolje and that "there were more rapes at this camp than any other", the youngest recorded victim being a girl aged 12. And this was small fry compared to what the judges have to say about the systematic torture, mutilation and killing at Omarska, the other camp that ITN and I revealed on the same day as our visit to Trnopolje.

Living Marxism says that ITN's image of prisoners behind barbed wire at Trnopolje, and my reports, gave an impression of what was happening to Muslims in that area which was unfair to the Serbs. If anything, the only misleading thing about the picture is that all the people in it are alive, and it does not show their butchered friends and relatives.

The judges at the Hague issued a legal condemnation of what was happening in the Omarska and Trnopolje area as part of last week's verdict: "a systematic and widespread assault upon the civilian population" - the legal term required to classify this hurricane of violence into the ambit of "Crimes against Humanity" as laid down at Nuremberg in 1945, of which a Bosnian Serb was convicted last week.

Directly contrary to what Hume writes, I have said over and over again that it is wholly awry to equate Bosnian Serb concentration camps with the Nazi Holocaust death camps.

I do, however, make a comparison between revisionists who belittle the persecution of Jews by the Third Reich and those - like Living Marxism - who belittle the lesser persecutions of Bosnian Muslims by the Serbs.

A word about ITN: this prestigious television company has sued for libel, that's all. ITN thinks Living Marxism defames its experienced and first-rate journalists by alleging that they fabricated the story of the Serbian camps.

I happen to agree with ITN (and the Hague judges), not least because I am accused of being part of the same conspiracy. The case is a simple matter of the law of the land. It is up to Living Marxism to try to prove the conspiracy and fabrication if it can, and for a jury to judge its efforts. The case has nothing whatsoever to do with "gagging" or "free speech" as Living Marxism and its dilettante supporters, who know nothing about Bosnia, insist.

Of course the libel system has its imperfections, but some things are more important than those imperfections, and two of those things are genocide and truth.


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