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Blaskic: Testimony of Croatian Victims

The defence summoned witnesses from Central Bosnia who testified to their suffering at the hands of the Bosnian Army and described Blaskic as "honest and "nonviolent".

After several weeks of dramatic cross-examination of the key witness for the defence, Brigadier Slavko Marin, there has been little new in the trial of Croatian General Tihomir Blaskic. The defence summoned four new witnesses who mostly spoke about the suffering of the Croats in the Bosniak-Croat conflict that took place in Central Bosnia at the end of 1992 and during 1993.

As the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) Commander in the Operative Zone Central Bosnia, Blaskic is accused of crimes that were committed by forces allegedly under his command against Bosniak (Muslim) civilians. In the indictment and during the presentation of evidence, these events were described as a more or less one-sided offensive by Croat forces against Bosniak villages and their inhabitants.

The defence summoned three witnesses last week -inhabitants of Croat villages in the region who were victims of attack by the Bosnian Army or volunteers from Islamic countries, the so-called mujahedin. The prosecution refrained from cross-examining one of these witnesses and expressed his sympathy for the suffering he had experienced. This prompted a cynical remark by the defence that, rather than expressing sympathy, the prosecution should issue an indictment against those who caused such sufferings.

According to these witnesses, the pattern of attack was mainly the same: villages attacked, houses burned, males of military age executed, others taken to prisons and camps where they were subjected to inhuman treatment and beatings, and some taken to dig trenches on the front-line.

Only the victims differed: the prosecution evidence focused on Bosniak victims, the defence case focused on Croat victims. As these attacks on Croats took place as early as January 1993, the defence was trying to prove that Bosniak forces were the first to spill any blood, thus initiating the "spiral of violence."

A Franciscan parish priest, Father Ivan Pervan, spent most of the time in the witness-box last week. He supported one of the main defence arguments that it was Serbs who were to blame for the conflict between Croats and Bosniaks. Pervan asserted that thousands of Bosniak and Croat refugees who arrived in Central Bosnia from the territories under Bosnian Serb control upset the ethnic balance in Central Bosnia, spoiled the hitherto harmonious inter-ethnic relations, and led to the fight for "lebensraum."

With the help of this witness, the defence also tried to refute the prosecution argument that one entire village (Rotilj) served as a camp for Bosniaks expelled from nearby villages. According to Pervan, the Bosniaks came to Rotilj voluntarily as they did not want to go far from the homes they had been turned out of. They could leave, he said, whenever they wanted as the roads were not under guard.

True, there were HVO check-points on the main road but they weren't to prevent departing Bosniaks, but to "prevent the arrival of those who would mistreat the Bosniak refugees." Pervan stated that he had personally brought help to Bosniak refugees in the village several times.

The cross-examination and the judges' questions tackled the issue of "tactical cooperation" between the HVO and Serb forces in that part of Bosnia. Pervan confirmed that he had seen in Kiseljak two Serb tanks that the HVO rented from the Serb forces according to the "rent-a-tank" principle," and at a very high price at that." As far as the witness could remember, as much as one million German Marks were collected for such arrangements, while the Serbs sold rifle bullets to the Croats for 3 to 5 Marks.

The witness agreed with the opinion of Judge Mohammed Shahabuddeen that the Serbs were delivering arms to sides with which they themselves were in conflict, aware that they could be used against them. This is how they made money and weakened their enemies at one and the same time.

Both Pervan and the protected witness DL knew Blaskic and had a good opinion of him. Pervan described him as a "honest, principled and non-violent person," claiming that he never heard Blaskic refer to members of other nations in derogatory terms.

Witness DL claimed that, "touched by his kindness," he wrote down the speech that Blaskic delivered in October 1992 to soldiers going to the front. Blaskic, the witness claimed, told the soldiers on that occasion that "they must not answer evil with evil" and that they "had to differentiate between those who are guilty and those who are innocent."

Presiding judge Claude Jorda asked Pervan what, as a priest, he was doing in order to ensure the neutrality of the Church in the Croat-Bosnian conflict, and why, if he advocated the neutrality of the Church as he claims, he attended one military parade with nationalist insignia, as seen in the footage shown by the prosecution.

Pervan replied that contact with military and political officials made it possible for him to be informed about what was happening, so that he "could talk from the Christian positions" about what was going on.

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