Blaskic Trial

Tribunal Update 52: Last Week in The Hague (November 10-15, 1997)

Blaskic Trial

Tribunal Update 52: Last Week in The Hague (November 10-15, 1997)

Saturday, 15 November, 1997

Six witnesses for prosecution appeared before the court including British Army Colonel Brian Watters, who claimed that Bosnian Croats tried to ethnically cleanse the Lasva Valley in the spring of 1993. Col. Watters stated that there were two aims of the attacks on the Muslim villages; to control communications and to ethnically cleanse this part of central Bosnia, which according to the Vance-Owen Plan, was to have been part of Canton 10 dominated by Croats.

The moment of the offensive was chosen very wisely he said, since international attention was focused upon the siege of Srebrenica. However, the extent of the Croats' attack and crimes commited in Ahmici and other Muslim villages were such that attention of the world media was soon redirected to the Lasva Valley.

At the time of the Croat offensive, Colonel Watters was one of the commanders of the British battalion of UNPROFOR stationed in close proximity to the villages. He told the court that he had no doubt that the operation which began on 16 April was carefully planned, organised, co-ordinated and led against civilian population and not military targets, and that operational command over the units which participated rested with the accused.

Blaskic, added Watters, "had the natural authority of the commander. He had bodyguards, was in charge of communications and as regional commander, he participated in negotiations and signed documents in my presence."

When asked by prosecutor Gregory Kehoe whether Blaskic held a post of a commander "before, during and after Ahmici", Watters answered yes. He added that in his opinion, Blaskic failed to comply with the Geneva Conventions in not taking into account the safety of refugees and civilians while planning his campaign -not to mention the fact that by deliberately targeting the civilian population, he directly contravened the Geneva conventions.

After the truck-bomb explosion which demolished much of the centre of the Muslim part of Vitez on April 18 - an incident described by Watters as a typical terrorist act - Commander Blaskic also failed to initiate an investigation to determine who was responsible. Nor he did start an investigation to find out who was responsible for shelling a market in Zenica the following day which left dozens of civilians killed or severely wounded.

The court heard how after British troops had brought 96 burnt bodies out from the houses in Ahmici, Blaskic made a list of those who he thought were responsible and sent it to his superiors. Colonel Watters however, argued that in his opinion, Blaskic did not fulfill his obligation as a commander.

According to him, Blaskic should have immediately arrested those people on the list and kept them in prison. To defence counsel objections that proof was needed for arrests, Watters replied that Blaskic had compiled the list based on proof which should have been sufficient grounds for arrest.

After having described Ahmici in great detail with the help of photographs taken by the British soldiers, Colonel Watters admitted that commanders and members of the British batallion had "felt guilty for not realising the importance of Ahmici and not placing it under additional protection..."

Five survivors from inhabitants of Ahmici - Abdula Ahmic, Nura Pezer and three women who as protected witnesses were introduced as 'F', 'G' and 'H', also testified before the Tribunal last week about what allegedly took place. Their testimonies have all crucial details in common: the attack on the village Muslim houses were first shelled after which tracer bullets were fired to ignite the homes. Soldiers then came into the village, and some were recognised as Croat neighbours. They poured petrol on the houses, set them alight, and started to kill the men as well as some women and children.

Those who survived the first attack were taken away - mostly to the school in Dubravica. Male survivors were then taken to the frontlines to dig trenches, while women and children were kept to be used in subsequent prisoner exchanges.

Each of the five witnesses suffered family losses. Abdula Ahmic's brother and father were killed at the start of the attack. He was himself injured after being shot in the head at extremely close range and had only survived by feigning death. Witness H's husband and older son were killed along with those of Nura Pezer's. The latter's son was reportedly shot as he walked out their house with his hands up as a sign of surrender.

For purposes of identification in the courtroom, the prosecution showed photos of the victims to Pezer, but stopped when the latter started crying. However, Pezer subsequently insisted upon seeing them.

"No", she said in tears, "Let them see! Today is my son's birthday and I'm testifying on his birthday. Show the photo of my son. Let the judges see what I have lost. Let them see who they killed... He was a trainer, he had a karate black belt... and he also trained Croatian children... They liked him..."

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