Blaskic Trial

Tribunal Update 51: Last Week in The Hague (November 3-8, 1997)

Blaskic Trial

Tribunal Update 51: Last Week in The Hague (November 3-8, 1997)

Saturday, 8 November, 1997

According to the indictment, more than 100 civilians were killed, all Muslim houses burnt and two mosques destroyed on that occasion. More than a dozen survivors from Ahmici as well as several British officers from the UNPROFOR contingent, whose main base was located in the proximity of the site of crime, have confirmed in the previous course of the trial that the massacre had taken place and that it was much more horrific than the words in the indictment can possibly describe it.

From November 1992 until May 1993, Sergeant Andre Kujawinsky was a platoon commander in the British battalion of UNPROFOR which was stationed in Vitez. On 16 April 1993, he was witness to large-scale destruction in the Muslim part of Vitez, and the same day was among first British soldiers to enter Ahmici.

With the help of an aerial photograph of Ahmici with marked co-ordinates on it, which traced his movement, Sergeant Kujawinsky described what he had seen on that occasion in the following manner:

"... As we approached we saw a lot of smoke rising .. We moved quickly to Area 1 (showing on screen) .. As we moved from there we saw lots of houses on fire or smouldering and to the left lots of bodies of women and children in the fields as they were fleeing .. We continued to the Catholic cemetery and we saw a man and a child, the man had his left arm around the child; both were dead and a dog was licking the blood up."

"... We continued to Area 4... and we noticed some movement on the left and there was a woman crying and asking for help.. I told her to wait 10 min when I will return... and I ordered one soldier to get out and cover her with leaves. .. We continued to Point 6, turned around and stopped and looked to Point 5 where I saw a large number of (Croatian) soldiers in dark uniforms .. Largest number of soldiers I have seen together in former Yugoslavia .. When I got point 5, it was unusual to see all soldier in similar uniforms. They all had new weapons and were drinking beer from cans, they were jeering and were very happy... Anger took over and I ordered vehicles to turn and point gun at them... I drove up the road till here (points on the screen)... and I noticed driving to point 7, lots of houses burning..."

" We heard gun fire coming from a north here (points), but we could not pin point gunman... To face Area 8, we saw dead cattle except one that would raise several times while shot at... I reported back that I had to go back to Point 4 to pick up some people .. We went at speed and we loaded people in, 13 women and children and one young man .. We closed the door and turned around and other vehicle did the same, loaded people from the left side .. at great speed we went to Travnik hospital .. People were distressed, one was a very young girl with a Down's syndrome, another women was very old and upset, she held on me and would not let me go .. we both got very emotional... We reported back, Sir!"

When asked by Judge Riad "what was the point in shooting at cattle?", the Sergeant replied, : "Some form of light entertainment, Sir!" The same judge then asked whether the attack on Ahmici might have been provoked by the kidnapping of the HVO commander in Zenica and the killing of his bodyguards. "Nothing can provoke that, Sir!" - Sergeant Kujawinsky replied categorically.

Several days later the British soldiers retrieved 96 charred corpses from the burnt remnants of Muslim houses. Until 16 April 1993, Ahmici was a mixed village with the Croat and the Muslim population. After then and until today, two years after the Dayton agreement, Ahmici is an (ethnically) "pure" Croat village. One of the last week's witnesses, Haris Hrnic, who was 16 at the time when the attack took place, explained to the court how the HVO soldiers knew at the dawn of 16 April 1993 which houses were Muslim and which Croat (none of which was damaged). The HVO soldiers were guided by local Croats, since, without them, Hrnic said, those who came from elsewhere could not distinguish Muslim houses from Croat houses.

Other witnesses who testified last week also spoke about the role of local Croats in the massacre of their Muslim neighbours: Fatima Ahmic and other protected witnesses: "I", "J", "K" and "L". Just like Haris Hrnic, all of them confirmed that the attack on the houses in which they and their families happened to be at the dawn of 16 April 1993 started precisely from the houses of their closest neighbours - the Croats. Some of those neighbours (the Kupreskic brothers, Drago Josipovic, Dragan Papic and Vladimir Santic) are already in the Tribunal's prison awaiting the beginning of the trial, each of them for their respective role in the Ahmici massacre.

According to Fatima Ahmic, Drago Josipovic replied to her on that 16 April when she asked him why they had killed her son, - "Vice Major, the order from above". Another Croat neighbour gave her a similar answer after her husband was killed together with two other Muslims. "The order arrived to kill them, don't ask anything." That everything was done in an organised manner and in an accordance with the order is also confirmed by the "raport" that one of the Croat soldiers in her vicinity was giving via the radio connection to the headquarters: "Operation successful. They are lying in front of the houses like pigs!"

None of the witnesses who appeared last week saw accused Tihomir Blaskic in Ahmici on that 16 April, who at the time was the HVO commander in the operative zone Central Bosnia with the headquarters in Vitez - only several kilometres away from the sight of crime. Only witness Fatima Ahmic saw him on local Croat television on the eve of the attack and heard him say that the Croat soldiers were attacked in Ahmici.

Dario Kordic (also awaiting the trial at The Hague), the then political leader of Croats in Bosnia, who took part in the same TV programme, responded to this by stating that the HVO would not negotiate but that it would retaliate, and said, "We are waiting for the order."

The order obviously arrived, and the trial will show who issued it and who executed it.

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