Blaskic Trial

Tribunal Update 45: Last Week in The Hague (September 22-26)

Blaskic Trial

Tribunal Update 45: Last Week in The Hague (September 22-26)

Friday, 26 September, 1997

He maintained that the "level of destruction and violence" with which the Bosnian Croat forces ravaged the villages in the Lasva Valley in mid-April 1993, was something he had not seen before despite 30 years in the army. The crimes allegedly committed against Muslims there represent one of the main points of the indictment against General Blaskic, the former HVO commander in Central Bosnia.

The testimony of Colonel Thomas, a member of the British battalion of UNPROFOR stationed in Vitez, concerned what he witnessed during a five-day period in April 1993. The HVO's attack on the Muslim part of Vitez and the surrounding, predominantly Muslim villages -began at the dawn on April 16. Woken up by explosions and mortar fire, Colonel Thomas set off for the operative room of the British base in Vitez. On his way he came across many dead civilians along with their burnt and destroyed houses.

His testimony was documented, from the beginning to the end, with photographs and video footage taken by British troops. When asked by the prosecutor to give his professional opinion about what he saw in the Muslim part of Vitez on the first day of the attack, Colonel Thomas replied, "What struck us was the fact that there were no limits of action. Clearly, what was going on was a big attack, probably by armed forces. The purpose: to drive people from their homes, and, if necessary, to kill them."

The colonel's assessment of what he saw the next day in the village of Ahmici, where, according to the indictment, HVO forces massacred more than 100 civilians, was similar. The village was completely ruined.

What the Colonel assessed as particularly important was the "extraordinary volume of small arms fire." A subsequent British investigation established that there were no defensive positions and no signs of "military engagement".

When asked why the locals or the BH Army did not defend the village, the Colonel said, "There was nothing to defend! No military objects: only people's houses and civilians."

Somewhat later, in the cross-examination, Colonel Thomas rejected the suggestion of Blaskic's defender, US lawyer Russel Hayman, that those killed were actually soldiers in civilian clothes. He said, "The bodies we saw were civilians, they were occupants of the houses. If they were soldiers, they would be spread out." Colonel Thomas also rejected the suggestion that he was witness to the results of "a spontaneous clash" between the villagers.

It was he claimed, the result of a widespread action carried out "almost like a blitzkrieg..there had to have been a carefully worked-out and co-ordinated military plan."

Two other witnesses also testified. The protected witness "D" and Dr Fuad Zeco, the former director of the veterinary clinic in Vitez. Both lived in Vitez until April 1993, and both were arrested and detained in the cellar of the clinic after the HVO attack on April 16. "D" testified how detained Muslims had been taken away to dig the trenches on the first lines. Several prisoners were allegedly killed and wounded while they dug as a result of fighting between HVO forces and the BH Army.

Dr Zeco testified that he was beaten by the Croat soldiers and that his car, money, and finally his house in Vitez were stolen. When asked about the Croats who were helping the Muslims, Dr Zeco said: "There were Croats who really helped Muslims and as a result, they suffered great consequences. In some way, they suffered more than Muslims. I have a number of Croat friends in Vitez, and it is my hope that we are still friends."

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