Blaskic Trial

Tribunal Update 39: Last Week In The Hague (28 July-2 August, 1997)

Blaskic Trial

Tribunal Update 39: Last Week In The Hague (28 July-2 August, 1997)

Saturday, 2 August, 1997

Djidic testified all last week, and his cross-examination is to continue on 19 August, since the only courtroom of the Hague Tribunal will be occupied by the Celebici Trial during the upcoming two weeks.

As a manager in the local factory of explosives and a reserve captain of the former Yugoslav Peoples' Army (JNA), Djidic was appointed commander of the Territorial Defence (TO) in Vitez at the beginning of the war. The TO mainly comprised Muslims since the local Croats were ordered to join the Croatian Defence Council (HVO).

At the beginning of the war in 1992, negotiations were held concerning the formation of a joint Muslim-Croat brigade that would resist the aggression of the former JNA and Bosnian Serb paramilitary formations. At one point, it was even agreed that the commander of such a brigade should be a Croat, and his deputy a Muslim-the witness himself, Sefkija Djidic.

However, nothing came of it since the Croatian side sought to dominate, i.e. it sought a complete integration of the TO into the HVO. During the negotiations, Djidic met the accused Blaskic, the commander of the operational zone of central Bosnia, as well as a majority of political and military leaders of the Bosnian Croats in the area, including Dario Kordic, Ivica Santic and Pero Skopljak. All of them, together with Blaskic, have been accused of war crimes against Muslim civilians in the Lasva Valley.

After the failed negotiations on joining the defences, the first armed skirmishes between the HVO and the TO began. According to Djidic, they were most often triggered by HVO demands - ultimatums more than demands - that the TO be placed under the control of the HVO and that the Muslims lay down their arms.

As a participant in these events, Djidic testified at length about the attack of the HVO forces on a dozen Muslim villages in the Lasva Valley, which began at dawn on 16 April 1993. The assault is one of the central points of the indictment against Blaskic. Djidic testified that he first learned about the attack on the village of Ahmici at 5.45 a.m., and that 15 minutes later heavy shelling of the Muslim part of Vitez (Stari Vitez) commenced. Djidic was then informed about the attack on the rest of the villages.

According to him, the attack showed signs of being a carefully planned, well-coordinated operation. First, there was artillery fire from cannons, mortars and howitzers. This was followed by infantry attacks; the burning of Muslim houses, and the killing or deportation of Muslim civilians. All the villages which came under attack, according to Djidic, were practically undefended because negotiations were under way at the time and no one expected an attack to take place.

Moreover, the TO in Vitez had as few as 50-100 soldiers and not a single trench had been dug; the first lines of defence were established only during the second day of the attack, after the explosion in the centre of Stari Vitez of a tank-truck with 4 or 5 tons of explosives, which had been planted by the HVO. At least 6 people were killed and over 50 wounded in the explosion.

After this incident there followed the 11-month-long siege of Stari Vitez by HVO forces. Djidic testified about unbearable living conditions during the siege; about constant sniper attacks on anything that moved-people and animals. (The youngest victim of sniper fire was only two-and-a-half years old.

During the siege, Bosnian Croats also packed fire extinguishers with explosives and metal objects and fired them at Muslim homes. Between April 1993 and February 1994, at least 1,000 such home-made bombs, nicknamed 'babies' by Muslims, landed on Stari Vitez. It was a rather imprecise, indiscriminate weapon of terror, and even those who fired it did not know where it would land and explode.

All this, as the witness replied to the prosecutor's questions several times, took place in the immediate vicinity of Blaskic's headquarters, located in a hotel in the Croatian part of Vitez.

When asked by the prosecutor, what he thought the HVO wanted to achieve with these attacks, Djidic replied: "To kill and destroy the Bosnian army, civilians, and civilian targets and to ethnically cleanse the city of Vitez...And they achieved that goal."

The witness then addressed the judges: "I kindly ask you to do your utmost to prevent this crime from ever happening again and help us as much as you can, if it is at all possible, to return and live in that state again, because we have no other state than Bosnia. Please, don't allow such crimes to be repeated anywhere on the Earth again."

In the cross-examination of this witness, General Blaskic's defence counsel, Anto Nobilo, a Zagreb lawyer, at first tried to discredit Djidic by linking him to the intelligence service of the former JNA, which had control of the explosives factory in Vitez and where Djidic was in charge of security.

Nobilo was also interested in the structures of authority established in Vitez after the first multi-party elections in 1990, in which the Croat HDZ won a relative majority, and when and why the Muslim SDA began to form parallel structures of power.

Further, the defence counsel listed some 20 cases of killed or wounded members of the HVO in that area between February 1992 and April 1993, which the witness claimed were either isolated cases or cases of Croats settling their own accounts.

Nobilo cited one case in particular-the kidnapping of an HVO officer and the killing of four of his escorts on 15 April 1993 in Zenica (on the eve of the attack on the Lasva Valley). He asked the witness to indicate in which unit the Mujaheddin who perpetrated this were serving. Djidic replied that the Mujaheddin were in a certain way integrated into the Bosnian Army.

The cross-examination of this witness is to continue on 19 August.

Support our journalists