Blaskic Trial

Tribunal Update 68: Last Week in The Hague (March 16-21, 1998)

Blaskic Trial

Tribunal Update 68: Last Week in The Hague (March 16-21, 1998)

Saturday, 21 March, 1998

Ashdown was called as the owner of the famous "map of the division of Bosnia" which Croatian President Franjo Tudjman drew on a menu card at a state supper held at London's Guildhall, during the UK's VE Day celebrations on 6 May 1995.

The map was accepted last week as Exhibit 275A. Ashdown, the first Western politician to appear as a witness before the Tribunal, described how the map came into existence, and gave his opinion of its meaning. The prosecution's aim in calling him was to prove the international character of the Bosnian war. Blaskic stands accused of crimes against Muslim civilians in Central Bosnia.

Ashdown explained how he was placed next to Tudjman at the formal dinner and had asked the president, what he thought the territory of the former Yugoslavia might look like in ten years' time.

In order to help him, Ashdown drew some basic coordinates on the back of the menu: the Adriatic coast, Sarajevo, Zagreb and Belgrade, and asked Tudjman to fill in the rest of the map.

Tudjman drew a circle, marking the territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and then with one stroke of a pen, cut it in two with an S-shaped line. To the west of this, Tudjman explained, was Croatia, and to the east was Serbia.

In response to Ashdown's question about the future of Bosnia and its Muslims, Tudjman replied that they would not exist, and that the Muslims would be "an unimportant part of the Croatian state." Elaborating, Tudjman, a former historian, explained that the Muslims were "only Serbs and Croats who could not stand up to the Turks during the days of the Ottoman Empire."

Ashdown was surprised by the "very strong racist overtone in his [Tudjman's] approach to Muslims", and by Tudjman's description of Bosnian President Izetbegovic as a "fundamentalist, Algerian and wog."

On the other hand, Tudjman spoke with great respect about his enemy, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, informing Ashdown that Milosevic was "one of us", and much easier to do business with.

The conversation turned to the Krajina, the part of Croatia then under control of Serb rebels. Tudjman confided in Ashdown, that, unless a political solution is found before the UN mandate expired, the Krajina would be returned to Croat control by military action.

Referring to his own military experience (he served as a Royal Marines Officer between 1959 and 1972), Ashdown pointed out that such action would be "very difficult" and result in "numerous casualties." Tudjman, however, was confident that everything would be over in eight days' time, and would involve less than 1,000 casualties on the Croat side. Finally, the two men placed a bet on the outcome.

Ashdown recorded his conversation with Tudjman in his diary that same evening, but only took it seriously three months later, when Tudjman's predictions about the Krajina came true.

At the beginning of August 1995, Croat forces entered the Krajina without resistance and without casualties, and brought it back under the control of Zagreb. Ashdown was convinced that this had been done either in agreement with Milosevic or, at least, with his tacit compliance.

The next step would obviously be a joint action to divide Bosnia, as envisaged on Tudjman's map. This prompted Ashdown to make Tudjman's drawing public. In so doing Ashdown hoped to "warn the international community about the true plans and ambitions of the Croatian President."

Describing the atmosphere of the dinner, Ashdown had said that "a good deal of wine was flowing at the time and President Tudjman consumed a certain amount." Blaskic's American lawyer Russell Hayman picked up on this, and asked Ashdown whether the president might have been under the influence of alcohol.

"He is a head of state and I don't want to use words which would be insulting. I think he enjoyed himself", Ashdown replied. "And you?", Hayman continued. "I enjoyed myself as well," Ashdown admitted laughing. Presiding Judge Claude Jorda, from France, interrupted, saying, "the wine, obviously, was excellent. Please, move on to the next question."

Apart from Paddy Ashdown, protected witness "JJ" also testified in the Blaskic trial last week. Like many previous witnesses, JJ described how Croat forces under Blaskic's command attacked his village in the Lasva valley in April 1993. The town's Muslim inhabitants surrendered peacefully and were taken in to detention, first in the village itself.

Later they were held in a place called Rotilje, which the prosecution described as a something between a ghetto and a camp, and later at the Croat Defence Council (HVO) army barracks in Kiseljak, one of Blaskic's headquarters. "JJ" and other detained Muslim civilians were forced to dig trenches on the front line throughout their detention. At the army barracks in Kiseljak, the HVO soldiers heavily beat JJ on several occasions.

The greatest part of last week's trial was taken up in a closed session. Nothing was officially announced about this hearing, not even the initials used to address the protected witness.

Croatian corespondents from the Tribunal, particularly numerous last week, claimed that it was Stipe Mesic, a Croatian politician and the last collective head of state of the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY).

In the last years of the former Yugoslavia and the first years of the new Croatian state, Mesic was a close associate of Tudjman. Now however, they are politically opposed. The regime media published a statement last year which Mesic gave to the Hague investigators, accusing him of "treason" for his apparent readiness to testify before the Tribunal about Croatia's role in the war in Bosnia.

If the protected witness was truly Mesic, there was good reason to protect him from the uncomfortable consequence of a testimony in the Blaskic trial.

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