Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
According to the indictment, the village was attacked by soldiers under the command of Blaskic on April 16, 1993. All the Muslim houses were destroyed and about one hundred villagers killed.
The witnesses were lucky they said, since the attackers' intentions had been not to let anyone remain alive. Elvir Ahmici who was 14 in 1993, told the court how he lost both his mother and his eight-year-old brother. Cazim Ahmici told the court how he lost his wife, son, mother, sister, nephew and another 50 relatives. Sakib Ahmici lost a total of 12 members of his family including a son and daughter. The youngest victim was just three months old.
According to the testimony of the three witnesses, the attack on the village began at 5.30 am. Cazim's house was shelled from the direction of his Croat neighbour Ante Covic. Two Croat soldiers reportedly broke into Sakib' s house. One immediately shot his son, wounded Sakib and then turned the gun on his three month old grandson. The other soldier poured petrol on the furniture and then set the house on fire. Sakib's sister-in-law was burnt alive and Sakib himself suffered serious burns. He later spent more than a year in hospital recovering.
Sakib told the court how he identified the attackers wearing the uniforms of the Croatian Army (HVO) as his neighbours Zoran and Mirjan Kupreskic - both of whom gave themselves up to the Tribunal earlier this week (see below). Elvir told how hand grenades had been tossed into his house, killing his eight-year-old brother on the spot, and mortally wounding his mother. He too spoke of recognising his neighbours among the attackers.
Shown a series of photographs by the Prosecutor, the witnesses identified destroyed houses, as well as the bodies of a large number of Muslim villagers .
Fourteen-year-old Elvir reportedly survived after he ran with his four year-old sister towards Gornji Ahmici (Upper Ahmici) and came across military policemen whom he thought were from Croatia. One of the men allegedly told him not to continue as he might be killed by the HVO.
The policemen instead took the two children to a school in Dubravica where the paramilitary HOS headquarters were. Most of the prisoners who were held there were taken off to dig trenches. But Elvir refused to leave his sister and stayed in a room with women. There he was witness to rapes committed by HOS soldiers. A few days later, he and his sister were exchanged for Croats captured by the Bosnian Army and they arrived safely at Zenica.
Cazim told the court how he came across a group of Croat soldiers when he tried to escape. While the others allegedly argued whether to slit his throat or to shoot him, one soldier took him aside and told him: "Run as fast as you can. If the commander arrives, I will be in trouble."
Sakib himself escaped from Ahmici and went first to Pirice and then to Borin Gaj where he finally found some people who took him to the Zenica hospital.
The outcome of the "Operation Ahmici" was summed up before the Tribunal by British Major Tudor Ellis, commander of one of the platoons of the British battalion of UNPROFOR. His platoon had a painful task to recover dead bodies from burnt houses in Ahmici. They reclaimed a total of 96 corpses which were burnt beyond recognition. When asked how he felt at the time, the major replied, "The general feeling was one of sheer disgust."
In a most telling comment Major Ellis went on: "During the entire time (I spent in Bosnia) I did not see one dead soldier. But I saw dozens of dead civilians."
Major Ellis said that he met the accused Blaskic on at least twenty separate occasions and that his platoon occasionally "ran a sort of taxi-service", to provide protection for the commanders of the HVO and the Bosnian Army, to take them to meet with representatives of the UN. The commanders were as a rule escorted by their bodyguards whom Ellis found to be "particularly nasty individuals."
According to the major, the attacks on Vitez, Ahmici and other villages in the Lasva Valley on 16 and 17 April were part of an organised military operation. He gave several reasons for providing such an assessment, namely: the presence of roadblocks, organised movement of troops, time coordination of attacks and the huge amount of spent ammunition, which he said pointed to a "precise logistical chain".
The trial of General Blaskic will reconvene on November 10. Until then, the court will be occupied by the trial of the "Celebici Four". It is expected that in the next few weeks, the Chief Prosecutor, Justice Louise Arbour will conclude the case against the three Muslims and one Bosnian Croat accused of crimes against Serb prisoners at the camp near Konjic.
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