Blaskic Trial

Tribunal Update 61: Last Week in The Hague (January 26-30, 1998)

Blaskic Trial

Tribunal Update 61: Last Week in The Hague (January 26-30, 1998)

Friday, 30 January, 1998

Blaskic and Aleksovski were charged in the 'original' Lasva Valley indictment along with four other Bosnian Croat political and military leaders, but their cases have since been divided in separate indictments. Dario Kordic and Mario Cerkez, who surrendered themselves to the Tribunal in October 1997, are still awaiting the scheduling of their trial, the third to result from the Lasva Valley indictment.

The prosecution request that one of the witnesses be heard in closed session suggests that multiple appearances are not devoid of certain risks. Announcing the witness, the prosecution said that he had already testified in another trial, and 'there are reasons why he now wants a closed session'. Naturally, these reasons were not announced publicly. The majority of last week's witnesses in the Blaskic trial - with only three exceptions - also gave their statements in closed sessions.

Alongside protected witnesses, 'X' and 'Y', who spoke in open court about the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) attack on Busovaca and the killing and expulsion of its Muslim population, Charles McLeod, a former British Army officer and a member of the European Community Monitoring Mission (ECMM), also testified. McLeod, the first prosecution witness to appear in the Aleksovski trial on January 6 (see Update 58), spent several days in the Lasva Valley in Central Bosnia at the beginning of May 1993, on the orders of the ECMM. His task was to establish what happened there in the second half of April that year by talking to representatives of all sides.

One of those he met with was Tihomir Blaskic, who was the commander of HVO in the Central Bosnia operative zone at the time. McLeod described that meeting as a 'business meeting between two soldiers'. Blaskic marked the positions of the HVO and the Bosnian Hercegovinian Army on the maps, and told McLeod of the events of April 16 when, according to the indictment, the HVO carried out a coordinated attack on the Muslim villages in the Lasva Valley.

McLeod told the court how Blaskic described being woken at dawn "by shooting and then phoned his headquarters to see what happened... They didn't know and he suggested they had been caught by surprise... He said that Muslims launched a coordinated attack in Vitez and nearby villages... but his forces organised..'. According to McLeod 'His description of events after April 16, and suggestion that Muslims would have been successful in cutting the road to Vitez if there was no UNPROFOR intervention... matched what I heard from the UN.'

McLeod also talked about the same events with Bosnian Army commanders. Drawing conclusions from these interviews and his personal military experience, McLeod wrote in his report: 'Croatian forces launched a series of attacks on Muslims and villages in the Lasva Valley on April 16... the most violent attack appeared to be in Ahmici, where the majority of houses occupied by Muslims were burned and many villagers were killed... Muslim reaction was to try to counter-attack and isolate Vitez and Busovaca and they were successful until the UN intervened... The Croats I met left me with a clear impression that they had tried to establish a Croatian state and to force the Muslims out. They used fairly extreme measures to encourage them to move out... What I saw in the Lasva Valley was being played out throughout Central Bosnia...'.

When asked by Judge Riad whether such HVO attacks were 'required by any military necessity', McLeod replied that he 'could see no other reason than to expel the Muslims'. When asked whether Blaskic had control over the forces in his operative zone, McLeod replied that he had 'no reason to believe that his authority was challenged'.

According to McLeod's testimony, as well as documents submitted by the prosecution, Blaskic issued orders not only to the regular HVO units but also to 'units for special uses', such as the 'Vitezovi' (Knights) and 'Dzokeri' (Jokers).

The soldiers from these units were identified by a number of witnesses, from Ahmici and other burnt and ruined Muslim villages, as direct perpetrators of some of the gravest crimes committed during the operation. Its code-name, according to some witnesses, was '48 hours'.

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