Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Blaskic Trial

Tribunal Update 53: Last Week in The Hague (November 17-22, 1997)
By IWPR

According to the indictment: more than 100 civilians were killed, all Muslim houses burned down and two mosques destroyed during the attack. More than a dozen survivors from Ahmici, as well as several British officers from the UNPROFOR contingent, whose main base was located in the proximity of the crime scene, have confirmed in the course of the trial that the massacre had taken place.

The Court heard that from November 1992 until May 1993, Sergeant Andre Kujawinsky was a platoon commander in the British battalion of UNPROFOR which was stationed in Vitez.

On 16 April 1993, he was witness to large-scale destruction in the Muslim part of Vitez, and the same day was among first British soldiers to enter Ahmici. With the help of aerial photograph of Ahmici with marked co-ordinates on it, tracing his movements, Sergeant Kujawinsky described what he had seen on that occasion:

"As we approached, we saw a lot of smoke rising …we saw lots of houses on fire or smoldering and to the left lots of bodies women and children in the fields caught as they were fleeing. We continued to the Catholic cemetery and we saw man and a child. The man had his left arm around the child; both were dead and dog was licking up the blood ... we continued…and noticed some movement on the left. There was a woman crying and asking for help. I told her to wait for 10 minutes until I returned... and ordered one soldier to get out and cover her with leaves. We continued, turned around…and I saw large number of (Croatian) soldiers in dark uniforms .…the largest number of soldiers I have seen together in former Yugoslavia. It was unusual to see all the soldier in similar uniforms. They all had new weapons and were drinking beer from cans. They were jeering and were very happy.

"Anger took hold of me and I ordered vehicles to turn and point their guns at them... I drove up the road….and I noticed lots of houses burning. We heard gunfire coming from north, but we could not pinpoint the gunman... we saw dead cattle and one cow that tried to get up while being shot at. I reported back that I had to go back to pick up some people. We went at high speed and loaded people in, 13 women and children and a young man. We closed the door and turned around. The other vehicle did the same, loaded people from the left side at great speed, and then went to Travnik hospital.

"People were distressed, one was a very young girl with Down's Syndrome, another women was very old and upset, she held on me and would not let me go. We both got very emotional."

When asked by Judge Riad "what was the point in shooting a cow?" the sergeant replied, "Some form of light entertainment, sir!" And when asked whether the attack on Ahmici might have been provoked by the kidnapping of the HVO commander in Zenica and the killing of his bodyguards, Sergeant Kujawinsky replied categorically: "Nothing can provoke that, sir!"

Several days later, the British soldiers retrieved 96 charred corpses from the burnt remnants of Muslim houses. Up until 16 April 1993, Ahmici was a mixed village with the Croat and the Muslim population. Today Ahmici is an "ethnically pure" Croat village. One of last week's witnesses, Haris Hrnic, who was 16 at the time of the attack, explained to the court how the HVO soldiers knew at the dawn of 16 April 1993 which houses were Muslim and which were Croat. The HVO soldiers were guided by local Croats, since, without them, Hrnic said, they could not distinguish Muslim houses from Croat ones.

Other witnesses who testified last week also spoke about the role of local Croats in the massacre of their Muslim neighbours were Fatima Ahmic and protected witnesses: "I", "J", "K" and "L". Like Haris Hrnic, they confirmed that the attack on the houses originated from the homes of their closest neighbours - the Croats. Some of these former neighbours (the Kupreskic brothers, Drago Josipovic, Dragan Papic and Vladimir Santic), are already in the Tribunal's prison awaiting the beginning of the trial.

According to Fatima Ahmic, when she asked Drago Josipovic on April 16 why they had killed her son, he replied - "order from above". Another Croat neighbour reportedly gave her a similar answer after her husband was killed together with two other Muslims. "The order arrived to kill them, don't ask anything." What convinced her that everything was being done in accordance with orders, was a radio report she allegedly heard given by a Croat soldier. "Operation successful," he supposedly said. "They are lying in front of the houses like pigs!"

None of the witnesses who appeared last week, saw the accused, Tihomir Blaskic, in Ahmici on 16 April. At the time, Blaskic was the HVO commander in the Central Bosnia operative zone, with its headquarters in Vitez, - only a few kilometres away from the scene of the crime. Fatima Ahmic reports seeing him on local Croat television on the eve of the attack, and heard him say that the Croat soldiers were being attacked in Ahmici.

Dario Kordic (also awaiting the trial at The Hague), the then political leader of Croats in Bosnia, who took part in the same TV programme, responded to this by stating that the HVO would not negotiate, but retaliate. "We are waiting for the order," he said. The order obviously arrived, and the trial will try to show who issued it, and who executed it.