Blaskic Trial: The Gravest Indictment - Ahmici

Tribunal Update 126: Last Week in The Hague (17-22 May, 1999)

Blaskic Trial: The Gravest Indictment - Ahmici

Tribunal Update 126: Last Week in The Hague (17-22 May, 1999)

Saturday, 22 May, 1999

In previous direct examination, Defence Counsel Anto Nobilo spent nearly three weeks at the same event, trying to prove that the defendant neither planned nor ordered the crime, and that he had done all in his power to investigate and punish the responsible individuals.

During the direct examination, General Blaskic attributed the responsibility for the massacre in Ahmici to a unit of the Bosnian Croat Defense Council (HVO) Military Police from the town of Vitez, whose commander was one Pasko Ljubicic. Blaskic also alleged that the orders for the crime came from some 'above' instance, unknown to him.

Since there is no direct evidence that Blaskic had ordered the crime, the Prosecutor focused in his cross-examination on proving other elements of his responsibility for the atrocity in Ahmici. At first, Kehoe last week pointed that Blaskic, with his "general and imprecise order" issued a day before the massacre had in effect given the Military Police a carte blanche to act where and how they wished.

Kehoe further doubts Blaskic's claim that he only heard of the crime on 22 April, in a conversation with the commander of UNPROFOR's British Battalion, Colonel Bob Stewart. Colonel Stewart is scheduled to appear before the Tribunal on 17 June, and his testimony - it was announced last week - will be public.

This is in variance to the testimonies by General Morillon and Ambassador Thebault, who will be witnessing in a closed session because they requested protective measures.

According to the Prosecutor, the "claim that the commander of the Operative Zone (Blaskic) had been unaware for full six days of the atrocity committed mere five kilometers away from his headquarters is illogical."

Kehoe also presented evidence that a number of people around Blaskic, including Dario Kordic - who is also being tried for Ahmici in a separate trial - had found out about the massacre of Muslim civilians on the day the crime was committed. The judges also appear to find it illogical that Blaskic as the commander of the Bosnian Croat forces (HVO) in the Operative Zone of Central Bosnia did not know about events in his own area of responsibility.

"You did not know, or did not want to know?," was the question addressed to him by the Portuguese judge Almiro Rodrigues.

Presiding Judge Claude Jorda of France, noted with incredulity: "You are a commander who knew nothing. Everyone knew about Ahmici but yourself!" Blaskic, however, continues to claim that he not only did not know anything, but also did not even doubt Military Police reports of clashes with Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina in the region of Ahmici, which is why he felt no need to check them at the time.

During the direct examination by his Defence Counsel, Blaskic claimed that two days after he learned of the crime, on 24 April 1993, he ordered an investigation. The Prosecutor, on the other hand, doubts this too since there is no written evidence of his order.

Blaskic replied that verbal orders were usual practice in his staff Headquarters, and that the written order was issued later, on 10 May 1993, because he was unsatisfied with the speed of the investigation that was carried out by his assistant in charge of security, Ante Sliskovic.

Prosecutor Kehoe sees the issuance of the written order in a different light, though. He claims that Blaskic only issued it after a visit by a UN delegation which demanded an investigation into the Ahmici atrocity; after receiving warnings by international investigators; and after the European Union threatened economic sanctions against Croatia over Ahmici.

Last but not least, Prosecutor claims, Blaskic was inspired to act by the news of the preparations of a United Nations Tribunal for war crimes that was finalised with a Security Council Resolution 827 of 25 May 1993 which established the ICTY.

Since the results of the first investigation did not satisfy him, Blaskic claims that in August 1993 he ordered another investigation, the results of which were allegedly never communicated to him. Blaskic claims that they were forwarded directly to the HVO Intelligence Service Authority in Mostar.

Since he knew nothing of the results of the investigation, Blaskic was unable to punish the perpetrators. The Prosecutor, however, claims that Blaskic was never - not even later when he became the head of the HVO General Staff - "interested in finding the names of the perpetrators of the heaviest crime committed during his military career in Central Bosnia." Kehoe concluded that noone was ever punished or prosecuted for the Ahmici atrocity.

The Defence fielded a thesis that the report of the last investigation would prove Blaskic's innocence but that they, despite all efforts, were unable to obtain a copy of it. This is to say in a roundabout way that certain parts of the military and political structures of the so-called Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia (HZ H-B) do not wish to see Blaskic prove his innocence at a price of pointing the blame at others. Just who are those 'others' Blaskic purports to ignore - or does not wish to acknowledge the knowledge of.

"Give us a name," asked Kehoe last week, but Blaskic replied that he neither ordered the crime in Ahmici nor knows who did. He thinks it was not Pasko Ljubicic, commander of the unit of Military Police that committed the crime on 16 April 1993, either.

Blaskic voluntarily surrendered himself to the Tribunal in April 1996, and judge Mohamed Shahabuddeen from Guyana last week asked him why did he do it. "If you considered the crime in Ahmici the central part of this case and that the HVO investigation into the atrocity proved your innocence then why did you surrender yourself to the Tribunal without guarantees that you will have access to the report,"

Judge Shahabuddeen asked. Blaskic replied that that he had foreseen certain difficulties with the collection of evidence, but believed firmly that as soon as the trial started the most important documents for his defence would have been made available either to his Defence team or to the Prosecution. He did not say whether he would have done the same - i.e. surrender himself - had he known that he would be denied access to those documents.

The cross-examination of General Blaskic will continue next week.

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