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

Blaskic Trial: It Isn't Over Until The General Sings

Tribunal Update 129: Last Week in The Hague (7-13 June, 1999)
By IWPR

As a Bosnian Croat Defense Council (HVO) commander in the Operative zone of Central Bosnia, Blaskic was indicted for crimes committed against the Muslim population of the Lasva River Valley, by forces that were under his command, during the Bosnian Croat-Muslim conflict in 1992-1993.


Blaskic's testimony has, however, not yet ended: he is still to answer the judges' direct questions, which was postponed until a later date. Meantime, the judges wish to hear another eight "court witnesses," whom they have summoned. Four appeared before the Tribunal last week - all of them Blaskic's former enemies, commanders of the units of Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B-H Army) in Central Bosnia.


The first to appear last week was General Enver Hadzihasanovic, former commander of the Third Corps of the B-H Army. The cause of the Bosnian Croat-Muslim conflict, according to Hadzihasanovic, was the Vance-Owen Peace plan of early 1993 that annexed a part of Central Bosnia to the Bosnian Croat majority canton. This fact was in turn used as a pretext by Croat leaders to request the subjugation of B-H Army in that area to HVO.


The B-H Army refused, however, because - as General Hadzihasanovic put it - "the letter of the law dictated that HVO be part of the B-H Army." The Muslim side, the general added, did not want to have a conflict with HVO, nor was it equipped for that in terms of personnel, armaments and materiel. Furthermore, the witness claims, B-H Army had at its disposal intelligence information from April 1993 that HVO was undertaking preparations for an offensive against the Lasva River Valley.


Within that context, General Hadzihasanovic referred to an intercepted telephone conversation between General Tihomir Blaskic and Dario Kordic - subsequently broadcast on Radio Zenica - in which the military and the political leader of HVO speak about the military offensive of Croat forces from the direction of Busovaca and Vitez towards Zenica, where the Headquarters of the Third Corps of B-H Army was situated.


Even after six years, General Hadzihasanovic told the court that he still did not know for certain who committed the crime in the village of Ahmici - the gravest individual atrocity of the Croat-Muslim conflict in Bosnia. He said that "the word was that it was the work of the Special Forces of HVO: Military Police, the Jokers, or possibly the Vitezovi." Since all those units were active in the area of the Operative Zone commanded by Blaskic, General Hadzihasanovic stated that he thought the defendant "should have taken measures to prevent such crimes." He added that in his capacity of a commander he did just such thing himself.


In a later part of the session, while he was answering Defence questions, General Hadzihasanovic confirmed that in his statement to the investigators of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP), given in 1996, he said he believed that Blaskic was not in full control of the Military Police and the special units, and that these units may have been controlled by Dario Kordic.


In their examination of the witness, Blaskic's Defence tried to make a point that the Muslim side was also responsible for the erosion of inter-ethnic relations in Central Bosnia. The Defence tried to dispute the witness' statement that B-H Army never took part in ethnic cleansing by submitting testimonies given by witnesses of atrocities committed by members of the Seventh Muslim Brigade against Bosnian Croats in the same area. The General, however, replied that he did not know of those atrocities and that - if they were indeed committed - he did not order them even if the Seventh Brigade was part of the Corps he commanded.


The other three witnesses were former commanders of the Seventh Muslim Brigade: Asim Koricic, Amir Kubura and Serif Patkovic. They described it as a tactical formation, whose members were "perhaps a little overzealous towards the [Muslim] faith." The judges asked why was a Brigade of religious character formed in the first place, and what their connection was with the so-called mujahedeen. Koricic answered that they were guided by a desire to "organise under principles that were close to us - morally and religiously." He refused to acknowledge any link with the mujahedeen, whatsoever, "except, perhaps, in the case of certain people who were able to provide us with humanitarian assistance."


The most dramatic part of the session was the testimony of Colonel Serif Patkovic, former commander of the Seventh Muslim Brigade. His name was first heard at this trial in November last year, when a Defence witness, Zeljka Rajic, said that in January 1993 Serif Patkovic personally killed eight unarmed Croat men in the village of Dusina. She also alleged that he 'bragged' of killing her own husband, Zvonko Rajic, who was the HVO commander in the neighbouring village of Lasva at the time. Following her testimony, the Prosecutor requested, and received, the permission to take her evidence (see Tribunal Update No. 102).


Serif Patkovic obviously came to The Hague with guarantees of a "safe passage." Prior to the beginning of his testimony, the Presiding Judge Claude Jorda reminded him that he was not under obligation to say anything that could incriminate him, but that he was obliged to speak truth.


During the formation of the Seventh Muslim Brigade in late 1992, Patkovic was appointed commander of one of the battalions and in April 1994 promoted commander of the entire brigade. At the Tribunal he said that in January 1993 a conflict broke out in the village of Dusina between B-H Army and HVO, but that he had arrived in the region only after the cessation of hostilities. Upon his arrival, Patkovic said, he found out that commander of his unit was killed, and that HVO also had casualties. "I think that these were the local HVO commander and several soldiers. Seven captured HVO members were taken to Zenica and were not killed," claims Patkovic.


The witness disputed the veracity of the HVO report presented by Defence, according to which the Muslim forces surrounded Croat houses in Dusina and summarily shot several captured Croats. For claims made in the testimony of Zeljka Rajic he said they were "pure fantasy."


After his testimony, Judge Jorda noted that it might be necessary to determine which of the two witnesses - Patkovic or Rajic - failed to speak the truth before the Tribunal. Although this issue may not be relevant for the case of General Blaskic, the Trial Chamber has the power to request the Prosecutor to investigate the matter and possibly bring charges against one of them for false testimony, in the interest of justice and the integrity of the Tribunal.


The witness who is found to have given false testimony under solemn declaration may be fined maximum of HFL 200.000 and/or imprisoned for up to seven years.