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Blaskic Trial: The Main Witness Marathon

Tribunal Update 95: Last Week in The Hague (28 September - 4 October, 1998)

According to the prosecutor and his witnesses (survivors from Bosniak villages that had come under attack, commanders and soldiers of the Bosnian Army, UNPROFOR and ECMM) the HVO forces under Blaskic's command mounted a coordinated attack on a number of towns and villages along the Lasva Valley on 16 April 1993. Large numbers of Bosniak civilians were killed in the attack several villages burnt down. The most serious crime took place in the village of Ahmici where more than 100 (perhaps even 200) civilians were killed and all the Bosniak houses were destroyed.

The defence used the documents to argue that the Bosnian Army struck first, aiming to cut off vital roads, capture the HVO Headquarters in Vitez and conquer the nearby explosives factory. Blaskic, Marin maintains, was "totally surprised" by this attack. The previous witness, chief intelligence officer in Blaskic's headquarters, said, however, that since the beginning of April they had had intelligence on Bosnian Army preparations for a big offensive on the HVO positions. The defence, nevertheless, tried to prove that Blaskic, as the commander of HVO in the Operation Zone Central Bosnia, issued defensive orders only and that he ordered his units to respond to attacks, aiming for military targets only. The defence also tried to prove that the HVO did not plan or start the attack, claiming that Colonel Blaskic issued an order for full mobilisation and to be on red alert only on the second day of fighting.

The defence also presented a dozen documents showing that Blaskic warned his units to respect the Geneva conventions and the correct treatment of civilians, prisoners of war and wounded persons. They also resented Blaskic's orders prohibiting looting and the destruction of property. Two of his orders on opening an investigation into the events in Ahmici were also presented. The investigation, however, failed because it was risky to investigate at the crime site as Ahmici was within the reach of Bosnian Army snipers, Marin explained. Besides, it was impossible to speak to witnesses--survivors had fled to the territory controlled by the Bosnian Army. The massacre in Ahmici, the truck-bomb in Stari Vitez and other crimes which, the court has proven beyond reasonable doubt, did take place, Marin attributed to "out of control elements" and "private initiatives". Despite all his efforts, Blaskic was unable to restrain these, because the HVO was not a properly organised army with an effective chain of command at the time.

At the end of the marathon direct examination of Marin the prosecutor, Gregory Kehoe, asked for the cross-examination to be postponed until next week in order to give the prosecution time to study the newly submitted documents. Many of those documents, Kehoe pointed out, the Tribunal had demanded from the governments of Croatia and the Bosniak-Croat Federation, first by subpoena and later by binding orders, but it never received them. Blaskic's defence counsel, American lawyer Russell Hayman, objected to the prosecution's request on the part of the prosecutor, ironically noting that, if the prosecution was not ready to cross-examine the witness, it shouldn't have issued the indictment in the first place. The court, nevertheless, accepted the prosecution request and postponed the beginning of the cross-examination of the main witness until Tuesday afternoon.

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