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Blaskic Trial: Never-ending cross examination of the Defence's Key Witness

Tribunal Update 97: Last Week in The Hague (12-18 October, 1998)

Once again, the Prosecutor continued methodically and meticulously to pull down, brick by brick, the wall of defence built up by Marin's testimony in support of the accused.

The battles between the HVO led by Blaskic, and the Bosnian Army, in central Bosnia in the spring of 1993, took up much of the trial last week. Whilst examining Slavko Marin, the Prosecutor reminded him last week that the accused, Blaskic, had attempted, in talks with the officers of the BritBat UNPROFOR and other representatives of the international community in the spring of 1993, to shift responsibility for some of the crimes committed against Muslim civilians in the Lasva Valley to the Serbs that is the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS).

Brigadier Marin, who was the chief of operations in Blaskic's headquarters at the time, continually repeated that he knew nothing about the incidents the Prosecutor was asking him about. He said that he "was not aware" that Blaskic, had accused the Serbs of the massacre in Ahmici or the shelling of Zenica town centre on 19 April 1993.

Concerning the shelling of Zenica when a large number of civilians were killed, Marin said that there were three armies in the wider area at the time. Via a process of 'deduction', he had concluded that the shells could only have come only from the Serb positions.

Marin knew that it was not done by the HVO, 'assumed' that the Army of B-H "did not shell itself" and therefore concluded that "no one else but Serbs" could have done it. After the witness maintained that he "was not aware" that the Army of Republika Srpska had protested against claims that they were themselves responsible, Prosecutor Kehoe uttered his favourite sentence, which was heard dozens of times during the two-week cross-examination:

"Let me show you a document, Brigadier."

Kehoe pulled out a confidential order of the Headquarters of the VRS (No. 0-2/448 issued on 27 May 1993) entitled "Negotiations with Ustashas" and read it in its entirety. The document says that it was noticed that "Ustashas" (Croat fascists from the time of WW2, which is how Serbs termed all subsequently armed Croats), are frequently approaching units and commands of the VRS requesting support in the form of weapons, ammunition, fire-support, care for the wounded and use of our territory to evacuate forces and people, in the regions where they are threatened by Muslims.

It states "We have noted incidents of contacts being made with the Ustashas in the form of some kind of co-operation on lower levels, which causes us more harm than good. And as a result, Ustashas are moving around our territory, without the knowledge or approval of the Corps command.

On the other hand, Ustasha officials at the highest political, military and religious level are blaming Serbs for the crimes of HVO against Muslims in statements given to mass media and approaches to the international institutions. They have officially blamed the Serbs for the massacre of 500 Muslims in the Vitez area, even if UNPROFOR statements clearly report that the Croats are responsible."

The Zenica and Vitez area were part of the Operative Zone Central Bosnia, whose commander was the accused Blaskic. Chief of operations was the witness Marin. In spite of the position he held in Blaskic's headquarters in 1993, Brigadier Marin maintained that he didn't know anything about the accusations made in the document the Prosecutor read out. Nor did he know about attempts at establishing co-operation between the HVO and VRS in central Bosnia.

In an attempt to forecast how long Brigadier Marin (who has been in the witness stand since 24 September, beating all previous records), would be required to testify, Presiding Judge Claude Jorda asked the Defence whether it was going to pose any more questions for its key witness after the Prosecutor was finished.

Blaskic's Zagreb defense counsel, Ante Nobilo, replied: "Yes, but we will do that very directly and efficiently." To this, Judge Jorda, who had asked the witness several times over the past two weeks to give direct answers to Kehoe's questions, remarked, smiling: "I don't doubt that you will get direct answers to your questions from your witness."

The Blaskic trial pauses next week and the cross-examination of Brigadier Slavko Marin resumes again on Monday October 26.