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

Blaskic Trial: Officer And Reporter On Witness Stand

Tribunal Update 73: Last Week in The Hague (20-25 April 1998)

The testimonies by Canadian Colonel Remy Landry and British reporter Ed Vulliamy largely corroborated the thesis on the planned and organized character of the attacks and the unified chain of command under which they were carried out. The attacks had culminated in an offensive on a dozen Muslim villages in the Lasva Valley in April 1993.

The officer and the reporter had followed and analyzed the events in central Bosnia from different angles, but both nonetheless concluded that nothing they saw in central Bosnia in 1992 and 1993 was happening haphazardly or because some military or paramilitary formations had gotten out of control. On the contrary, everything was politically premeditated, militarily planned, and implemented on the ground under a strictly controlled chain of command.

Colonel Landry was stationed in central Bosnia between February and March 1993, first as the European Community Monitoring Mission's (ECMM) chief of operations and then as deputy head of mission. In that capacity, together with the representatives of the British battalion in the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR), the Croatian Defense Council (HVO), and the Bosnian Army, he worked in the so-called Busovaca Joint Commission that was set up at the beginning of 1993 in an attempt to ease the tensions between the formerly allied warring parties - Croats and Muslims - and normalize life in the Lasva Valley. The commission's main task was to implement the 13 February 1993 cease-fire agreement that ended four months of hostilities between the HVO and the Bosnian Army.

The two sides, however, were in different tactical and strategic positions and therefore viewed the situation from different vantage points. The Muslims, spread out on two fronts (with the Serbs and the Croats respectively) wanted an agreement with the HVO, which controlled all main roads in central Bosnia. Being in a much more favorable position, the Croats used every opportunity to slow down the implementation of the cease-fire agreement in order to have time to establish control over the entire territory envisaged to become part of their para-state of Herceg-Bosna.

"There was something very bizarre going on [with] HVO in central Bosnia," the Canadian colonel said, adding that at the same time Croats and Muslims continued to fight together against the Serbs in northern Bosnia. That "created the impression [among ECMM members] that there was a strategic decision that the HVO concentrate on central Bosnia and that northern Bosnia be left to the Serbs."

On the other hand, Colonel Landry continued, there was no explicit animosity at the local level between the Croat and Muslim population in central Bosnia: on the contrary, everybody wanted the situation to be normalized. The population, the witness said, "did not understand what was going on: as if there existed a force from above that made them do what they did not want to do."

According to the Canadian colonel, the HVO's strategy was to engender fear and hatred among the local population by constant incidents and violence and to provoke the reaction of the Muslim side in order to have a pretext to retaliate.

Colonel Landry invoked an April 1993 episode in order to illustrate to what extent the strategy was being carried out under a unified chain of command. When the order to fill in all trenches finally arrived after a two-month-long delay (on the basis of the 13 February 1993 cease-fire agreement), all local HVO commanders insisted on receiving the order in writing from their superiors "so that it would not turn out that they were doing something against the strategy of their own side."

Ed Vulliamy's testimony covered a longer period (August 1992 to February 1994) and a greater area - the entire territory of the self-proclaimed Croatian statelet of Herceg-Bosna. He started with his first meeting with Mate Boban, then-president of the statelet, in August 1992. According to Vulliamy, Boban told him that "spiritually, culturally, and economically, Herceg-Bosna is part of Croatia, from which it was separated by unfortunate historical circumstances."

Boban than went on to tell him that Bosnia and Herzegovina was "historically Croatian living space," and that it should be "dismembered [along] the line[s] of cantons and provinces." This time around, Boban concluded, "Croatian people are armed and equipped to defend their freedom."

Vulliamy said he was struck by several things from that long conversation. First, that the gist of Boban's monologue "was directed much more against his supposed Muslim allies and the government in Sarajevo ... than against his supposed Serbian enemy."

Second, the tone and the content of Boban's monologue reminded him of "rumors" according to which Serbian and Croatian leaders had reached secret agreements on a Serb-Croat carve-up of Bosnia - first at a meeting between then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman at Karadjordjevo (Serbia) in March 1991, and then at a meeting between Boban and then-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic in Graz (Austria) in March 1992.

During autumn 1992, Vulliamy noticed an "interesting pattern," similar to that noticed by Colonel Landry. He noted the decline in the number of clashes between Croats and Serbs in Bosnia. The Croats withdrew their forces from the front with the Serbs and transferred them to the areas under Muslim control where Croats outnumbered Serbs (central Bosnia, for example).

Simultaneously, the Serbs concentrated on the parts of Bosnia under Muslim control where there were more Serbs than Croats (Srebrenica and Gorazde, for example). That reminded Vulliamy of the carve-up "rumors" and Boban's August expose of the Croat nationalists' program.

According to Vulliamy, it did not take long before that program began to be implemented. On 20 October 1992, Boban proclaimed Travnik, a town with a Muslim majority, "part of Herceg-Bosna." The next day, there was a shoot-out at a gas station in Novi Travnik: one Bosnian Army soldier was killed by the HVO. Vulliamy set out for Travnik, but due to fighting and road blocks, he only managed to reach Vitez, where Pero Skopljak (a Bosnian Croat leader who was extradited to the Tribunal but was subsequently released) told him: "HVO is the only legal authority in this area."

The following day, Vulliamy and his colleagues again tried to enter Travnik but found themselves in a fierce crossfire between the hitherto allies. "Serbs, on the mountain above the town, were watching what was happening and laughing," Vulliamy said. They soon learned that the HVO had issued an ultimatum to the Bosnian Army in Mostar to disarm immediately and either disband or come under the HVO's control. "Only 48 hours after Mate Boban proclaimed Travnik part of Herceg-Bosna, things were happening very quickly," he noted.

In Mostar, the local Bosnian Army commander, Arif Pasalic, told Vulliamy and his colleagues: "This is not some local squabble. This is an implementation of a plan, a policy coming from Mate Boban. And, if implemented here, it will mean war in Mostar." And there was war, not only in Mostar. A day later, Vulliamy witnessed the destruction, looting, and ethnic cleansing of Prozor, a Muslim town key to control of central Bosnia.

Asked by the prosecutor what conclusion he had drawn from all those events, Vulliamy replied: "That everything ... predicted by Mate Boban has been implemented with great efficiency; it was coherent, everything according to the plan. There was only one chain of command, and it was working. People were obeying the orders."

In January 1993, Vulliamy returned to central Bosnia and found a "very menacing atmosphere: war was going on, tit-for-tat ethnic cleansing." In Travnik, he talked to Filip Filipovic, a HVO Colonel who had wanted to take control of a Bosnian Serb communication center on Mount Vlasic together with Muslim forces. Filipovic, Vulliamy claims, cursed Mate Boban and Tihomir Blaskic. He said: "They are putting me in a position I don't want to be in, and they are making me walk on the edge of a knife."

Asked by the prosecutor what the HVO colonel meant by that, Vulliamy replied: "I think he meant that he would either have to go over one side of the knife and join in with the Muslims, thereby disobeying orders, or he [would] follow the other side of the knife and adopt a hostile relationship toward his Muslim counterparts and do something he [did] not want to do." It appeared that the prosecutor was pleased with Vulliamy's answer so he asked him the same question again at the end of the direct examination, showing him a photograph in which Colonel Filipovic is seated next to Blaskic at a meeting.

Ed Vulliamy's testimony ended with the February 1994 Washington cease-fire agreement between Croats and Muslims. Since a number of cease-fires signed in the past had been breached, Vulliamy and his colleagues were sceptical, but the HVO spokesman in Mostar persuaded them that this time the "cease-fire will be imposed and observed." That was precisely how it was: the war stopped all of a sudden. "Like clicking a switch," Vulliamy said.

He went on to conclude: "The war stopped even more quickly than it was ignited [by] the shots at the fuel station in Novi Travnik on 21 October 1992. It [was] literally turned off. The conclusions were unavoidable: there was a chain of command. This machine worked well. Disastrously - but well - in October 1992 and efficiently in February 1994, in ending a war. One must be grateful for the coherency and efficiency of that chain of command."

How will the defense of General Blaskic, one of the more important links in that chain of command, view Ed Vulliamy's "compliments" remains to be seen, because the cross-examination has been postponed to a yet unspecified date.