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Blaskic Trial: Prosecution Soon To End Presentation Of Evidence

Tribunal Update 83: Last Week in The Hague (29 June-4 July 1998)

As Blaskic is charged with command responsibility for the alleged crimes that Bosnian Croat forces (HVO) committed against Bosniak civilians in central Bosnia - particularly in the Lasva Valley - between the autumn of 1992 and spring of 1994, the prosecutor has particularly focused on proving the existence and the functioning of a chain of command within HVO.

Last week, the prosecutor summoned two new witnesses who are undoubtedly familiar with military control and command systems: British Colonel Mark Bowerboth and the Dutch Lieutenant Colonel Henrik Morsnik, both of whom spent some time in 1993 in the central Bosnia operative zone (of which the accused Blaskic was in charge).

Bowerboth was a member of the British battalion of the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) and Morsnik belonged to the European Community Monitoring Mission (ECMM).

Like a great number of their colleagues - British and Canadian officers and soldiers - who had previously testified on the same topic, both Bower and Morsnik asserted before the court that HVO's chain of command was very effective and that the accused Blaskic had control over all HVO units in that part of central Bosnia, including the special units, such as the "Knights" and the "Jokers" (victims who appeared as witnesses before the Tribunal have claimed that those units were directly responsible for the majority of crimes committed against civilians in the Lasva Valley, such as the massacre in the village of Ahmici, where more than 100 people were killed, all Bosniak houses were torched, and both mosques were razed to the ground).

The two witnesses claimed that the HVO was a "tightly structured" organization, that it possessed "very good communications equipment," that its "chain of command functioned efficiently," and that the accused Blaskic "had to know" about everything that was happening in the area under his command.

According to Morsnik, the excuses that "uncontrolled elements" were responsible for the crimes, which Blaskic and other HVO commanders regularly gave to international monitors at the time, were unacceptable, since "Blaskic had at his disposal military police who could have curbed the so-called uncontrolled elements" and because those crimes were "systematic."

The Bosnian army, Morsnik noted, was "much more responsive" to the objections of international monitors and much more cooperative in UNPROFOR and ECMM investigations regarding different incidents.

The prosecutor introduced a new detail in the trial through the Dutch Lieutenant Colonel: HVO's "intimidation propaganda" targeted at Bosnian Croats in order to make them leave the parts of Bosnia controlled by the Bosnian army and cross over to the HVO territory. Morsnik said that Blaskic himself took part in that propaganda, quoting a letter that the accused sent to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in early 1993 with the request that help be given to Croats in Zenica who were allegedly in jeopardy.

In this letter, Morsnik sees "the pattern of exaggeration and a pattern of propaganda ... [with the aim of exerting] influence on certain groups of Croats and on international organizations."

Despite Croatia's refusal to submit the documents relevant for the Blaskic case (requested first by subpoena duces tecum and later by the Trial Chamber's binding order), the prosecutor managed to collect 113 documents that point to the role of Croatia and its army in the Bosnian war, which he presented to the court last week.

Blaskic's defense, however, announced that it will request that the prosecutor summon witnesses to confirm the authenticity of those documents.