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Blaskic Trial: 'Uncontrolled' Military Police

Tribunal Update 108: Last Week in The Hague (11-17 January, 1999)

During its presentation of evidence so far, the Defence did not deny that grave crimes were committed in the Lasva River Valley in April 1993, including the massacre in Ahmici, the explosion of the tank-lorry bomb in Stari Vitez, or the shelling of Zenica town centre, which the Prosecutor attributes to Blaskic as the HVO commander in the Operative Zone of Central Bosnia at the time. The Defence, however, denies that such crimes were committed by just one of the sides involved in the Croat-Muslim conflict.

Twenty or so witnesses from the village of Dusina and other Croat villages of the Lasva River Valley appeared before the Trial Chamber during November and December last year. All spoke of wholesale murder, destruction and pillaging committed by the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and their so-called "mujahedeen" allies in particular. The alleged victims were Croatian civilians.

Anto Nobilo and Russel Haymen, members of Blaskic's Defence team, stated that it was not their wish to justify the crimes committed by one side with crimes committed by the other, but rather to point at the "spiral of fear and violence which no-one - not even General Blaskic - could have controlled." In their view, in those places where Blaskic did have control - where regular units of the HVO operated under his command - there were no crimes such as the ones committed in Ahmici.

This proposition was upheld by two witnesses from the villages of Kruscica and Gacice nearby Ahmici, where there were no massacres, despite heavy fighting between HVO and Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina in April 1993.

The Defence is also trying to dispute the thesis that "uncontrolled groups" within the ranks of HVO Military Police or special forces, which were responsible for the bulk of crimes committed in the Lasva River Valley, came under the command of Blaskic. Marinko Palavra, the present commander of the Military Police in Bosnia, testified in support of this at The Hague last week.

In August 1993, Blaskic appointed him the commander of Military Police within his Operative Zone, replacing Pasko Ljubicic, who was the commander at the time the crimes were committed.

Palavra testified that Blaskic did all in his power to bring order to the Military Police, which was outside his control up to that moment, and was shot through with "criminal elements". According to Palavra, the police took part both in atrocities and in ordinary crimes, rather than combating them.

A particular problem were the special units, such as the "Vitezovi" ['Knights'] of Darko Kraljevic, and the group commanded by a man called "Zuti". On one occasion in late 1993, Blaskic had, the witness alleges, ordered the Military Police to intervene against the named "Zuti" and his brigands.

Marjan Strukar, last week's other Defence witness, told the court how he heard that the 'Vitezovi' of Darko Kraljevic were responsible for the Stari Vitez bomb blast. Several other Defence and Prosecution witnesses pointed that the "Vitezovi" were the HVO unit most responsible for the Ahmici massacre.

With the latest round of witnesses, the Defence hoped to show that Blaskic was not in control of HVO Military Police at the time the Lasva Valley crimes were committed. One question, however, remains open. If Blaskic had managed to "bring order" to the Military Police; take control of the special units and suppress the "criminal elements" such as the "Zuti" and Darko Kraljevic (who was killed in a shoot-out after the war) in the second half of 1993 - why did he not then do this immediately after the Lasva Valley crimes, or, better still, before them?