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Blaskic Trial: Vain Hopes Of A Spectacle

Tribunal Update 125: Last Week in The Hague (10-15 May, 1999)
By IWPR

In fixing a schedule for the court appearances of General Philippe Morillon, former UNPROFOR Commander, and Ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault, former Chief of the European Community Monitoring Mission, the Trial Chamber last week specified that their deposition on 16 June 1999 will be closed to the public.


The Trial Chamber further specified that representatives of the French Government and of the UN Secretary-General "may be present during the testimony and may address the Chamber to present reasoned motions aimed at preserving any higher interest which they have been assigned to protect."


Some of the remaining witnesses, summoned by the Trial Chamber orders of March 25, may yet give their testimonies in full chamber. In addition to Morillon and Thebault, the following individuals have been invited: Colonel Robert (Bob) Stewart, Commander of the British Battalion of UNPROFOR during part of the time covered by the indictment; Colonel Serif Patkovic, Commander of the 7th Muslim Brigade of the Bosnian Army from May 1992 to January 1994; General Enver Hadzihasanovic, then Commander of the 3rd Corps of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina; and General Milijov Petkovic, then Commander of Main Staff of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO).


During his cross-examination last week by Prosecutor Gregory Kehoe, Blaskic tried once again to convince the judges that he had no interest in politics. The former HVO commander in Central Bosnia said that he had no "specific knowledge of the policies of the so-called Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia (HZ H-B)," and its hard-core leader Mate Boban. Moreover, he insisted that he had not participated in the creation and implementation of the "common Croat state", i.e. the "Greater Croatia" that would include Croat-populated parts of Bosnia. In response, the Prosecutor read him a section of a speech by Dario Kordic in which this HVO political leader (currently on trial at The Hague in a separate case) threatened Bosnian Muslims that they would "lose both their state and their people" if they did not cease their attacks on the HVO. Blaskic replied that these were Kordic's "unwanted comments" and that they did not reflect Blaskic's own position.


Much of last week's cross-examination consisted of the prosecutor attempting to prove that the HVO attempt to take over authority in Central Bosnia was "co-ordinated and planned", and that Blaskic participated eagerly in the implementation of that plan. To support this argument, the prosecutor presented Blaskic's order of May 1992 that proclaimed the Territorial Defence forces (TO, from which the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina was later formed) illegal, and accompanied it with evidence of Kordic's ultimatum to the TO to surrender weapons and accept the HVO command. Although Kordic's ultimatum was issued a day after Blaskic's order, the defendant said that there was no connection between the two documents.


Citing the testimony of Ed Vulliamy, correspondent of The Guardian who appeared before the Tribunal a year ago (see Tribunal Update Nos. 73 and 76), the prosecutor questioned the defendant about the first Bosnian Croat-Muslim clashes of October 1992. The prosecutor alleged that these were part of a wider plan to establish complete HVO control in that part of Bosnia. Vulliamy recounted in his testimony that the policy, as defined by Mate Boban, was "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." Blaskic, however, said that certain towns where clashes occurred in October 1992 were outside his area of responsibility, and that he was at the time engaged in the defence of the town of Jajce, which was under siege by Serb forces.


The prosecutor also referred to several of Blaskic's orders from January 1993 aimed at increasing the level of combat preparedness and on the disarmament of Bosnian Muslims. He also cited Colonel Bob Stewart's opinion that, by refusing to agree a prisoner exchange, Blaskic aimed to provoke a confrontation with the Bosnian Army. All this, according to the Prosecutor, amounted to a political plot to use the Vance-Owen peace plan to impose absolute HVO authority in cantons earmarked to be under Bosnian Croat majority control.


Blaskic, however, said that if such a plan existed it was unknown to him, and that the orders were of a defensive character, since it was the Muslims, not the Croats, who were preparing for a confrontation. He also said that he refused to accept the prisoner exchange due to the fact that it was organised by UNPROFOR and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).


Finally, the Prosecutor cited a number of crimes believed to have been committed by HVO members, including murders of Muslims, looting of Muslim property, torching of Muslim houses, illegal detention and the use of Muslim prisoners as forced labour digging trenches at the front. The Prosecutor paused after detailing each incident and asked Blaskic whether he had ordered an investigation or had disciplined those responsible. "Can you give me one name?" was Prosecutor Kehoe's most frequent question.


In reply to these questions, Blaskic gave two or three names of disciplined HVO members, explaining that as a commander, he was only able to punish violations of military discipline, whereas the perpetrators of crimes were sent to a court-martial. Blaskic's cross-examination continues next week, when--it is expected--the Prosecutor will raise the issue of the village of Ahmici in Central Bosnia in which on 16 April 1993 more than 100 Muslim civilians were murdered and all Muslim houses were destroyed and burned.


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