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

Blaskic Trial: Who should be sitting as the accused?

By Mirko Klarin

Should Pasko Ljubicic, the commander of the unit of the Military Police of the HVO active in Ahmici, Central Bosnia on 16 April 1993 be sitting as the accused instead of Tihomir Blaskic? so asked Judge Claude Jorda who is presiding over the trial of the general accused of responsibility for crimes committed under his command in Ahmici where 100 men women and children were killed.

The judge also sought Blaskic's reply to the question of whether he believed the massacre was organised and committed by the Military Police of the HVO and with the knowledge and involvement of some persons at a higher level of political and military authority than himself -as his counsel alleges.

When the defendant was pressed by Presiding Judge Claude Jorda to confirm this on oath in the witness box, Blaskic's team requested that the answers be given in camera. This application was accepted and the public was then duly excluded from hearing one of the more interesting parts of this marathon trial.

Judging by the public part of his testimony, however, it is safe to assume that in the closed hearing Blaskic gave a positive answer to both Jorda's questions.

Before the trail went in camera, Blaskic sought to explain why - after learning about the slaughter in Ahmici - he did not request the Military Police to submit a report on what had taken place, Blaskic gave the court three reasons: Firstly, since he had already been receiving "false reports" about events from the commander, Pasko Ljubicic: Secondly, since he only had limited jurisdiction over both civilian and military police: Thirdly, and most importantly, such a request would be a warning (to Ljubicic) that he was suspicious, and he would "undertake measures to prevent the investigation."

Blaskic, further, offered two possible explanations of Ljubicic's "false reports" about Ahmici: "Either he was aware of the tragedy [himself], so he did not dare admit, or he believed in the protection of authorities who are more powerful than me and closer to him." It is unknown whether Blaskic named some of those "authorities" close to Pasko Ljubicic while the court sat in camera.

Blaskic claims he did not receive requested help either from UNPROFOR or the Army of B-H. He told the court last week that he had wanted a "joint investigation", but that the Army was allegedly "uninterested" and the commander of BritBat [British Battalion], Colonel Bob Stewart, aimed to exploit the incident in the media..."generalising the problem of Ahmici to [apply to] the HVO in general".

This is the reason why, as he claims, Blaskic ordered that the investigation be conducted by the security service of the HVO (SIS). Unfortunately, he says, he only received a "very foggy response" a month later as regards the circumstances and executioners of the crime.

Although he was not pressed further over this, Blaskic allowed the possibility that two or three suspects were named in the SIS report, not from the ranks of the Military Police but from the HOS - the right wing Croatian militia, who were also said by the SIS to be active in Ahmici on the day of the killings. Since he was not satisfied with this report, Blaskic ordered one more investigation. Its results, however, he says, were never submitted to him.

Blaskic told the court that due to his suspicions regarding their participation in the Ahmici crimes and their alleged general violent and criminal conduct, Blaskic demanded the dismissal of its commander, Pasko Ljubicic. After three representations to the command of the Military Police in Mostar, Ljubicic was finally replaced on 4 August 1993.

When the judges requested to see copies of Blaskic's written notes to the Mostar command, the Defense replied that "it did not have access to the archives of the Military Police and the headquarters of the HVO".

Blaskic's testimony on Friday was interrupted by a hearing of the Croatian armed forces representative whose apperance was prompted by a document the Tribunal has long been seeking on the role of the Croatian Army in the Bosnian war in 1993. The documents were initially requested two years ago by means of a "subpoena duces tecum", and then by a "binding order". Zagreb however refuses to hand them over quoting the reasons of "national security." Since the burden of proof is on the party that claims this, the representative of the Croatian armed forces presented the arguments explaining why the handover of the requested documents would indeed threaten the interests of "national security." The hearing was held in camera and will continue next month.

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