COURTSIDE: Tuta and Stela Trial

Tuta accused of using detainees to build private sports complex

COURTSIDE: Tuta and Stela Trial

Tuta accused of using detainees to build private sports complex

Saturday, 27 October, 2001

In the trial of the Bosnian Croat paramilitary leaders Mladen Naletilic, "Tuta" and Vinko Martinovic, "Stela", former Bosniak detainees in the Croatian-held camps, where the former defendant is alleged to have had partial control, testified last week that the men beat them and threatened them with execution.

They also said they were forced to work on the construction of a sports centre in Siroki Brijeg, which Tuta allegedly hoped to run as a private business after the war.

The witnesses were mainly Bosniak soldiers from Bosnian army headquarters in west Mostar who surrendered to Bosnian Croat forces, the HVO, in May 1993, under Tuta's supervision.

Witnesses said Tuta ordered one group to be taken out for execution, though they offered no confirmation of what happened to them.

Tuta struck two other detainees, they said, as they awaited transfer to detention centres. One allegedly said, "Don't! We went to school together," to which Tuta allegedly replied, "That's why (I'm hitting you)."

The abuse continued over several months, as the detainees were moved from the police station in Siroki Brijeg, where they were held in cramped basement cells and beaten by soldiers of Tuta's Convicts Battalion, to Ljubuski, another Bosnian Croat stronghold in south-west Bosnia.

At Ljubuski prison, they had even less space. One witness said 32 people were held in a small cell. "We could not sit or crouch, let alone sleep," he said.

After their return to Siroki Brijeg, they were put to work on building a municipal swimming pool. One witness said he had heard that Tuta and another man were planning to develop it as a sports centre, which suggests the accused used detainees as forced labour for his private profit.

This was corroborated by testimony from other detainees who said they were taken to Tuta's property near Siroki Brijeg to work on building a house and a swimming pool.

The trial continues.

Vjera Bogati is an IWPR special correspondent at The Hague and journalist with SENSE News Agency.

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