COURTSIDE: Tuta and Stela Trial

Serbs and Croats hatched deal on fate of Mostar

COURTSIDE: Tuta and Stela Trial

Serbs and Croats hatched deal on fate of Mostar

Saturday, 20 October, 2001

The prosecution last week continued its case against Mladen Naletelic "Tuta" and Vinko Martinovic "Stela", two Bosnian Croat former commanders of the HVO Convicts' Battalion. They are charged with playing key roles in a campaign of ethnic cleansing directed against Bosniaks in Herzegovina, south-west Bosnia, in 1993.

The prosecution does not assert they acted alone but as part of a wider scheme organised by the HVO and the Croatian government.

Testifying against the two men, Seid Smajkic, mufti (Muslim religious leader) of Herzegovina, said the HVO was responsible for inflicting a "catastrophe" on the regional capital, Mostar.

The mufti elaborated by referring to an alleged Serb-Croat deal on the division of Bosnia, which involved the Croats taking total control of Mostar.

The prosecution supported this by producing documents from a meeting between the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his Bosnian Croat counterpart Mate Boban in May 1992, in the Austrian town of Graz.

The prosecutor read the documents of the "draft agreement" between the two leaders, which mentions that "there are no longer any reasons for armed conflict between Serbs and Croats on the entire territory of Bosnia-Herzegovina."

The mufti said the HVO began to implement the plan to turn Mostar into a Bosnian Croat capital in spring 1992, after the Serbs withdrew from the town, a plan that implied the total marginalisation of the Bosniaks and Bosnian state institutions.

He said the HVO effectively staged a coup against the civilian authorities and that Bosniaks who refused to express loyalty to the Bosnian Croat para-state of Herzeg-Bosnia subsequently lost their jobs.

Bosniak protests were ignored and in January and April 1993 they received ultimatums to place Bosniak forces under HVO command. The military attack on the Bosniaks began in May 1993 and largely targeted civilians who were either deported or detained in camps, where they were exposed to shelling and hunger.

The mufti said the HVO campaign resulted in the destruction of most of Mostar's Islamic heritage, starting with the town's 20 mosques, the Old Bridge and historic houses built in Islamic style.

Muslim clerics also suffered, he said. Twelve imams from Herzegovina were detained in camps, he added, describing one who was murdered in his own mosque.

The trial continues.

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

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