COURTSIDE: Tuta and Stela Trial

Bosnian Croats “had no choice” but to go to war against Muslims, witness claims.

COURTSIDE: Tuta and Stela Trial

Bosnian Croats “had no choice” but to go to war against Muslims, witness claims.

Saturday, 21 September, 2002

A defence witness in the trial of Vinko "Stela" Martinovic last week challenged a central claim of the indictment against the defendant, while another contested the mental health of a prosecution witness.

Davor Marjan, an historian and archaeologist, had worked for the Croatian defence ministry and the Croatian Intelligence Agency, HIS.

The indictment alleges Zagreb helped the Bosnian Croats to organise themselves with the aim of creating their own breakaway state, Herceg-Bosna, which would then be annexed to Croatia.

The prosecutors claim that Bosnian Croat forces expelled Muslims from the area in spring 1993 with that purpose in mind - and that Martinovic’s unit actively participated in the action.

While Marjan said Croat forces committed crimes such as ethnic cleansing "just like the Serbs and Muslims", his testimony focused on why the Bosnian Croats allegedly had no choice but to go to war against the Muslims.

Firstly, he said Croats bitterly recalled that Bosnian territorial defence units had supported the Yugoslav army attack on the newly independent state in 1991.

Secondly, Marjan insisted the Bosnian Croats set up Herceg-Bosna to defend themselves against the Serbs when Sarajevo was unable to help them.

Marjan said in the spring of 1993 the Muslim-dominated Sarajevo government forces, still wearing the "mask" of a multi-ethnic central command, launched an attack on the Bosnian Croats, forcing them to fight back.

The witness himself fought in both the Croatian army and the Bosnian Croat Defence Council, the HVO. He took a break in his studies on three occasions to fight on the Bosnian front.

He insisted many times during his testimony that the international community played a key part in disintegration of Bosnia, by allowing the Bosnian Serbs to do what they wanted and by reinforcing the partition of the country with the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement that split it into two entities - Republika Srpska and the Federation.

At one point, he addressed prosecutor Kenneth Scott as representing one of the "warring parties" - namely the international community - adding that everyone would "pay for their sins".

Last week, Stela's defence also called Dr Drazen Begic to elaborate on the mental health of prosecution witness Halil Ajanic, who had testified against the accused in January, charging him with responsibility for the death of his eight-year-old son.

Ajanic had also described how Stela used Muslim detainees from the Heliodrom camp as forced labour, and said he witnessed Stela's men beating up one prisoner Nenad Harmandzic, later found dead with a bullet in his head.

The defence provided Dr Begic with medical findings of Ajanic's mental state while he was treated in a psychiatric hospital in Bosnia in 1996. On the basis of available documentation and previous diagnoses, he had diagnosed Ajanic as suffering from alcoholic psychosis, mild retardation and amnesia.

Dr Begic claimed that alcoholic psychosis could lead to amnesia, while mild retardation could make a sufferer open to suggestion. However, the doctor confirmed that there were no grounds to completely discount Ajanic’s testimony.

Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor.

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