COURTSIDE: Tuta & Stela Case

Commanders of HVO unit accused of being leading perpetrators of campaign against Muslims

COURTSIDE: Tuta & Stela Case

Commanders of HVO unit accused of being leading perpetrators of campaign against Muslims

Saturday, 30 April, 2005

HVO commanders Mladen Naletilic "Tuta" and Vinko Martinovic "Stela" - described as "shock troops notorious for being involved in the dirtiest jobs", heard the first witnesses in the prosecution case against them last week.

One of three trials that began simultaneously on September 10, this case concerns crimes committed by the Convicts' Battalion (Kaznjenicka bojna), in 1993 and early 1994 in the municipalities of Mostar, Jablanica and Stolac in Herzegovina.

"The Convicts' Battalion, whose members were well-equipped and aggressive, was used as an assault force that used to be sent to the most difficult situations," prosecutor Kenneth Scott said. "Their jobs included attacks on, and expulsions of, Bosnian Muslim civilians."

Crimes listed in the indictment include mass expulsions and detentions, killings, torture, evictions and looting - for which the accused were charged with crimes against humanity, violations of the laws and customs of war and grave breeches of the Geneva conventions.

The actions occurred within a planned HVO campaign against the Bosniak community in Herzegovina and Central Bosnia, where military operations started on April 16, 1993, said Scott.

"Naletilic, as one of the top HVO leaders in Herzegovina and commander of the Convicts' Batallion, and his subordinate Martinovic, commander of one of the anti-terrorist units of that batallion, were among the leading perpetrators of the campaign against Muslims," the prosecutor said.

Scott said they were responsible for both "crimes perpetrated by their subordinates" and for "the atrocities committed by their own hands". Instead of punishing crimes, they had "led by example, not a good example", he said.

The evidence in the trial suggested Tuta cut an unusual figure for a military commander. Sometimes he came across as a mafia boss, while at other times he struck an almost artistic pose. One witness, a former Muslim politician from Mostar, described meeting him in the office of Mate Boban, then president of Herceg-Bosna, and seeing a person who "looked more like an artist than a politician" an impression apparently given by his long gray hair.

Information collected during the war by the EC Monitoring Mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina suggested Naletilic had a darker side. An ECMM report from June 1993 described the monitors meeting Tuta, whom they referred to as a mafia "capo". The report added, "Nationalist paramilitary organizations... inside the HVO were full of criminals from all over the world whose power was their money and whose behaviour was worse than any other people."

The prosecutor's case is expected to last about 10 weeks, during which some 50 witnesses will be called.

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

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