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COURTSIDE: Tuta & Stela Trial

Former Muslim detainees come to defence of indicted Croat commander.
By Mirna Jancic

In the three weeks of Vinko "Stela" Martinovic's defence, many Muslim witnesses who were once detainees have challenged the prosecution's claims that they were victimised by the accused.

The witnesses, held in Heliodrom camp in 1993 by local Croat forces, testified that Stela, as commander of a local unit, helped them and never forced them to work or used them as live shields - as the indictment claims.

However, most of their testimonies relate to a period after August 1993, and so do not contradict the allegation that abuses were carried out in May, June and July that year.

Muslim detainees have told the court of the "privilege" of going to work for Stela. Most of these witnesses had some technical knowledge, which is why from August that year they were employed in carrying out "minor repairs" for Stela in a nearby garage.

They say the accused paid them and gave them food, cigarettes and coffee. A number of detainees continued working in Stela's garage even after the Heliodrom was shut down in September 1993.

The indictment alleges that Stela's Mrmak unit persecuted Muslims in Mostar and that it was under the command of his co-accused Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic, alleged commander of the Convicts Batallion.

But testimonies by former Mrmak members contest this, saying Stela had no superior and that the unit was independent. They said the unit had a fixed task to control the frontline in Mostar, did not operate in other parts of the town, and therefore could not have taken part in expelling and abusing Muslims.

Stela's former men insist Muslims either left their homes voluntarily, or were persecuted by Croat troops from outside Mostar. The detainees from Heliodrom said Stela protected them from these out-of-town soldiers.

Mirna Jancic is an IWPR assistant editor

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