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Courtside: Tuta & Stela Trial

By Vjera Bogati in The Hague (TU No. 287, October 28 - November 1, 2002)
By IWPR

Prosecutors say they played crucial roles in the 1993 ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) from the city of Mostar and its surroundings. The defence claim the men were marginal figures defending their local communities.


Naletilic was charged for both individual involvement and command responsibility for the crimes committed by his subordinates in a Bosnian Croat unit called the Convicts Battalion.


Martinovic was charged as a commander of an anti-terrorist group, ATG, in Mostar, which belonged to the battalion.


This group and the accused were alleged to have evicted Bosniaks from their homes and to have tortured Bosniak detainees and used them for forced labour and exposed them to fire on the front lines.


Prosecutors blame Naletilic for actions of this group as well as for military attacks against civilians, including the ethnic cleansing of the villages Sovici and Doljani, where detainees were executed, and for the mass detention of civilians.


The accused "wanted all the power and no responsibility", said prosecutor Kenneth Scott in his closing argument. "It must never be forgotten that without people like Tuta and Stela, who were willing and able to carry out the events on the grounds, people like Tudjman and Milosevic could not commit their crimes."


Scott said their "victims cry for justice to be done". He demanded sentence of at least 35 years for Tuta and 25 years for Stela.


Their defence, however, disputed that Tuta commanded the Convicts Battalion when the expulsions, plunder, beatings, killings, torture and taking of prisoners occurred in 1993. It also disputed that Stela's ATG belonged to the battalion in the first place.


Describing the prosecutor's evidence as hearsay and unreliable, the defence concluded that if there is any doubt about the credibility of such evidence the accused must be pronounced innocent.


Tuta's counsel Kresimir Krsnik believes that the indictment is the result of a "unilateral approach by the prosecution to the events in 1993".


He claimed Tuta did not have powers attributed to him by the indictment, "Tuta cannot be found at any political or military meeting anywhere." He asked for acquittal on all charges.


Stela's counsel Branko Seric asked for acquittal claiming that his client was just "a simple soldier...in charge of a narrow strip of the front line".


The prosecutor said attacks against Bosniaks were planned by the government of the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, not by local units, because Zagreb wanted to create a "Greater Croatia".


He said the Bosnian Croat army was controlled by Zagreb, thus rendering the Croat-Bosniak conflict international in nature.


Witnesses testified about the presence of Croatian army units in Mostar.


The prosecution produced transcripts from Tudjman's office in which the late president was quoted saying that the borders of Croatia were being defended in Bosnia.


The defence disputed evidence from what they described as a "dead man" and claimed that the two accused could in no way be seen as participating in an international armed conflict in which Geneva Conventions were applicable.


In a heated atmosphere during the closing arguments, the defence accused the prosecution of being "theatrical" and "lacking hard evidence".


The prosecution criticised the defence for being "emotional and aggressive" in the absence of evidence to support their claims.


The judges concluded the hearing with a reassurance that their judgment will be based solely on the value of evidence and not on anybody's talent in presenting it.


Their decision could take a long time since they have to go through the testimonies of some 130 witnesses and 18,000 documents from the 14-month-long trial.


Tuta and Stela are accused of crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and violations of the laws and customs of war. They have pleaded not guilty.


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