COURTSIDE: Tuta & Stela Trial

Bosniak member of HVO tells of its ethnic cleansing of Bosniak flats in western Mostar.

COURTSIDE: Tuta & Stela Trial

Bosniak member of HVO tells of its ethnic cleansing of Bosniak flats in western Mostar.

Saturday, 19 January, 2002

At the trial of two former HVO commanders in Mostar accused of crimes against Bosniaks, the prosecution last week produced another so-called insider as a witness. Unlike previous insiders who were foreign mercenaries, he was a Bosniak who remained in the HVO after the Bosniak-Croat alliance in Mostar collapsed in spring 1993.


Mladen Naletilic "Tuta", commander of the Kaznjenicka Bojna (Convicts Battalion) and one of its sub-commanders, Vinko Martinovic "Stela" are charged with crimes against humanity, grave breaches of Geneva conventions and violations of the war and customs of war.


The witness, who was only 17 in 1993, said he belonged to a unit responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks in Mostar. He had stayed with the HVO despite news that it was about to launch an attack on his ethnic community. He did so, he said, because he felt he would be able to protect his family. As a fighter in a unit of the Convicts Battalion, he came under Tuta's overall command, the prosecutor said.


"We would go to Bosniak flats in the western part of town, where our unit commander told us to go," the witness said. "We would demand the keys and valuables, such as gold rings. The men were taken to the Heliodrom camp while woman and children were taken to the eastern part of town."


Anyone resisting was beaten - and later, after the electronic equipment and furniture were removed from the flats, the HVO soldiers were allowed to choose whichever flat they wanted to occupy, the witness said.


Some Bosniaks were wounded or killed, and their bodies left to lie on the streets. Detainees from the Heliodrom were later brought into town to remove the corpses, he said.


In its cross-examination, Naletilic's defence said few of the details proved Tuta's direct role in the operation, to which the witness replied that although the latter was not the official commander in town, he was still the real master.


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


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