COURTSIDE: Tuta & Stela Trial

HVO used human shields in battle for Mostar.

COURTSIDE: Tuta & Stela Trial

HVO used human shields in battle for Mostar.

Saturday, 24 November, 2001

The prosecution in the trial of the Bosnian Croat HVO leaders, Vinko Martinovic "Stela" and Mladen Naletilic "Tuta" last week summoned witnesses who had been used as human shields in the battle for control of Mostar in south-west Bosnia.

One incident in Santiceva street in September 1993 constitutes one of the most serious charges against Martinovic, though it also implicates Naletilic as Martinovic's overall commander.

A protected witness held at the HVO's Heliodrom camp described how Martinovic's driver took him along with a group of other detainees to a forced labour assignment.

Four men were selected for a "special task", a protected witness said. He said Martinovic personally ordered them to put on camouflage uniforms and take wooden rifles and backpacks filled with stones that looked like grenades.

Having no choice, they were sent in to the open air beside an HVO tank, which then opened fire on a Bosnian army position on the other side of Santiceva street.

The uniformed detainees were trapped in crossfire, having been told to reach the Bosnian trenches on the other side of the street as an advance guard. All received shrapnel wounds from a grenade fired by the tank they escorted.

As they neared a Bosnian army building, they begged to be let in, shouting, "We are detainees. Help us", the witness said. Two of them dragged the more seriously wounded men into the building.

While they reached liberty, the indictment says around 10 other detainees used as human shields in the street were killed during the September 18 attack.

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

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