COURTSIDE: Tuta & Stela Trial

Defence seek to use appeal ruling in Kupreskic case to challenge prosecution witness.

COURTSIDE: Tuta & Stela Trial

Defence seek to use appeal ruling in Kupreskic case to challenge prosecution witness.

Saturday, 3 November, 2001

The trial of the Bosnian Croat military commanders Mladen Naletilic "Tuta" and Vinko Martinovic "Stela" continued last week, with the defence team attempting to use a recent appeals chamber ruling in the "Kupreskic and others" case to disqualify part of the prosecutor's witness testimony.

The unprecedented ruling in October overturned verdicts against three Bosnian Croats convicted over the 1993 massacre of civilians at Ahmici, central Bosnia, on the grounds that their indictments were defective and a miscarriage of justice had taken place.

It specifically criticised the use of events not alleged in the indictment on the grounds that it meant the defendants had no opportunity to prepare answers.

Naletilic's lawyers argued last week that the ruling set a precedent that the prosecution may not present any crucial evidence for the events not alleged in the original indictment.

As a result, when prosecutor Ken Scott prepared to ask a protected witness about an incident involving the accused, Tuta's defence team insisted it was not admissable as the event was not mentioned in the indictment.

However, Judge Maureen Harding Clark said if the evidence served only to show generally what Naletilic must have known or seen, it was acceptable.

Prosecutor Scott claimed that Naletilic, commander of the HVO "Convicts battalion" in the Mostar area, clearly knew about the HVO mistreatment of Bosniak detainees, as the witness and former detainee insisted Naletilic met the detainees on a Mostar street when they were being taken to work at the front.

The witness said that during his detention in several camps in the Mostar area, he was severely beaten on a number of occasions and saw both Naletilic and Martinovic visiting the camps.

He described an incident when Martinovic selected 10 detainees for forced labour of whom, he said, "I only know one who is alive today."

The witness supported the prosecution's claim that regular Croatian troops were present in Bosnia, which the prosecution says proves the international nature of the Croat-Bosniak conflict in Bosnia.

As proof, he said the soldier who first stopped him in Mostar and took him to a detention centre spoke with an accent from Croatia's Dalmatian coast.

He also claimed he and a group of detainees were sent to collect the bodies of dead Croatian soldiers from the front in summer 1993 in Herzegovina, close to Mostar. "We were given a piece of wire with a hook and told to pull out only those soldiers with special boots on - the ones worn by the Croatian army troops," he said.

The prosecution will say this strengthens the claim that Croatia concealed the presence of its troops in Bosnia-Herzegovina because it was aware they were there illegally.

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

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