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COURTSIDE: Tuta & Stela Trial

Court hears of the house that Tuta built.

Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic - the former HVO Convicts' Battalion commander accused of crimes against Bosniak Muslims in the Mostar region - last week denied forcing Bosniak prisoners to build his house at Cignasko Brdo, near Siroki Brijeg.

Tuta and Vinko "Stela" Martinovic, a commander of a unit of the Convicts' battalion, are accused of attacks on Bosniak civilians, including deportations, killings, mistreating detainees and looting property in the Mostar region.

After an earlier prosecution witness gave evidence about being forced to work on the house in 1993, a protected witness for the defence insisted that the property had been built by people who'd been paid to do the job.

The witness, a civil engineer whose firm allegedly worked in and around the house, recalled, "There was a fig tree Naletilic insisted on leaving intact at any cost. The shape of the swimming pool had to be adapted to preserve that tree."

He insisted no camp detainees from the area had worked on the site and that the construction firm employed Muslims and Croats from a nearby village who were paid on time and even received bonuses, because Tuta and his brother Miro were "very satisfied" with the results.

When the defence asked if he ever saw detainees at the site, the witness said that "no detainees came even close to this construction site. I can guarantee that with my life". He added, "The Naletilic family is an honorable family and none of them would ever allow anything like that to happen."

However, the prosecutor quoted from the witness' previous statement, in which he admitted not being present in the last stages of construction in June and July 1993. The witness conceded he might not have known everything going on at the site at that time. The trial continues.

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