COURTSIDE: Tuta & Stela Trial

Witness describes involvement of Croatia in Mostar attacks

COURTSIDE: Tuta & Stela Trial

Witness describes involvement of Croatia in Mostar attacks

Saturday, 29 September, 2001

A witness at the trial of Bosnian Croat army commander, Mladen Naletilic "Tuta", described last week how the defendant, along with the then Croatian defence minister, Gojko Susak, greeted an Easter banquet held in Mostar during 1993 with Nazi salutes and cries of "God and Croats".

The account of the banquet, held in Mostar's Hotel Ero on April 10, 1993, came as the prosecution in Tuta's trial sought to prove the involvement of the Croatian authorities and Croatian army in the actions of Bosnian Croat forces, HVO, in particular attacks against Mostar led by Tuta, during which he is accused of various crimes.

The evidence was part of a testimony by an anonymous female witness who gave details about Susak's visit to Mostar and his influence on local politicians.

The meeting at Hotel Ero was held on the 52nd anniversary of the founding of the Nazi-backed Independent State of Croatia, and was attended by local religious and political officials. Addressing the banquet, according to the witness, "Susak said the Bosniaks would be driven out of the city and they would have a pure Mostar".

When Susak was warned that the Mostar branch leader of the SDA, a local Muslim political party, was present, and that he was currently negotiating with the Bosnian Croat HDZ party, the Croatian defence minister was dismissive. Susak declared, "Nothing will come out of it (the negotiations) and the job will be done regardless of them". Tuta himself then joined in the conversation, "bragging how his guys did a good job in Gornji Vakuf," said the witness.

A further conversation took place between Susak and Jadranko Prlic, the president of the HVO. "Susak looked like he was in charge there. He asked Prlic if they were ready and whether there is sufficient money in the account," testified the witness, adding that she didn't know what account the men were referring to. The HVO attack on Mostar began seven days after the conversation on April 17, 1993.

Tuta and the HVO Convicts Unit which he commanded are accused of the killing, detention and inhumane treatment of a number of Bosniaks during attacks in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Last week, the tribunal also heard the evidence of a Bosniak detainee, held and interrogated by Naletilic. Salko Osmic was arrested in the village of Sovici, near Jablanica, during an attack by Tuta. He was then taken to a house where the latter was interrogating Bosniak detainees.

"One of Tuta's soldiers pushed my head on the glowing hot surface of a stove and when I was only a centimetre away from it a candle fell and the room became dark - that saved me," Osmic alleged.

Naletilic was present and failed to prevent the torture, says Osmic. The prosecution will next week call further witnesses of the HVO attack on Sovice and HVO camp detainees.

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

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