COURTSIDE: Tuta & Stela Trial

Sarajevo, it is claimed, gave Croatia a green light to annex Herzegovina.

COURTSIDE: Tuta & Stela Trial

Sarajevo, it is claimed, gave Croatia a green light to annex Herzegovina.

Even if Croatia had wanted to use troops to annex parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina, it would never have done so because the move needed parliament's approval.

So runs the legal argument of the defense for two former HVO commanders,

Mladen Naletilic "Tuta", who led the so-called Convicts' Battalion, and

Vinko Martinovic "Stela", former boss of an "anti-terrorist" unit in


They are charged with crimes against Bosniak civilians in Herzegovina,

including killings and ethnic cleansing. The prosecution says these crimes

were committed in connection with plans to create purely Croatian

areas that would be joined to Croatia.

The defense denies their responsibility for the HVO military campaign and

the crimes committed therein. It also refutes claims that regular Croatian forces took part in the fighting, although prosecution witnesses have testified to seeing Croatian army units around Mostar in 1992 and 1993.

In support of the defence, Damir Zoric, Croatia's former ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina, testified that Croatia was "not even interested" in

annexing territory.

Zoric said General Jacques Klein, a UN representative in Sarajevo, recently recalled "numerous offers by the Bosniak authorities... to President Tudjman to take Herzegovina while the rest of Bosnia would go its own way". Zoric added that Klein, "who is a credible man", insisted

Croatia never took up the offers.

Zoric said close ties between Croatia and the Bosnian Croats did not turn

the latter into Croatia's agents. They were the "result of restrictions

imposed by the conditions of the war". The Bosnian Croats communicated with the world via Zagreb because Sarajevo had been cut off, he added.

The ex-ambassador and former head of Croatia's Refugee Department said the fact that more than 370,000 Bosnian refugees, mostly Bosniaks, took refuge in Croatia in the war, demonstrated Croatia's "friendly attitude" towards them.

Zoric insisted that Bosniak refugees enjoyed full rights in Croatia

according to international regulations, even during the height of the

Croat-Bosniak conflict. The trial continues.

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

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