Croatian Soldiers Say Praljak Forbade Crimes

They testify that general was tolerant, cultured man, who outlawed any misdemeanours by soldiers.

Croatian Soldiers Say Praljak Forbade Crimes

They testify that general was tolerant, cultured man, who outlawed any misdemeanours by soldiers.

Friday, 25 September, 2009

A Croatian army, HV, soldier who served under General Slobodan Praljak during the 1991-95 Bosnian war told judges at the Hague tribunal this week that the commander was a “professional soldier of high moral principles”.

Alojz Arbutina, a former assistant commander for logistics, was one of two HV members to testify in Praljak’s defence this week. Both soldiers were under the general’s command from September 1991 until February 1992, while he was acting HV commander in the municipality of Sunja in the Western Slavonia region of Croatia.

Praljak is on trial for war crimes along with other five high-ranking Bosnian Croat officials: Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic.

The six are accused of responsibility for the expulsion, rape, torture and murder of Bosniaks and other non-Croats between late 1991 and early 1994, as part of an alleged plan to ethnically cleanse parts of Bosnia in order to later join them to a so-called Greater Croatia.

According to the indictment, Praljak served during the conflict as Zagreb's liaison to the Croatian Council of Defence, HVO, government and armed forces of the Bosnian Croats’ self-proclaimed state of Herceg-Bosna, relaying instructions from the then Croatian president Franjo Tudjman and other officials.

The indictment says that Praljak exercised control over the wartime statelet’s armed forces, and was responsible for their logistics, organisation, planning, training, deployment, as well as strategic and combat orders.

Arbutina was first to testify, telling judges that Praljak as a “professional soldier who stuck to all rules and customs of war”. His written statement which he had earlier given to the prosecution was submitted into evidence.

“[Praljak] was a man of extraordinary organisational capability… Although he was our superior and although we had to respect him, he truly respected us, too, and cared about us, always finding the time to listen to his soldiers and to counsel them if necessary,” Arbutina said.

“He demanded work, order and discipline from his soldiers, which is further reason why they loved and respected him.”

The witness also said that the behaviour of Praljak toward the local population showed that he was a man of “high morals”.

Arbutina said that Praljak was not concerned about people’s backgrounds or political affiliations.

“He cared about all the local inhabitants, regardless of their ethnic group, having enough to eat, and not having to suffer,” he said.

According to the witness, during the six months Praljak was based in Sunja as a commander, not a single abandoned house in the area was destroyed, burned or pillaged, which was further evidence of his good character, he said.

Praljak forbade any criminal activities from soldiers under his command, he said.

“He never ordered or supported such behaviour between soldiers; in fact, he explicitly prohibited it,” he said.

Former member of the HV Second Guard Brigade, Miroslav Crnkovic, then testified, describing in more detail the character of the accused general, as well as the way in which he interacted with those under his command.

“If soldiers were caught stealing or committing other criminal acts, they would be duly punished. The general punished all mistakes, even minor ones,” he said.

Crnkovic supported this statement by presenting a few examples.

“I remember how General Praljak once ordered a soldier to be detained. He had stolen some plates and forks from an abandoned, Serb-owned house,” he said.

The witness, however, didn't elaborate on how the soldier was punished.

He then said that Praljak “even reacted promptly to punish the murderer of a cat on one occasion”.

Describing what he said was Praljak's “other side”, Crnkovic said that he would often read aloud books by the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy to his soldiers.

“Praljak was very loved and respected by the soldiers. In his spare time, he even read the works of Leo Tolstoy to us,” Crnkovic said.

“He said that a warrior must know other things, and that being just a warrior is not enough.”

The prosecutor and other defence teams did not cross-examine these two witnesses.

The trial of the six accused started on April 26, 2006. Each defendant has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The trial continues next week.

Velma Saric is an IWPR-trained journalist in Sarajevo.

Support our journalists