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Defence Deny Cerkez Took Part In Ahmici Killings

Tribunal Update 187 Last Week in The Hague (July 31 - August 4, 2000)

The prosecution have alleged the Vitez Brigade was part of a co-ordinated HVO offensive in the Lasva valley during which Ahmici was destroyed and the civilians killed.

Stipo Ceko, a former member of the Vitez Brigade, told the court the Vitez units were deployed towards Vranjska and Krusici on April 16 1993, the day of the Ahmici massacre. A further 150 troops were along the front line facing the Army of Republika Srpska above Novi Travnik, Ceko said.

"Cerkez did not take part in any massacre, let alone in Ahmici," Ceko said.

Likewise the defence challenged the allegations Cerkez's brigade furthered a campaign of ethnic cleansing by rounding up and detaining Bosniak men in Vitez. The defence witnesses said the detentions were a form of internment of those military-able men in the town, partly for "their own safety" and partly because the HVO had "no way of knowing which men were soldiers and which civilian."

The prosecution then countered the arrests were carried out to prevent any form of reaction to the Ahmici massacre "in which you all [troops from the Vitez Brigade] took part!"

"No one from the Vitez Brigade took part in the massacre in Ahmici," Ceko replied.

Cerkez is also accused of murdering Samir Traka, a local Bosniak man, in May 1992. Prosecution witnesses testified they had heard Cerkez was responsible for the killing, but the defence argued last week such hearsay evidence was unacceptable.

A defence witness, Anastazija Proc who worked in the hotel bar where the killing took place, said an argument had broken out in the bar that evening. Later on, the witness said, she was standing by the entrance to the hotel when two Bosniak men came out of the bar.

"I was speaking to one of them when we heard a shot and saw his friend lying on the floor of the lobby," she said. Proc said she did not see who fired the gun.

According to the witness Cerkez and other people from the bar ran to the lobby to see what had happened. Cerkez's defence lawyers then pointed out an HVO guard at the Vitez Hotel was later arrested and accused of the murder.

During cross-examination the prosecution reiterated Cerkez was involved in the original argument in the bar, that he was armed and that Proc could not say exactly when he came to be beside the body of the dead man.

Cerkez's defence lawyers will continue their presentations in September.

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