Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

EU Monitor Recalls Croat Control of Western Bosnia

Canadian colonel says Bosnian Croat army terrorised Muslims in Prozor to keep them under control.
By Caroline Tosh
The trial of six Bosnian Croat officials this week heard testimony from a Canadian colonel who described the fear he sensed in the largely Muslim town of Prozor while he was leading a European Union monitoring team in Bosnia in 1993,

Colonel Peter Hauenstein, who was in charge of the European Community Monitoring Mission, ECMM, in the Prozor municipality from May to August 1993, was giving evidence in the trial of Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic about events in the area during his tenure.

The six accused were senior political and military figures in the self-proclaimed Croat entity of Herceg-Bosna, and stand accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity relating to the bloody Muslim-Croat conflict of 1992-94, part of the wider Bosnian war.

The Croat community of Herceg-Bosna declared independence from the rest of Bosnia on November 18, 1991, and went on to seize control of the ethnically mixed municipality Prozor in the west of Bosnia.

Before the war, the population of the town of Prozor was 60 per cent Muslim. From August to October 1992, tensions between Croats and Muslims in the town increased, as the latter refused to accept the authority of the Croatian Defence Council, HVO, as Herceg-Bosna’s “supreme executive, administrative and defence body”.

According to the indictment against the six Croat officials, on the morning of October 23 that year, the HVO leader in Prozor told Bosnian Muslims that tensions would be eliminated if they immediately accepted the political and military control of the Croat administration. But the Muslims did not accept the proposal.

On the afternoon of the same day, HVO forces attacked Muslims in Prozor, “plundering, burning and destroying their homes”, and took control of the town.

According to the indictment, from then on the HVO continuously terrorised the Muslim population in order to force them to accept its rule. In July and August 1993, it says, Croat forces “collected and confined in houses under HVO control several thousand Bosnian women, children and elderly”. “HVO forces often raped Bosnian Muslim women,” says the document.

In his testimony this week, Colonel Hauenstein described how during his tenure in the summer of 1993, he was chiefly responsible for monitoring the areas of Prozor, Bugojno and Gornji Vakuf, and for protecting United Nations humanitarian convoys passing through on their way to central Bosnia.

The colonel testified about the close relationship he developed with troops of the United Nations Protection Force, UNPROFOR, and with non-government groups in the Prozor area as they worked together to support the delivery of humanitarian relief throughout the war-torn country.

Hauenstein explained how during his time there, he also developed close relationships with both Bosnian Croat and Muslim civilians and military personnel.

But when asked by the prosecution to name the local military commanders of the HVO and the Bosnian Muslim army, the colonel struggled to recall them. “You have picked up on the one weakness which I have, which is remembering names,” he admitted.

However, Hauenstein said he remembered clearly that during his time in the Prozor area, the town was under the control of the HVO military.

“They had freedom of movement. They restricted people. There was always this fearful feeling I got every time I went into the town, especially among the Muslims,” he said.

To enforce law and order in the town, the Croat military police “used a form of terrorist tactics in order to keep the population under control,” he said.

When talking with Muslim women and children, he often had the impression that there was “distinct eye contact” between them and the military police, and he thought they were “trying to avoid saying anything that might be used against them at a later date”.

The colonel also recounted conversations he had with “at least two” Muslim women detained in an HVO-run camp in Prozor, who claimed that Croat soldiers took them out of the camp during the night and raped them.

Colonel Hauenstein went on to describe attacks on humanitarian aid convoys passing through Prozor, which he said would come along a dirt track dubbed the “Road to Salvation” that ran from Split on the Croatian coast into central Bosnia.

Resentment was created, he said, when locals saw aid lorries passing through Prozor without stopping, on their way to Sarajevo. This was “disheartening” for the locals, he said, suggesting that subsequent attacks on trucks were “directly related to the fact that nothing was stopping here”.

The colonel described how United Nations convoys would often end up riddled with bullets and vehicles were often hijacked.

As the conflict worsened in the area through June and July 1993, so did the threat to the convoys, he said.

The worst incident he remembered was when a large convoy organised by civilians from Tuzla passed through the area.

HVO military police from Prozor stepped in as if to control the traffic, said the witness, and then systematically separated vehicles off and dispatched them in the direction of Mostar.

Concerned at this, the colonel confronted the military police, but was “forced to leave at gunpoint”.

The witness explained how with the help of UNPROFOR troops, he was able to protect the convoy and see off the military police.

However, the trucks were targeted again that night. “In the middle of the night, fuel trucks were removed from the convoy by force, taken back to Prozor and emptied,” he said.

The prosecutor asked the witness who diverted the trucks.

“The military police from Prozor,” he replied.

This was the colonel’s second appearance before the tribunal. He previously gave evidence in the trial of Enver Hadzihasanovic and Amir Kubura, the commander and chief of staff, respectively, of the Bosnian Muslim army who were convicted in March this year of failing to stop crimes committed by forces under their command in central Bosnia in 1993 and 1994.

The trial continues next week.

Caroline Tosh is an IWPR reporter in The Hague.

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, IWPR’s network of local reporters, activists and analysts are examining the economic, social and political impact of this era-defining pandemic.