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

Halilovic

By Samira Puskar in The Hague (TU No 403, 22-Apr-05)
By IWPR

However, the testimony of a second prosecution witness, a retired senior Bosnian army officer, appeared to do little to support prosecution arguments that the accused held command over all army units in the area.


Halilovic is charged with responsibility for the massacre of 62 Croat civilians in the villages of Uzdol and Grabovica in southwest Bosnia and Hercegovina in September 1993 during an operation to relieve the blockade on Mostar. He is the highest-ranking Bosnian army official to stand trial in The Hague to date.


Adie testified that on September 15, 1993 she heard reports of an incident near the town of Prozor that suggested a number of civilians had been killed.


Upon arriving in Prozor, Adie, her cameraman, and various EU monitors and British soldiers were directed to the town hall where some victims of the attack had been taken.


“There were 22 bodies on the floor, covered with blankets,” Adie testified, adding that she had examined the bodies for bullet wounds.


“A lot of them did not have shoes on,” she said. “It occurred to me that these people had been indoors [when they were killed].”


Croat civilians told her that Muslims had come into the village of Uzdol – around 12 kilometres away – and killed the villagers the day before.


Adie then travelled to Uzdol with her cameraman and a small group of British soldiers, where she saw two bodies lying in fields.


“There were no animals, no cows, no chickens, no people, no children running to see us,” she said. “We went into house after house, and we discovered dead people.” Adie also said the houses were left intact, which “made it extremely disturbing”.


“The impression I got was that there was some sort of revenge act taking place,” she stated.


The prosecution played for the court the stories Adie had produced for that evening’s BBC news broadcast.


The defendant sighed at the footage of dead bodies in the fields, and that of two bodies inside a cow shed, where a man was slumped over his wife as if to protect her from the attack.


The defence asked Adie whether the bodies at the town hall in Prozor were soldiers, possibly members of a Croat home guard. But she replied their clothes and their advanced age suggested they were civilians.


“I do not recognise this phrase ‘home guard’, which suggests [military] organisation. That did not exist throughout Bosnia,” Adie said.


She asserted the same of the Bosnian army, calling it “toy-town military nonsense”.


The army of Bosnia and Hercegovina “was a rag-tag group of disparate units, and would not have sensed it was a part of an organised activity”, Adie said, while Halilovic and his attorneys attempted to hide their smiles.


Her eyewitness account detailed no shell damage, just small arms fire and a couple of burning buildings. She described her impression of the Uzdol attack as systematic, house-to-house, with no evidence of a major firefight.


“Someone must have given the order, ‘kill whoever you can find’. That is what it seemed to be,” she said.


An unusually large group of around 20 people attended the court’s public gallery to observe Adie’s testimony.


The trial continued this week with testimony by retired general Vahid Karavelic, who at the time was the commander of the 75,000-strong First Corps of the Bosnian army in Sarajevo.


Karavelic testified that during his command he received a request from Halilovic to send troops to support the Neretva-93 operation to relieve Mostar. He confirmed that the units concerned – led by Ramiz “Celo” Delalic and Musan “Caco” Topalovic – had been the focus of several complaints about their illegal behaviour in Sarajevo.


The prosecution described their activities, such as smuggling weapons and alcohol, forcing civilians to dig trenches around Sarajevo and to donate money, and confiscating bulletproof vests belonging to foreign journalists. The witness recalled some incidents but could not confirm all of them.


The prosecution claims Halilovic personally picked these unruly units to participate in the operation, despite their criminal past.


The troops were eventually to take part in the attack on Grabovica on September 8 and 9, 1993.


Halilovic is charged on the grounds of command responsibility - that he failed to prevent killings from taking place in Grabovica and Uzdol, or punish the perpetrators afterwards.


Karavelic confirmed that he sent the troops from his corps to the Neretva river valley, which was partly controlled by the Fourth Corps units, at Halilovic’s request. But he said that he was not sure whether Halilovic had been the commander of the Neretva-93 operation.


Even though he agreed with the prosecution that Halilovic had formal command responsibility in the area, he said that it was not clear how the chain of command was determined once the troops arrived.


“I don’t know to whom [the soldiers were] re-subordinated” once they reached the Neretva River valley, Karavelic said.


According to the prosecution, Halilovic had command of the Fourth Corps. He put the Sarajevo troops under the command of Zulfikar Alispago’s unit, which had been added to the Fourth Corps the week before.


The defence argues that Halilovic had no authority to command these units, nor any units of the Bosnian army.


Karavelic told the court he wasn’t sure whether Halilovic had control over Zulfikar’s unit.


“The special detachment [Zulfikar’s unit] was directly under the control of the commander of the supreme command,” who at the time was General Rasim Delic, Karavelic said.


“How much [Halilovic] was able to command depended on how much power Rasim Delic gave him.”


The trial has now adjourned and is expected to reconvene on May 12.


Samira Puskar is an IWPR intern in The Hague.