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Kordic and Cerkez Trial - Defence claims no war crimes in 1992 only 'isolated incidents'

Tribunal Update 192 Last Week in The Hague (September 25-30, 2000)

The indictment against Cerkez alleges the defendant, through his actions in the Vitez and Novi Travnik Croatian Defence Force, HVO, was advancing the aims of Herzeg Bosna - to take control of an area of Bosnia and ethnically cleanse Bosniaks. The prosecutor is attempting to prove these policies dated back to 1991 and were implemented from April 1992, following the foundation of the HVO.

The defence claims clashes between Croats and Bosniaks, some of which ended in murder, were the result of the chaotic situation in central Bosnia "created by Serbian aggression against Bosnia-Herzegovina" and not the result of a pre-planned campaign by Croats.

Vitez café owner Anto Pojavnik said there were incidents in Vitez in 1992 "like other places where alcohol was consumed.But those incidents were committed by bandits and various groups of people. They were not national conflicts."

The defence argues Cerkez, who was a member of the HVO Vitez headquarters in 1992, cannot be held responsible for such incidents.

Josip Silic, a member of the joint Bosniak-Croat Crisis Headquarters in Vitez , said the situation in the town and surrounding area was "more solid" during that year than in other municipalities.

"The people working in the crisis headquarters did their utmost to preserve peace between the Croats and the Bosniaks. That is why the situation in Vitez was much better than in the neighbouring municipalities," Silic said.

Silic, according to the prosecutor, was a "moderate" and as such became a target for extremists in the Croat community.

"When you proposed founding Croat-Bosniak defence forces at the crisis headquarters, Anto Valenta [local nationalist Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, politician] and people from Grude ["capital" of Herzeg-Bosna] stopped you," prosecutor Geoffrey Nice pointed out.

Silic refused to respond to this directly but said there were others in the Croat community who fought for peace with the Bosniaks. But the prosecutor claimed other defence witnesses produced by Cerkez's lawyers to testify to Croat-Bosniak unity against the Bosnian Serb army in1992, were also marginalised by extremists within the Croat community.

Jozo Pokrajcic told the court how he raised a joint Croat-Bosniak unit to fight against the Republika Srpska forces at Jajce. Pokrajcic said he was hospitalised with exhaustion on the eve of the fall of Jajce. But the prosecutor claimed the witness had been replaced as commander of the unit because he was "not sufficiently extreme" and supported co-existence between Croats and Bosniaks. Pokrajcic dismissed this interpretation and insisted the HVO did not apply such pressure.

Cerkez's defence team is expected to conclude their case within three weeks.