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

Kordic and Cerkez Trial: Kordic's Military Role

Tribunal ICTY prosecutors present a controversial audio recording of an intercepted phone conversation between one of the accused and a military commander prior to the attack on Kacuni.

Last week the prosecutor in the case against Dario Kordic and Mario Cerkez -- accused of crimes committed by the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) forces in Bosnia against the Muslim population of Central Bosnia between 1992 and 1994 -- introduced new evidence pointing to Kordic's military role.

Following on from testimonies relating to Kordic's influential political position, the prosecutor presented evidence that Kordic also secured a formal military position in the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) at the end of 1993.

Sir Martin Garrod, head of the ECMM (European Community Monitoring Mission) regional office in Zenica from October 1993 to April 1994, said to the court, "an HVO liaison officer told me that Kordic had a new function. He became assistant Chief of staff, which made him the third person in the HVO military hierarchy."

Garrod testified that in late 1993 changes in the hierarchy of HRHB ("Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosna") were underway, but "Kordic's position remained very strong and he still had great power and influence."

Kordic's defence counsel did not deny his client obtained a formal military role, but suggested that his new role as an assistant chief of staff could have been of civil and not military nature.

The defence has insisted throughout that Kordic was purely a civil official and has directed responsibility for the crimes committed by the army to the military hierarchy, particularly to the HVO commander in Central Bosnia, Tihomir Blaskic.

The prosecution has contested, however, that the existence of military structures diminishes Kordic's responsibility for the HVO activities.

Garrod said that even at the meetings where Blaskic was present, "Kordic was leading." He added, "The HVO Operative zones existed but with a close political control throughout...The military is a support to and answers to politicians."

Garrod quoted the head of the Mostar's HDZ, who on hearing the indictment for the crimes in the Lasva river valley in 1995, said: "You've got to remember that Kordic was our Churchill!"

The court also heard a tape recording of an intercepted telephone conversation between Kordic and Blaskic, presented by witness Edin Husic.

Husic testified that the "intentions [of Bosnian Croat leaders] can be seen, but it can also be seen who ordered whom" from that conversation, intercepted by a telecommunications worker in Zenica on 24 January 1993.

As a former intelligence officer with the 3rd corps of the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Husic said he handed the tape over to his superiors who in turn passed it on to the prosecutor.

Although of poor technical quality, the court heard one of the two men say, "Let's have a multiple rocket launcher ready for [the village of] Kacuni!" and "Let's burn everything!"

The prosecutor said the conversation was "utterly revealing" as to the nature of Kordic's relationship to Blaskic.

Kordic's defence team argued that given the interception and recording was made without prior receipt of a court order, the action was illegal and therefore the recordings were inadmissible as evidence before the Tribunal. Furthermore, the defence suggested the tape could have been tampered with while in the hands of Husic's superiors in Sarajevo prior to its handover to the prosecutor's office in The Hague.

The judges concluded that the method of interception did not cast doubt on the tape's reliability and admissibility.

The judges did, however, exclude a section of the recording, which did not appear on a second copy of made available to the Tribunal by Husic.

Given there was no substantial challenge to the fact that the recorded voice belongs to Kordic, the evidence was admitted. The judges now have to "determine what weight to place upon this evidence", said presiding judge Richard May.

Mirsad Ahmic, a former member of the Army of B-H and the Territorial Defence, testified in the case against Mario Cerkez, former commander of the Vitez Brigade of the HVO.

Ahmic, from Vitez, testified that the HVO attack on the town began on April 16 with the shelling of the Bosnian part of Vitez.

Over subsequent days, the HVO military police detained Bosniak men in the SDK (financial control) building in Vitez. From there, the detainees were taken to dig trenches along the HVO defence lines.

Ahmic said, that up to June of that year, almost all Bosniaks in Vitez, including his own family, were gradually leaving the town under duress. Ahmic said he did not personally know Mario Cerkez, but that he believed he was a senior figure in Vitez.

Under cross-examination by Cerkez's defence counsel, Ahmic confirmed that the Muslim civilians were not physically abused while under detention in the SDK building and that they were escorted to their detention and to dig trenches by the military police officers, and not by regular HVO forces.