Kordic & Cerkez Trial

Presenting evidence of the military responsibility of the politicians in the Lasva valley.

Kordic & Cerkez Trial

Presenting evidence of the military responsibility of the politicians in the Lasva valley.

Saturday, 22 January, 2000

Dario Kordic was "a political leader in central Bosnia" - but "political in the sense of giving directions to the military", explained Colonel Bob Stewart, former United Nations British Battalion commander in central Bosnia, during his second testimony to The Hague tribunal.

Stewart testified for the first time in June 1999 (see Tribunal Update No. 130) as a "court witness" (summoned by the Trial Chamber) in the final stage of the trial of General Tihomir Blaskic, Croatian Defence Council (HVO) commander in central Bosnia.

As the prosecution case against Kordic and Mario Cerkez draws to a close (expected in March), the prosecutor has continued summoning witnesses to prove the indictment allegation that "in his role and position, Dario Kordic exercised power, command and authority in, over and through the HVO (Croatian Defence Council) and its activities and operations" during the Croat-Moslem conflict.

This allegation against Kordic - former vice-president of so called Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna and a prominent Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) official - was reiterated in the testimonies of Stewart and Brigadier-General Dzemal Merdan, former deputy commander of the Bosnia-Herzegovina (B-H) army 3rd corps, based in Zenica.

"I concluded on several occasions that Kordic was a person who made key decisions and Tihomir Blaskic had to carry out what Kordic told him", Merdan said. Merdan, as a senior officer in the B-H army, had a lot of contact with the HVO during the conflict.

Stewart explained that the HVO was organised on Soviet principles, meaning that its "military and political commanders worked side by side." Political decisions, he added, could actually overrule military ones. Thus, regarding the most atrocious crime the Bosnian Croat forces committed in central Bosnia - the Ahmici massacre - Stewart concluded: "I can not see Blaskic, or anyone else involved in Ahmici attack, doing it without a political agreement."

The nature of the attack indicated it "must have been preplanned and therefore it must have been known and agreed to by Mr. Kordic", said Stewart.

Stewart expressed a similar view regarding Kordic's role in the policy of ethnic cleansing. "Any ethnic cleansing must have been agreed to by the political leadership of the HVO... That practice had two sources - one was political envisaged by individuals like Ante Valenta, whose disciple was Kordic. The other source was the Vance-Owen plan", said Stewart.

Stewart was the commander of the 1st. Battalion of the Cheshire regiment, deployed as a part of the United Nations Protection Force (UNProFor) in the Lasva valley from November 1992 until May 1993.

Further to his testimony regarding the military responsibilities of politicians, Stewart added that Kordic also performed military duties in a practical sense. For example, Stewart met him in the HVO headquarters in Novi Travnik in autumn 1992.

Even though Stewart expected to find Blaskic, the commander of the HVO operative zone, "Kordic appeared to be in charge and I dealt with him." However, Stewart noted that he never witnessed Kordic being "personally involved in war crimes."

In an effort to counter prosecution claims linking Kordic to military activity - the defence drew the witness's attention to the fact that the HVO in central Bosnia had its own headquarters, as well as brigade commanders. Referring to Stewart's testimony from June 1999, defence lawyer Stephen Sayers reminded the witness that he stated on that occasion that Blaskic was the "real commander" of the HVO in central Bosnia and that he "never referred to Kordic as a commander".

Adhering to his previous statement, Stewart said: "There is no question that Blaskic had the authority to issue orders. Whether they were carried out - that is another matter." As an example of Kordic acting as a "de facto commander", Stewart cited an incident where Blaskic had agreed to open a roadblock but was overruled by Kordic.

Merdan also cited several examples of Kordic's active military involvement. He spoke of Kordic's engagement in the HVO's taking over of a Yugoslav Peoples' Army (JNA) barracks near Busovaca and his leading role in the conflict in Novi Travnik in October 1992.

Claiming that in May 1992 Kordic ordered his arrest, Merdan showed the court the photographs of the injuries he incurred during a two-day-long questioning and beating in the prison in Busovaca.

Through Merdan's testimony the prosecutor also tried to demonstrate the involvement of the army of the Republic of Croatia (HV) in HVO activities, in an attempt to prove that the Croat-Moslem conflict in central Bosnia was an international armed conflict.

Merdan claimed that he used to see HV soldiers in the Lasva valley, or at least "soldiers who wore HV insignia." Merdan said he met Slobodan Praljak, who presented himself as an HV general, three times during the conflict in the Lasva valley.

In his testimony Stewart made only passing reference to the co-accused Cerkez, former commander of HVO Vitez brigade. Stewart admitted to Cerkez's defence lawyer that he "suspected Cerkez was not responsible for everything military in Vitez." Stewart also said to the prosecutor that he was often "confused about the chain of command in HVO" and that he "often did not know where to go - to the HVO, the military police, civilian police or the civil authorities."

Merdan also did not say much about Cerkez's role in the events in central Bosnia. "I did not see him being involved in wrongdoings, but he was a commander and commanders are responsible for their zone," Merdan said, underscoring that Ahmici and Stari Vitez were within the zone of Cerkez's responsibility.

During the war, Merdan was initially commander of the Territorial Defence (TO) in Zenica before becoming deputy commander of the BH army 3rd corps. He is now a brigadier-general in the army of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. His testimony in the trial of Kordic and Cerkez will continue on Tuesday January 25.

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