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Kordic & Cerkez Trial: HVO Tactics In Central Bosnia

Tribunal Update 147: Last Week in The Hague (11-16 October, 1999)

Dutchman Hendrik Morsnik, a former member of the European Community Monitoring Mission (ECMM) spoke about the general strategy of the HVO in Central Bosnia in what was his third appearance before the Tribunal.

Morsnik was called to confirm the Prosecution's argument that the HVO aimed to ethnically cleanse an area of Central Bosnia, and move Bosnian Croats in from other areas. The prosecutor argues that the political structures of the Bosnian Croat 'state' of Herzeg-Bosna, whose vice-president was Kordic, were the authors of the plan and that the HVO militaries were its implementers, including Cerkez, as commander of the HVO Vitez brigade.

"HVO tactics were to define the areas of interest, cleanse them of Muslims through the tactic of fear, shooting, setting houses on fire, killing some or putting them to jail," Morsnik told the Chamber.

"In the areas of no interest to the HVO, they'd scare their own people to leave for Lasva River Valley or other areas," added Morsnik, who twice testified in the trial of General Tihomir Blaskic in July 1998 and 1999 (see Tribunal Updates Nos. 83 and 113).

The week before, Lars Baggesen, also from the ECMM, had given a similar assessment of the goals and tactics of the HVO, speaking about how the Croats interpreted the implementation of the Vance-Owen plan.

The Prosecutor does not dispute that Croats were also fleeing their homes in Central Bosnia, but attributes that to the effects of propaganda from the Bosnian Croat side.

"Why would propaganda be used to expel the Croats across the Serb lines?" asked Judge Mohamed Bennouna after hearing testimony about the flight of the HVO and the Croats from Serb territory near Travnik and Kakanj. Morsnik replied that the Croats simply "gave up on certain areas, and that they made deals with the Serbs about the passage of Croat refugees".

During his service in Bosnia in the spring of 1993, Morsnik said he often met with the local commander Cerkez. Morsnik believed that "the man who was responsible for the area should have been able to ensure freedom of movement".

Cerkez defended himself against Morsnik's objections to the conduct of the HVO, blaming the crimes on "elements" beyond his control or the other side.

But asked by Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice whether he thought the HVO had enough soldiers and police "to eliminate uncontrollable elements," Morsnik replied affirmatively. "The accusations of crimes that the HVO made on the account of the (Bosniak) B-H Army usually had no grounds," he asserted.

As a representative of the ECMM, Morsnik had taken part in the work of the joint commission between the HVO and the B-H Army. Along with the participation of UNPROFOR and ECMM, the commission dealt with the issues of the cease-fire, the exchange of the detainees and freedom of movement.

In cross-examination, the defence questioned Morsnik about various cases of expulsion of Croats from Central Bosnia, asking him whether he thought they were "a result of propaganda or shooting?"

The answers varied: he said he did not know about some cases because he had already left Bosnia, in other cases he maintained they were the result of propaganda.

A part of Morsnik's testimony dealt with the link between the military and political structures of the HVO. He said: "It struck me as unusual that political people had no problems entering military offices and sometimes participated in our meetings."

"Hardline HVO vice-president Anto Valenta had free access to Cerkez's office, for instance", said Morsnik. He added that in Vitez, "local commanders stopped attending the joint commission meetings and local politicians started attending them in May 1993".

Due to the interference of political structures in the military issues, local HVO commanders said they were getting "contradictory orders," he noted.

The Prosecutor emphasises these situations in order to prove that Kordic, himself a political figure, could be involved and held responsible for military activities of the HVO.

Asked by Geoffrey Nice from what level HVO authority was coming, Morsnik said that it came from Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban and Kordic, according to what he had heard from Djemo Merdan, the B-H Army 3rd Corps deputy commander.

The Chamber also heard from one 'Witness S', who was a doctor in Vitez and who testified about the Muslims detained in the Vitez cinema after the HVO attack in April 1993, which the prosecutor accuses Cerkez of commanding.

"The people in the cinema were guarded by the HVO soldiers," she said confirming the Prosecutor's claim that the Cerkez's brigade was involved. As one of a three-member medical commission, the witness examined the prisoners, some 100-150 of them, to see if any should be released on medical grounds.

"There were no concrete injuries, but they looked worried about their fate," she said. In the closed session she talked about two rapes she had heard about, but she confirmed to Cerkez's defence that she did not hear that those rapes were committed by the members of the Vitez brigade and that the rapes were not a common occurrence.

Witness Nijaz Rebihic, former aide for operations at the B-H Army's Territorial Defence headquarters in Vitez, spoke about the conversations he intercepted over the radio link at the time of the HVO attack in April 1993.

He claims he recognised Cerkez's voice on the morning of April 16, when he was informed that UNPROFOR forces were on their way to a position then held by his brigade. Rebihic said that Cerkez snapped: "Fuck them, you know what's your job!"

On another occasion, the witness claims he heard Cerkez ordering the artillery to aim at "what you did a while ago," the peak known as 'elevation J'. He confirmed to the defence later that it was not a civilian target.

The fourth witness last week, former member of the ECMM Allan Laustsen, From Denmark, briefly testified on the same topics as Morsnik and Baggesen. The defence requested that this witness be not heard, but Judge Richard May said that he should be summoned anyway, as he was to testify on a disputed issue, the shelling of Zenica.