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Kordic & Cerkez Trial: Major Baggesen's War Diary

Tribunal Update 144: Last Week in The Hague (September 20-25, 1999)
By IWPR

The record holder is Sulejman Kavazovic, one of the Muslim commanders of the Territorial Defence in Vitez - this was his fifth appearance before the Tribunal. He previously testified in the trials of General Tihomir Blaskic (August 1997), Zlatko Aleksovski (January 1998), Anto Furundzija (June 1998) and 'Kupreskic & Others' (October 1998).


Al these trials relate to crimes committed by Bosnian Croat forces against the Muslim population in the Lasva River Valley in Central Bosnia, during 1993 and especially in April that year.


Kavazovic's fifth testimony concerned the events in Vitez in April 1993, when, according to the indictment, Bosnian Croat Croatian Defence Council (HVO) forces carried out an organised and coordinated attack on a series of predominantly Muslim villages in the Lasva Valley.


The accused Mario Cerkez, at the time, commanded the Vitez Brigade of the HVO, so Kavazovic's testimony primarily concerned his role in those events. Kavazovic was arrested three times by the HVO members, and he fared worst in April 1993, when he went through several Croat prisons in that area, was forced to dig trenches and was generally physically and psychologically maltreated. As a result, after he was "exchanged" for detained members of the HVO, he spent some time at the hospital where he also received psychiatric help.


The defence tried to use this record to disqualify the witness, but when asked, "what his current (psychological) state was like now?" he replied. "Thank you for asking, it's good. Not only today, but ever since I left the hospital." Besides Mario Cerkez, Kavazovic mentioned others accused at the Tribunal, whom he had met during his April detention. He described how Anto Furundzija, sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for aiding and abetting rape, spat him in the face when he was brought to the 'Bungalov'', HQ of the so-called 'Jokers' special unit of the HVO Military Police. There he also saw Vlado Santic, one of the accused in the 'Kupreskic & Others' case, who ordered the detainees to dig trenches.


They were taken to a place called Kratine, where he met Miroslav Bralo-Cicko, who has been accused of carrying out the rapes that Furundzija was sentenced for abetting. Cicko lined up detained Muslims and forced them to cross themselves and utter a Catholic prayer 10 times. Then he gave them pickaxes and ordered them to dig some rock.


The second familiar face at the Tribunal last week belonged to Major Lars Baggesen of the Danish Army and a former member of the European Community Monitoring Mission (ECMM) in Bosnia. He earlier testified in the trial of General Tihomir Blaskic in August 1997. Baggesen, a specialist in intelligence gathering and reconnaissance, was a member of the ECMM in Zenica from 30 March until 1 July 1993 and kept a diary of the events around him.


Relying on official ECMM reports, and his personal contacts with Kordic and other Bosnian Croat figures, Baggesen concluded that accused Dario Kordic was "the most influential Croat political leader in Central Bosnia". At the prosecutor's request he listed numerous violations of the international humanitarian law committed during his mandate, by HVO members in Central Bosnia, ranging from the massacre in Ahmici and other villages in the Lasva Valley, through the cistern-bomb in the Muslim part of Vitez to the shelling of Zenica. This done, Baggesen said he had concluded that in the final analysis, it was the political leaders of the Bosnian Croats who were ultimately responsible for these acts. Asked by the prosecutor whether military commanders were responsible to political commanders, Baggesen said yes.


Like many prosecution witnesses before him, Lars Baggesen placed the April offensive of the HVO in the Lasva River Valley in the context of the subsequently abortive Vance-Owen peace plan of the time, which proposed the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina into cantons.


The Croats, he said, "had their view of the implementation of that plan... The intention of the authorities of the so-called Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia was, by expelling the Bosniaks, to create a pure Croat canton (in the Lasva Valley) even though the international plan envisaged that the population should remain mixed."


That intention, Baggesen said, triggered "powerful and brutal actions against the Bosniak civilian population". The cantonisation plan also led to efforts to transfer the Croats from the Zenica canton, which had a Bosniak majority, to what would have been a Croat run canton at Travnik.


"Many false reports of the crimes against Croats were disseminated... in order to prompt the Croats to leave the Zenica province," the former monitor said. He added that Kordic had even asked the ECMM for help in shipping out Croats from the Zenica area.


Baggesen described the HVO offensive that started on April 16, 1993 as well planned. "It was a military attack on the civilian targets," he concluded. During cross-examination, the defence argued that both sides committed crimes against civilians. They also stressed that the military commander of that area, General Tihomir Blaskic, currently awaiting a verdict in his own case, was subordinated to the HVO main HQ and General Milijov Petkovic, then commander of the HVO's Main Staff - and not to the accused, Dario Kordic.


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