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Kordic & Cerkez Trial - New evidence from Croatia catches judges on the hop

Tribunal Update 190 Last Week in The Hague (September 11-16, 2000)

During the cross-examination Anto Zirdum from Vitez, prosecutors asked if the defence witness knew anything about a meeting allegedly held on the eve of the Croatian Defence Force, HVO, attack in the Lasva valley on April 16,1993. The prosecution claim the Ahmici massacre, which left at least 100 Muslim civilians dead, was planned at the meeting.

Zirdum said he had heard of a "dramatic meeting" on the night of April 15-16 but knew nothing of what was said or who was present. Prosecutor Geoffrey Nice then said he had information that a delegation of Vitez citizens had gone to Kordic later that night to demand the attack be postponed.

The implication being, Nice went on, that Kordic was the man to make critical military decisions. The defence claim Kordic exercised no military role in Central Bosnia. Zirdum said he knew nothing about the alleged appeal to Kordic.

Judge Richard May then said he did not recall evidence of such developments being aired before. Nice explained these fresh allegations were based on new material from Croatia.

Defence witnesses for Cerkez meanwhile refuted accusations that the HVO Vitez brigade, commanded by the accused, had deliberately stopped a UNHCR convoy reaching the Muslim village of Kruscica. The witnesses claimed the convoy was stopped by the "spontaneous" actions of a hungry population.

Prosecution allegations that Bosniak civilians were illegally detained in Vitez were also disputed last week. Zidrum said the authorities had introduced "temporary internment" and that there had been "no inappropriate behaviour." Around 200 Bosniak men were held at the Vitez cinema after April 16, 1993.

The prosecution claim the detentions were carried out with the ultimate intention of ethnic cleansing Bosniaks from the area and out of fear for retaliation over HVO attacks. The defence witnesses insisted the persecution and expulsion of Bosniaks from the Lasva valley was "not even considered." On the contrary, they said, the detainees were interned for their own protection and as a precaution to protect the HVO's rear.

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