Kordic & Cerkez Trial: Only One Witness

Tribunal Update 146: Last Week in The Hague (October 4-9, 1999)

Kordic & Cerkez Trial: Only One Witness

Tribunal Update 146: Last Week in The Hague (October 4-9, 1999)

Saturday, 9 October, 1999

The trial dealt with familiar topics, such as the general situation in the Lasva River Valley, the killing in the Hotel Vitez, the then HQ of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO), with which the Prosecutor has charged Mario Cerkez. It also covered the prosecution's view of Dario Kordic as a top Bosnian Croat military and political leader in that part of Bosnia, who on the eve of the offensive of April 16, 1993 and the massacre in the village of Ahmici, issued threats against the local Bosniak population.


Describing the abuses to which the Bosniaks in the Lasva River Valley were then subjected, protected witness 'R' often mentioned Darko Kraljevic, then commander of the 'Vitezovi' (Knights) special unit, who was killed in a traffic accident in 1995. Kraljevic, R said, "was a horrible name for us". She described how the Vitezovi troops, along with the so-called 'Jokers' unit, dressed in black and wore the insignia of the Ustache movement, the force behind the Nazi puppet state in World War II Croatia. The witness claims that after the HVO soldiers entered her village in March 1993, Kraljevic singled out seven people he had decided to execute, but a Bosnian Croat, whose name R did not wish to disclose, called UNPROFOR forces and saved them.


Cerkez's defence counsel pointed out that the witness had erroneously described Kraljevic as the commander of the Jokers, and added that they and the Vitezovi were not part of the HVO regular forces under Cerkez's local command. "They were not the HVO, but the HVO was main. Why didn't it prevent them?" R responded.


During her testimony, the Prosecutor returned to the May 1992 murder of Samir Trako in the hall of the Hotel Vitez, of which Cerkez is accused. R described how two Bosniaks who had been earlier beaten up in the hotel's cellar, saw Cerkez and a man called Vukadinovic from the nearby village of Kruscica in the hall. At the moment they were watching they saw Samir Trako fall dead. Senad Petak, one of the two beaten Bosniaks, told her later that Vukadinovic committed the murder, but that after Vukadinovic was taken to prison in Split, stated that he did not do it. "Senad Petak then assumed that Samir was killed by Cerkez," R said.


In reply, Cerkez's defence counsel Bozidar Kovacic said such evidence was only an "assumption" based on an account given to the witness by a third party. During cross-examination the defence further suggested that Cerkez and Vukadinovic had merely run out of the cellar to see what was going on in the hall and found themselves at the scene of the crime at the time it was committed. Testifying on Dario Kordic's role, R confirmed the Prosecutor's argument that the accused had an important military role even though he was formally a politician. She said that Kordic was often presented on local Bosnian Croat TV in such a role.


Also, when the accused used to come to the HVO base in Kruscica, soldiers would force inhabitants to clear the way for "Colonel Kordic". The night before the HVO offensive in the Lasva River Valley, Kordic said on local TV that "'there will be no negotiations with the Muslims but that the HVO will fight them'," R said. "The next morning we were woken up by shells." Kordic's defence merely noted that the judges have video footage of that speech, and that they can personally see and hear what the accused had exactly said for themselves. The Kordic & Cerkez Trial continued this week.


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