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Kordic & Cerkez Trial: In Public, For A Change

Tribunal Update 129: Last Week in The Hague (7-13 June, 1999)

Since Kordic and Cerkez were indicted for widespread and systematic persecution of Bosnian Muslim civilians over the extended period from November 1991 to March 1994, throughout the territory of the so-called Bosnian Croat Community of Herzeg Bosnia (HZ HB) and in parts of Central Bosnia, the Prosecution witnesses so far described the conditions and events in all bigger towns of the entire area.

Last week, Abdulah Ahmic, who had earlier appeared at the trial of General Tihomir Blaskic, described how his entire family was killed on 16 April 1993. He himself narrowly escaped death twice, once when a bullet pierced his cheek, and second time when a bomb was thrown into the house where he was hiding.

After he escaped from the burning house, Abdulah Ahmic allegedly spent the night between 16 and 17 April in a near-by ditch, where he was found and saved by his Croat neighbour, Ivo Papic. From there, he was first taken to the camp in Dubravica, and later evacuated by the International Committee of the Red Cross to the Zenica hospital. On the material day in Ahmici, he told the court how he saw HVO Military Police, Jokers, Vitezovi, some armed civilians and, a day later, soldiers for whom he thought were from Herzegovina. He also heard that a unit of rightist militia of Croatian Defense Forces (HOS) from Varazdin in Croatia was also in Ahmici.

He did not mention Cerkez, but of Kordic said that in October 1992 - at the time of the incident when a barricade was raised on the road traversing the village - a rumour was spread in Ahmici that the latter had threatened to "kill everybody and torch everything if Muslims do not remove the barricade."

The other witness of last week, Ekrem Mahmutovic, was the commander of Territorial Defense (TO, from which the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina was later formed) in the town of Veres. Mahmutovic claims that after the withdrawal of HVO from Veres he found in an archive Kordic's order to Croat forces to the take over the authority in the town.

He did not know Cerkez, but had often seen Kordic on TV and had heard that he had been coming to Vares on a number of occasions to meet the local HVO leadership. "You could see Kordic throughout the war acting as a person who had military and political power in Central Bosnia," he said.

Kordic was an important representative of Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ, the governing political party in Herzeg-Bosnia and offshoot of the ruling party in Croatia of the same name). According to Mahmutovic, Kordic also wore uniform, had a rank of colonel and had signed orders. "I believe that he had authority in local municipalities. I believe his orders were reaching Vares," said the witness.

He further added that already in July 1992, the HVO detained him for several days, together with several other Muslims for interrogation. They were not mistreated, Mahmutovic said, but were interrogated about the TO and told that Muslims had no future in the town.

Mahmutovic also told about the attack on the village of Stupni Do in October 1993, which is detailed in the indictment of Ivica Rajic. He said he heard from several survivors that 38 Muslims were killed in the attack, which, according to his understanding, was carried out by more than 100 men who entered the village from three different directions. The soldiers were from Kiseljak, commanded by Ivica Rajic, and were joined by other soldiers from the towns of Kakanj, some from Vares and also possibly from Travnik.

The Prosecutor presented a European Community Monitoring Mission (ECMM) report from November 1993 which claimed that a person called 'Okrem Mahmutovic' informed the European Monitors that the village of Stupni Do was local gateway to the Republika Srpska territory - a lucrative location for smuggling. Residents of the village became well-to-do, and had to give a percentage of their profits to HVO. When Stupni Do refused to pay the so-called taxes, Kiseljak authorities and HVO decided to attack the village.

The witness said that his name was Ekrem, not Okrem, and that he had given the statement to ECMM, although "not exactly in that form.'' He said the cause was "an increase of prices," albeit that was not the only reason why HVO attacked. The main reason, he says, may have been to create a motive to set Croats on the move from Vares. A majority of Croats had indeed left after the attack on Stupni Do, even though there was no B-H Army attack, because they were in fear of reprisals, said Muhmutovic. "When BH Army entered Vares, most of the Croats had already left," he concluded.

While reports of the Bosnian Croat army, HVO, attacking a Muslim village and committing a massacre of the Muslim population in order to induce the departure of Croats from their own town sounds paradoxical, it can also be seen as an example of the "ethnic self-cleansing" that was widespread in Bosnia throughout the war. This was done in order to alter the ethnic map of certain towns and areas, i.e. to 'empty' the pockets - towns and areas - that the military and demographic stratagems thought not worth defending. The ultimate aim was to concentrate their own ethnic group in areas that were thought to be of crucial importance for the 'common cause' of the group.

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