Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Kordic & Cerkez Trial: Strategy of the Croats in Bosnia

Tribunal Update 148: Last Week in The Hague (October 18-23, 1999)
By IWPR

In his previous direct-examination by the Prosecutor on July 26, 1999, Kljuic spoke about the creation of the HDZ B-H. He spoke of the party's evolution from a supporter of a sovereign, united Bosnia-Herzegovina in which the Croat nation would be equal, to its role as implementer of a policy initiated in Zagreb, aimed at breaking up the country and negotiating border changes with the Serbs. (see Tribunal Update No. 136)


Kljuic, a former member of the tripartite Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina (1991-1993) successfully took on the political case made by the defence about the goals of the HDZ-BH, the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) and the so-called Croatian Community Herzeg-Bosnia (HZ-HB).


In attempting to highlight positive elements of HDZ-BH policy, the defence had to rely on those aspects of that policy which had been advocated by Kljuic, but not by Kordic. Namely, the original political goals were abandoned when the party leadership - following an intervention from Zagreb - was taken over by Mate Boban, with the accused Kordic as his political protege.


Kljuic avoided making direct accusations against the two accused. "I am not a witness to what you are charging Kordic with since we were separated, and I do not even know Cerkez," the witness said. "Unfortunately," he added, "the ones who imposed that policy, which was a big tragedy for the Croatian people, are not sitting here."


The cross-examination by Kordic's defence counsel Mitko Naumovski, was divided into three parts - the preparations for defending Bosnia-Herzegovina from Serbian aggression, the HDZ-BH's cooperation with the Bosnian Muslims, and the support of the HDZ-BH for the sovereignty of Bosnia-Herzegovina.


For part one the defence suggested that by transferring weapons from Slovenia and Croatia in 1991 and at the beginning of 1992, the Belgrade-controlled Yugoslav Army (JNA) had begun "a quiet occupation of B-H, and the authorities in Sarajevo had not undertaken anything for the defence".


Naumovski said the Bosnian Croats began to make their own preparations for their defence, leading to the founding of the HVO in April 1992. Kljujic said he was first to warn of a Serbian plan to establish their rule in Bosnia with the support of the JNA. But he added that the Bosnian Croat HVO did not need to be formed as there was already Territorial Defence (TO) force for all Bosnians in existence.


Regarding cooperation with the Bosnian Muslims, the defence claimed Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic had proposed an agreement with the Serbs in July 1991 on a federation of B-H, Serbia and Montenegro. Coming on the eve of the war in Croatia, they said, such a proposal would have been to the detriment of the Bosnian Croats. Kljujic agreed, but said he still believed that the Croats and Muslims had similar views.


Some 10,000 Bosnian Muslims joined in defence of Croatia in 1991, he explained, the Muslims procured arms through Croatia, and that Croats, including Kljujic, worked with the Muslims to found the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina.


On the issue of sovereignty and territorial integrity of B-H, the defence tried to show that the Croats were not alone in considering the idea of division. The defence claimed that the international community - at talks in Lisbon and Brussels at the beginning of 1992 - was unsure how to tackle the problem of Bosnia-Herzegovina.


"The Muslims wanted a unitary B-H," said the defence, "on the principle of one person - one vote, which would have turned (Bosnian) Croats into a minority."


In reply Kljuic said that people in Zagreb failed "to understand the meaning of the unitary concept". The "concept of unitarism" was a pretext used by those who planned the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina. "Any constitutional change would require a two-thirds majority, which was not feasible even theoretically," Kljuic said.


The defence then suggested that Bosnian independence came about before the issue of the internal arrangement of the state was resolved, and that the JNA's aggression ensued after that. "Correct," Kljujic responded, "but that was not a reason to give up the preservation of Bosnia-Herzegovina."


Kordic's defence argued that the HDZ-BH had to have a "solution for all situations," since the international community was indifferent towards events in the former Yugoslavia, and that Bosnia's central authorities were not preparing to defend the country against Serb aggression.


But Kljujic argued that it was not the case that the Croats had been led by outside circumstances to divide Bosnia, but that some in their ranks had actively sought this.


And he added: "Yes, there was a plan to promote the sovereignty of Bosnia, but also - if the Serbs seized a part of the territory - that the Croats and Muslims should enter a confederation with Croatia as a 'rump B-H'. Finally, if the Muslims were to reject that option, the third hypothetical alternative was envisaged whereby the Croats, with a part of the Muslims, would join Croatia."


The problem was, Kljujic said, that the hard-line faction of the HDZ-BH "gave top priority" to that last option.


Kordic's defence counsel objected, saying that the Serbs were starting a war against Croatia, and the Bosnian Muslims "were negotiating with the Serbs," forcing the Bosnian Croats to organise forces.


But Kljujic responded: "Yes, but prior to that, a meeting was held in Karadjordjevo". As is now known, Croatian president Franjo Tudjman and then Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic met in Karadjordjevo on March 25, 1991, and planned ways to divide Bosnia between them.


Two British officers, members of the BritBatt of UNPROFOR, also testified in the trial of Kordic and Cerkez last week. Both dealt with the accused Kordic on many occasions in Bosnia, and less frequently with Cerkez.


Major Philip Jennings, liaison officer with BritBatt, met at least 15 to 20 times with Kordic in February 1993 alone. "I did not like that person (Kordic)," he said. "He was loud and arrogant... but he was a person I could do business with... He exercised a lot of power."


As an example of his authority, the major cited meetings in which uniformed HVO officers sat around Kordic, but Kordic was always the one who chaired the proceedings.


After the conflict in January 1993 in the area of Busovaca, the B-H Army and the HVO signed an agreement on a ceasefire and an exchange of prisoners. The Bosnian Croat commander of the Operative Zone that covered the area, Colonel Tihomir Blaskic, signed the agreement on behalf of the HVO, but Kordic postponed the exchange of prisoners for 48 hours on his own initiative, even though he was not a signatory.


Cross-examining him, Kordic's defence urged Jennings to confirm that it was Blaskic who controlled the situation in Central Bosnia. But Jennings only replied that Blaskic was "named as commander in Central Bosnia," while adding that he had been surprised that some of Blaskic's decisions were overridden by others. Judge Mohamed Bennouna asked: "By whom?" Jennings replied: "The person I had in mind was Kordic."


Jennings gave another example of Kordic's authority: he was the one who negotiated the passage of humanitarian convoys with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), decided what aid the UN could leave in Busovaca and ordered the convoys cargoes checked.


The second of the UNPROFOR witnesses last week, former captain Lee Whitworth, BritBatt liaison officer for the Vitez area after June 1993 - described the stopping of the so-called 'Convoy of Joy' in which some drivers were killed and aid stolen. He said UNPROFOR concluded that Kordic had orchestrated the attack. "We have concluded Kordic was involved," said Whitworth. "He was a key decision maker."


Whitworth had many meetings with Cerkez as the UNPROFOR liaison in Vitez. He says that Cerkez was "in the crowd around the stopped convoy without assisting, but without trying to stop it all either."


Colonel Blaskic reprimanded Cerkez when he spotted him, Whitworth said, but added that Blaskic "was not held in high regard" by Cerkez. "Cerkez was demeaning Blaskic's authority... I saw him ignoring Blaskic's orders."


On the other hand, the witness claims, Cerkez had "good relations" with Darko Kraljevic, commander of the Vitezovi ('Knights') militia, involved in many crimes in Central Bosnia, and especially in the Lasva River Valley.


The Prosecutor argues that Kraljevic was operating in Cerkez's zone of responsibility, and that Cerkez approved the Vitezovi's actions. Whitworth described Kraljevic as a "good asset" to Cerkez. He also noted that another "extreme group" responsible for crimes in the region, the so-called 'Jokers', were in Cerkez's zone of responsibility.


At the end of the direct examination, the Prosecutor returned to questions on the role of Kordic in relation to Blaskic. "Kordic," Whitworth replied, "was a key political and executive decision-maker in the area, he was very influential. Blaskic was a key military figure."


During cross-examination, Kordic's defence counsel Stephen Sayers reminded the witness that - during his testimony in the trial of Blaskic himself - that the Prosecutor had asked him whether Blaskic was a "puppet commander," and that he had replied negatively.


"You said that Blaskic was the key military figure," stated Sayers.


"In theory", replied Whitworth.


"You did not have problems at check points when you were escorted by Blaskic's man?" Sayers continued.


"Sometimes," replied Whitworth. "Local commanders or Kordic were cited as general authority. In 50 percent of cases, soldiers would not care about Blaskic."