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

Kordic & Cerkez Trial: Who Had Authority In The Lasva Valley?

Tribunal Update 150: Last Week in The Hague (November 1-6, 1999)
By IWPR

Kordic's defence counsel Stephen Sayers could have been an excellent prosecution witness against General Tihomir Blaskic, while prosecutors Geoffrey Nice and Kenneth Scott might have found a welcome as the General's defence witnesses.


Prosecutors Nice and Scott are trying to prove that accused Dario Kordic was a central - not only political but also military - authority in the area of Central Bosnia and that he had control over the HVO and the Military Police and various special units.


They also seek to prove that he was not subordinated - either formally or factually - to General Tihomir Blaskic as the commander of the Operative Zone. They suggest that he did everything either "on his own will," or in direct connection with Mostar where the "hard-line wing" of the so-called Croatian Community Herzeg-Bosnia (HZH-B) was located, headed by its president - and Kordic's mentor - Mate Boban.


Blaskic's counsel Anto Nobilo and Russell Hayman made a claim for a similar balance of forces in the HVO leadership in Central Bosnia in their closing statements in the trial of General Blaskic.


They said the trial unambiguously showed that there was a "dual chain of command" in the HVO, and that the so-called "informal" or "parallel" chain was more powerful than the one headed by Blaskic.


They pointed out that there existed "disguised strongmen, with real power and no responsibility" in the HZH-B. At one point, Nobilo said that one such strongman was "being tried one floor up," alluding to the ongoing trial of Dario Kordic in courtroom III (see Tribunal Update No. 136).


On the other hand, Kordic's defence - Sayers and Mitko Naumovski - have been trying to prove since the beginning of the trial that General Blaskic was a supreme military authority in his operative zone. Kordic, by their account, was only a "journalist turned politician" who had no command authority over the HVO units or special forces.


The same thing happened last week, during the cross-examination of two British officers, who appeared as prosecution witnesses.


One, Michael Buffini - who led the BritBatt liaison officers in Central Bosnia - and according to the defence, the "chief intelligence officer in the area" - has also appeared for the prosecution in the trial of Blaskic (see Tribunal Update No. 57) in December 1997. Sayers reminded Buffini of his statement in that trial that that "Blaskic had full control of the local commanders and very much of all troops," which Buffini confirmed.


The other officer, Mark Bowers, a former liaison officer with the BritBatt in Central Bosnia, in last week's direct examination, spoke of obstructions to delivery of humanitarian aid to Bosniaks, obstructions that were "controlled by the highest level of the HVO". This was, he said, Kordic at its political level and Blaskic at its military level.


Sayers claimed in cross-examination that "Blaskic was responsible for all HVO forces in the Lasva Valley", and that the UN representatives approached military commanders, and not politicians, like Kordic, when they had a problem to solve.


The testimony of Michael Buffini was also key to the prosecutor's attempt to prove the presence of the Croat Army (HV) in Bosnia-Herzegovina at the time, and thus the international character of the conflict.


Buffini confirmed that he often saw HV soldiers in Herzegovina, and that, once, en route from Croatia to Prozor, a town in southern Bosnia-Herzegovina, he "followed a convoy of six to eight coaches full with HV soldiers. He added that a mercenary he met in Croatia on one occasion, who trained HV soldiers, confirmed that HV conscripts were fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina.


While working with the joint commission between the UN, HVO and the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina (ABiH), Buffini met Cerkez on several occasions. "To our questions about violations committed by HVO troops, Cerkez would respond in a flippant manner, debating it and alleging the atrocities of the other side," he said.


Asked about the massacre at Ahmici, Cerkez accused ABiH of staging it, which Buffini said was "ludicrous, impossible". Asked by the prosecutor whether Cerkez had the authority to prevent crimes, Buffini answered: "Cerkez had authority in deciding, he could make sure things are implemented."


The last witness last week, 'T', talked about an incident in which Kordic allegedly threatened one Bosnian solider at the checkpoint on the road between Busovaca and Kiseljak, telling him that he would one day "remember well" his action in disarming them and escorting them to a silo.


That soldier, Miralem Delija, the witness said, only wanted to check the IDs of the persons in a vehicle headed for Kiseljak. Allegedly, Kordic then begun to insult Delija, so Delija disarmed all of them and took them to a silo from where they were released after 30-40 minutes.


The witness said Delija's brother, Mirsad Delija, was killed after that, implying that Kordic's people meted out revenge, but to the wrong person.


Kordic's defence disputed this account. Defence counsel Mitko Naumovski said that Blaskic and some other HVO officials were in the stopped car, but not Kordic. The witness did not categorically deny this, but he claimed that his sources were approximately accurate. "Someone did, nevertheless, order the killing of Mirsad," witness T concluded.


The same witness also spoke about the situation in Busovaca, where Kordic's headquarters was located. He described how the Muslims were disarmed and captured on January 27 1993, after the outbreak of the open conflict in that area.


They were taken to Kaonik camp and made to dig trenches and two of them were killed. "Dario Kordic ought to have known about the situation in the area of the municipality," the witness said, adding that the mistreatment of Muslims continued through the summer of 1993.


During the examination of this witness, the prosecutor showed a photograph from a Bosniak newspaper showing Kordic and Blaskic in uniforms with HVO patches - to demonstrate Kordic's military role.