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Koric & Cerkez Trial: Lasva River Valley, All Over Again

Tribunal Update 121: Last Week in The Hague (12-17 April, 1999)
By IWPR

This is the fifth trial to date concerning crimes committed in the Lasva River Valley and Central Bosnia during the 1992-94 Croat-Muslim war. Two of those trials are on-going (Blaskic and Kupreskic & Others); Aleksovski is awaiting the verdict in his trial, and Furundzija is appealing his 10-year sentence.


It is also the third trial, after those of Blaskic and Kupreskic & Others, to focus on the events of 16 April 1993 in the village of Ahmici near Vitez in Central Bosnia. In his opening statement, prosecutor Geoffrey Nice said that on that fateful day Ahmici was "turned red by the flames which burned its houses and [by] the blood of its people, killed by those who supported the interests of Croats at the expense of the Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims)."


At the time of those events, Dario Kordic (38) was, according to the prosecutor, "the key figure of the Bosnian Croat leadership." He was vice-president of the self-proclaimed Croat state within Bosnia-Herzegovina (the Croat Community of Herzeg-Bosna) and vice-president of its armed forces, the Croatian Defence Council (HVO).


Prosecutor Nice described Kordic as "very close to, and trusted by those in Zagreb" and "integrally involved in the planning, ordering, instigation and execution of many of these crimes." He "effectively controlled armed forces who committed the alleged offences." By virtue of his position, the prosecutor alleges, "Kordic knew of, and actively participated in the planning of, systematic attack on Bosnian Muslims."


At the same time, Mario Cerkez (40) was commander of an HVO brigade in Vitez, whose area of responsibility covered the areas of Central Bosnia where Bosnian Croat military and paramilitary units allegedly committed atrocities.


Cerkez participated in high-level meetings where HVO policies were being designed, issued orders for murders and destruction of mosques, and was responsible for detention of Bosnian Muslim prisoners, the Prosecutor alleged. Furthermore, Cerkez had effective command over forces subordinate to him, but failed to prevent or punish the violations that occurred in his area of responsibility.


Both Kordic and Cerkez are charged with 22 counts each of persecution of Muslim civilians on political, racial, ethnic or religious grounds; unlawful attacks on civilians and civilian objects; wilful killing, murder and causing serious injury; inhumane acts and inhumane treatment; imprisonment; taking of hostages and the use of human shields; destruction and plunder of property.


To prove their individual and command responsibility, the Prosecutor is planning to introduce "thousands of military documents" and video recordings, and, if necessary, to call up to 370 witnesses.


Last week the Prosecutor called the first three witnesses, although the first two testimonies were given in camera. The third, protected witness "C", started his testimony on Friday with a description of first tensions between Bosnian Croat and Muslim forces in the town of Novi Travnik in late 1992. His testimony will continue next week.


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