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Kupreskic & Others Trial: Closing Arguments In November

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

The last rebuttal witness for the prosecution was Charles McLeod, a British official who began investigating the Lasva Valley incident in early May 1993 for the European Community Monitoring Mission (ECMM). McLeod had earlier testified about the Lasva Valley crimes in January 1998 during the trials of Zlatko Aleksovski and Tihomir Blaskic (see Tribunal Updates Nos. 58 and 61). On this occasion as well, McLeod repeated the basic conclusion of his investigative mission of May 1993, which held the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) responsible for the beginning of the Croat-Muslim conflict in April 1993. In the report that he submitted to the ECMM after the mission in the Lasva Valley, McLeod explained how Croatian forces launched a series of attacks on Muslims and villages in the Lasva Valley on April 16. "The most violent attack appeared to be in Ahmici, where the majority of houses occupied by Muslims were burned and many villagers were killed...

"Muslim reaction was to try to counterattack and isolate Vitez and Busovaca and they were successful until the UN intervened... The Croats I met left me with a clear impression that they had tried to establish a Croatian state and to force the Muslims out. They used fairly extreme measures to encourage them to move out... What I saw in the Lasva Valley was being played out throughout Central Bosnia..."

The six accused's defence is trying to prove that the HVO did not launch the offensive against civilians, but only undertook preventive defensive measures against an attack from the Bosnia-Herzegovina army.

McLeod confirmed that the B-H Army was operating significant forces in the Lasva Valley at that time, but maintained that the HVO started the offensive only to be surprised by the B-H Army's quick response. This view was shared by UNPROFOR, McLeod said, along with his belief that had there not been a ceasefire, the B-H Army would probably have been able to cut the Vitez-Busovaca road, seriously endangering the HVO positions.

The only "rejoinder witness" for the defence was one Ljiljana Sapina, summoned by the defence counsels of Zoran Kupreskic. Her testimony was supposed to dispute testimony given against Kupreskic by one of the prosecution's "rebuttal witnesses" in an earlier closed hearing.

Before the war Sapina worked in Vitez with Zoran Kupreskic, and also with the witness who accused him behind closed doors last week. Sapina claimed that Kupreskic had actually helped the witness who had testified against him in closed session, when the HVO was moving Bosniaks out of their homes in Vitez. Sapina also claimed that the prosecution witness was prepared at one point to testify in Kupreskic's defence, but that she did not do it, allegedly out of fear of "extremists on her (Muslim) side."

Prosecution and defence closing arguments are scheduled for November 8, 1999.

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