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Kupreskic & Others Trial: Massacre As 'Active Defence'

Tribunal Update 145: Last Week in The Hague (September 27 - October 2, 1999)

Of four witnesses called last week, only two gave their testimonies in hearings open to the public. The first of the two was the OTP investigator Howard Tucker, who carried out additional investigations in Ahmici during the trial pause. The defence of Vlatko Kupreskic - aided by Professor Willem Wagner, the Dutch expert on human perception and memory - had sought to prove that prosecution witnesses could not have reliably recognised the accused among a group of soldiers 60 metres away. According to the indictment the group of soldiers fired at a group of civilians, killing one and wounding another woman from the Pezer family. (See Tribunal Update No. 128).

By carrying out measurements in the field, Tucker, as he told the judges, established that the distance was somewhat smaller, 53 metres. The credibility of the statements of the witnesses, the inhabitants of Ahmici who identified Kupreskic was, said Tucker, confirmed by the fact that the personal belongings of the Pezer family were found at the location where the witnesses said the victims had been shot.

The second of last week's rebuttal witnesses was Asim Dzambasovic, a former officer of the Yugoslav and then the Bosnian Army, and now the head of the Political Department of the Defence Ministry of the Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was summoned as an expert of the military organisation in former Yugoslavia, to detail the functioning of the command process when a unit is issued a combat order.

The prosecutor's aim was to illustrate the operational aspects of the attack on Ahmici, and show how the accused Vladimir Santic, as a company commander in the 4th battalion of the HVO Military Police, had responsibility for the attack on the town and the crimes committed therein.

After the order is issued, Dzambasovic testified, "the company commander acquaints the soldiers with it, and then follows the combat actions and controls the carrying out of the orders." According to the statements by numerous witnesses in the Blaskic and 'Kupreskic & Others' trials, the attack on Ahmici on April 16, 1993, was specifically carried out by members of 4th Battalion of the HVO Military Police. The key part of Dzambasovic's testimony referred to three orders issued by the HVO commander in Central Bosnia, Tihomir Blaskic, on 15 April 1993. That part of his testimony was closed to the public, since Blaskic - when appearing as the defence witness in the 'Kupreskic & Others' trial - had originally given his account of his orders in closed session.

Santic's defence argued that Dzambasovic's comments should have been of a "general character," but instead were based on details of evidence given in a closed session in another trial - but wrongly passed to him by the prosecutor. The defence is trying to prove that Blaskic had issued only defensive orders to the HVO Forces on that day and that the language of attack claimed by the prosecution related to tactics of 'active defence'. The defence also claimed that Dzambasovic's testimony referred to "assumed" situations in which the accused Santic "could have been on 16 April 1993". The Kupreskic & Others trial continues this week.

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