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Kupreskic & Others Trial: Witnesses 'Borrowed' From The Defence Of General Blaskic

Tribunal Update 110: Last Week in The Hague (25-30 January, 1999)

The only difference was that this time it was six Bosnian Croats who appeared in the dock, charged with persecution of the Muslim population of the Lasva River Valley in general, and with the April 16, 1993, massacre of the inhabitants of the village of Ahmici, in particular.

Counsel for the six accused (Kupreskic & Others) not only "borrowed" the witnesses and evidence exhibits, but also part of the strategy adopted by the Defence of General Blaskic. They are also looking to prove that the "spiral of violence" in the Croat-Muslim conflict in Central Bosnia, which culminated on 16 April 1993 with the Ahmici Massacre, had been provoked by crimes committed on 26 January 1993, committed by Bosnian Muslim forces against the Croat population in the villages of Dusina and Lasva.

Two months after Zeljka Rajic testified in the Blaskic trial (see Update 102), she last week repeated the bulk of her story at the Kupreskic & Others trial. She described the attack of the VIIth Muslim Brigade of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BH Army) and allied groups made up of soldiers from Islamic countries, the "mujahedeen", against the villages of Dusina and Lasva, during which several men were captured and executed.

In a video recording presented as evidence, she identified bodies of ten people, including that of her husband. In reply to a question by the Defence as to whether she could recognize her husband, she said: "Yes, [the one] with the hole in the chest, where they tore his heart out."

The showing of the video recording, provided courtesy of a local Croat television station, seemed rather morbid: endless scenes of naked and emaciated corpses were shown accompanied by a loud and enthusiastic musical soundtrack in the background. The presiding judge, Antonio Cassese, was sufficiently moved by the overall effect to ask the Defence - several minutes into showing of the video - "Don't you think we can stop now?"

His other question, "What is the point in insisting on details [of] what happened in Dusina?", was answered by Jadranka Slokovic Glumac, Defence Counsel for one of the Kupreskic brothers. Her reply was that the Dusina attack was "the first crime that started everything." She further announced that Defence would prove that the BH Army had been attacking Croat civilians, and not - as the Prosecutor would have it - that the HVO had been attacking Muslims.

In this respect, the Kupreskic Defence went one step further than the Blaskic Defence. In insisting on the "spiral of violence" theory, Blaskic's Defence does not deny or vindicate crimes committed by the HVO, but rather seeks to demonstrate development of the spiral and the way it finally ran out of control.

The counsels for Kupreskic & Others, however, not only deny any persecution of Muslims by Bosnian Croats and their armed forces in Central Bosnia at the material time, but claim that it was the Croats who were in fact victims of Muslim persecution and crimes committed by regular armed forces of Bosnian Muslims, and by their "mujahedeen" allies in particular.

Much of last week passed with the descriptions of the "atmosphere of terror" created by various armed groups of the Muslim Defence Forces (Muslimanske oruzane snage, MOS) and the "mujahedeen", in Zenica, the largest town in that part of Bosnia.

Jadranka Tolic, a medical technician who worked at the Zenica Hospital laboratory at the time, described how the "atmosphere of intolerance" was gradually established. She told of how the "mujahedeen" tried to "re-educate our Muslims"; how the local Muslim men grew beards and their women started wearing the hijab [veil]. She maintained that non-Muslim staff one day had their white uniforms marked with crosses, and that Muslim neighbours had been marking front doors of their Croat neighbours with crosses under cover of the night.

All this, and the Dusina crime in particular, she emphasized, had instilled great fear in local Croats and forced them to leave Zenica, which is still considered a "Muslim town" to this day, three years after the Dayton Peace Agreement.

Several witnesses of the last week's batch who knew the accused brothers Zoran and Mirjan Kupreskic, described them as honest, good, moderate and tolerant people, popular among Bosnian Serbs and Muslims alike. They were people, as one of the witnesses put it, who would "not even accidentally" commit the crimes attributed to them by the indictment.

The trial of Kupreskic & Others is to be continued on 8 March 1999.

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