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Naletelic-Martinovic: First Indictment For Mostar Crimes

Tribunal Update 107: The Last Three Weeks in The Hague(20 December 1998 - 10 January 1999)
By IWPR

The indictment was made public the day after Judge Richard May confirmed on December 21 that charges have been laid against Mladen Naletelic, also known as "Tuta," and Vinko Martinovic, a.k.a. "Stela", for alleged crimes committed in Mostar during 1993 and 1994.

Prosecutor Arbour established this practice in order to facilitate the apprehension of indictees. This proved very successful in the cases of Kovacevic, Furundzija, Krnojelac and general Krstic, all of whom were arrested on the basis of sealed indictments. In the case of Naletelic and Martinovic, however, there was no need for such measures since they were already arrested and detained - albeit not in The Hague.

They are presently held in Zagreb, where they were charged by Croatian courts for "non-war"' crimes. Whereas Martinovic was recently sentenced to eight years' imprisonment for murder of a woman, the trial of Naletelic for the abduction of a police officer and "organising with the aim to perpetrate violence" (organiziranje u cilju provodjenja nasilja) is still in process. Together with the indictment, Croatian authorities were also handed copies of arrest warrants as well as a request to hand both over to the jurisdiction of the Tribunal.

According to Arbour, there is no need to request a deferral of their case from Croatia since they are currently being tried for ordinary crimes, and not for those covered by the Tribunal's indictment. The Hague's interest in the two, Arbour revealed, should "not come as a surprise to Croatian authorities," because the Tribunal had submitted a formal request for provisional measures in accordance with Rule 40 (Rules of Procedure and Evidence) immediately after their arrest by Croatian authorities in March 1997.

In the event the Croatian authorities subsequently abandon their own plans to try the two accused, The Tribunal has asked Zagreb not to release them, but to ensure they would be transfered instead to The Hague.

The indictment of Naletelic and Martinovic is the first such indictment for war crimes and ethnic cleansing in Mostar and its environs (South-Eastern Bosnia). Those crimes, the indictment states, were perpetrated in the context of an international armed conflict whereby the Croatian Army (HV) fought in the Mostar theatre of war alongside with the Bosnian Croat force, the Croatian Defense Council (HVO).

Moreover, all victims of crimes described in the indictment - both civilians and prisoners of war - were protected persons under the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Finally, the indictment states that the Mostar crimes were not isolated incidents, but "part of a widespread, large-scale or systematic attack directed against the Bosnian Muslim population."

Mladen Naletelic "Tuta" (52) took part in those attacks as the commander of a special HVO unit known as "Kaznjenicka bojna" (the "KB Convicts battalion"). The main tasks of the KB - according to the indictment - "were combat missions on the front-line, expulsions and attacks against Bosnian Muslim civilians in the territories occupied by the HV and the HVO."

Vinko Martinovic "Stela" (35) was at first a commander of the extreme right-wing militia, the Croatian Defence Forces (HOS), and later joined the KB where he was appointed commander of the sub-unit known as ATG (Anti-terrorist group) "Mrmak", later renamed "Vinko Skrobo."

While serving in those capacities during 1993 and 1994, Naletelic and Martinovic were allegedly the "main perpetrators" of a wide-spread campaign of violence aimed against the Muslim population of Mostar, Jablanica, Capljina and other places in Herzegovina.

The aim of the campaign was to establish the authority and control over those districts, and to force the local Muslim population to either leave the area or accept the new, Croatian authority. The means utilised to that end were: killings, beatings, torture, evictions, destruction of cultural and religious heritage, looting, mass expulsions, detentions, deprivation of basic civil and human rights. All these means were executed following a systematic pattern of ethnic discrimination.

The direct result of that campaign was that tens of thousands of Bosnian Muslims were forced to leave Mostar, Jablanica and other districts, whereby the traditional ethnic diversity of these municipalities was "virtually eliminated ... and an ethnically homogeneous society and institutions were imposed in these areas.".

Those crimes attributed by the Prosecutor to Naletelic and Martinovic were grouped into six categories, and are as follows:

PERSECUTIONS: the indictees are alleged to have "together with other leaders, agents and members of the HV and HVO, planed, instigated, ordered or committed, or aided and abetted the planing, preparation and execution of crimes against humanity, through the widespread or systematic persecution of Bosnian Muslim civilians on political, racial, ethnic or religious grounds, throughout the territory claimed to belong to the self-proclaimed HZ H-B ("Croatian Community Herceg-Bosna)."

UNLAWFUL LABOUR AND HUMAN SHIELDS: Naletelic and Martinovic, the Prosecutor contends, forced civilian detainees and prisoners of war to perform various dangerous military support tasks at great risk to their lives, benefiting the HV and HVO, including digging trenches, building defences with sandbags, carrying wounded or killed HV and HVO soldiers; carrying ammunition and explosives across the confrontation line, and placing them in front of B-H Army positions.

The indictment describes how Vinko Martinovic on 17 September 1993, during the HV and HVO attack on the positions of Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Mostar, along the Bulevar and Santic Street, ordered that Muslim detainees be dressed in HVO uniforms and given wooden imitation guns and forced to march in front of a tank that was advancing towards the front-line. On the same day and in the same place, Martinovic had - the Prosecutor asserts - demanded some fifteen detainees to be sent ahead of HVO soldiers leading an attack. According to the indictment, approximately 10 detainees were killed as a result of their use as human shields on that occasion.

TORTURE AND WILFULLY CAUSING GREAT SUFFERING: According to the indictment, Naletelic and Martinovic personally took part in torture of Muslim civilians and prisoners of war and did so infront of their subordinates. The beatings and torture, Prosecutor contends, "became a common practice of the members of KB."

WILFUL KILLING: This count of the indictment accuses Martinovic for the murder of Nenad Haramdzic, who was in July 1993, together with another 50 or so detainees, transferred from Heliodrom prison-camp to the base of Martinovic's ATG in Mostar, where he was first badly beaten and then killed.

FORCIBLE TRANSFER: The Prosecutor alleges that following the attack of the KB and other HV and HVO forces on the villages of Sovici and Doljani near Jablanica, Naletelic at first detained some 450 women, children and elderly persons in the hamlet of Junuzovici, and then ordered their forcible transfer to the territory of Gornji Vakuf, which was under the control of Army of B-H.

Naletelic and Martinovic are, it is further alleged, responsible for the forcible transfer of Muslim population of Mostar between May 1993 and January 1994, and in particular for the two "great waves" of ethnic cleansing in May and July 1993.

DESTRUCTION AND PLUNDER OF PROPERTY: Naletelic is charged with ordering the destruction of all Muslim houses in the villages of Sovici, Doljani and Rastani, as well as the demolition of the mosque in Sovici. Both indictees are accused of systematic destruction and plunder of Muslim houses in Mostar during the period between May 1993 and January 1994.

Naletelic and Martinovic are both charged on the basis of individual criminal responsibility, and also on the basis of their "command responsibility" as superiors for the acts of their subordinates.

Mladen Naletelic stands accused of 17 counts: crimes against humanity (4) grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions (6) and violations of the law or customs of war (7).

Vinko Martinovic is accused of 22 counts: crimes against humanity (5), grave breaches (8) and violations of the laws or customs of war (9 counts).