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NATO Arrests Two Bosnian Croat Indictees
It is tempting to assume that NATO was shamed into action, but the operation to arrest Vlatko Kupreskic and Ante Furundzija near Vitez was so quick and accurate it was obviously planned long in advance and rehearsed beforehand. NATO's embarrassment could have only prompted the action to take place sooner rather than later. There do seem to be a string of coincidences related to the timing of NATO arrests, however. The first arrest made by SFOR, in the Prijedor region in July, took place immediately after the NATO summit in Madrid. Last week's was undertaken after a regular bi-annual meeting of the North-Atlantic Council in Brussels, which involved exterior ministers' talks. Should we infer from this that the next arrest will wait until the next major NATO meeting, planned to take place in Berlin in six months time?
Western reactions to the Vitez operation suggest that NATO leaders still believe that those indicted will surrender themselves voluntarily or will be handed over by their local authorities. "This action", said the Secretary General of NATO Javier Solana, "stands as warning to all those indicted for war crimes who are still at large that they, too, will be held accountable. They should take steps immediately to surrender themselves voluntarily to the ICTY". SFOR spokesman Major Peter Clark even brought some humour to the occasion, noting, with reference to Simo Drljaca (killed in Prijedor during attempted arrest) and Vlatko Kupreskic (who was wounded in Vitez), that "SFOR at the door...may be bad for your health".
Kupreskic is one of the eight Bosnisan Croats from the original 'Kupreskic and Others' indicted for the massacre in the village of Ahmici, near Vitez. On April 16, 1993 HVO troops killed at least 103 Muslims, most of them women and children, then burnt and destroyed all 176 houses. Kupreskic's role in the massacre was exposed at the Tribunal through the testimony of his neighbours, survivors of the massacre, who testified in the trial against General Blaskic. Six from the indictment, which includes Kupreskic's two cousins Zoran and Mirjan Kupreskic, were amongst the ten who surrendered voluntarily to The Hagueon on October 6 this year. Kupreskic was supposed to surrender as well but changed his mind in the last minute and ran away. Eventually, he returned home, to be arrested at lam on December 18. He tried to resist and fired at the soldiers with a machine gun, but the commandos were quicker and more efficient. According to reports, he was wounded in the chest, arm and leg, but was transported to Hague after receiving medical help on the same day. His initial appearance before the judges will be arranged after he has recovered sufficiently.
The second indictee, Anto Furundzija, did not resist capture and was brought before the Trial Chamber at the Hague and called to enter a plea only a day later, on December l9. Like the other indictees who have entered their pleas (with the exception of Drazen Erdemovic) Furundzija pleaded not guilty.
Furundzija is the subject of a sealed indictment, confirmed on November 10, 1995, the same date as the other four indictments for crimes carried out by Bosnian Croats in Lasva Valley were confirmed. After his arrest, the seal was taken off only the parts that referred to him. Out of 25 counts, only three refer to him and the rest apply to the co-accused. According to the indictment Furundzija was, at the relevant time, a commander of the special forces group within the HVO called the Jokers, so it is logical to assume that one of the other accused should be his deputy Miroslav Bralo, known as Cicko (see Update 56).
The revised indictment against Furundzija reads as follows: "On or about May 15, 1993, at the Jockers HQ in Nadioci 9, the Bungalow) Anto Furundzija, [X] and another soldier interrogated Witness A. While being questioned by Furundzija, [X] rubbed his knife against Witness A's inner thigh and lower stomach and threatened to put a knife into Witness A's vagina should she not tell the truth. Then Witness A and Victim B, a Bosnian Croat who had previously assisted Witness A's family, were taken to another room in the 'Bungalow'. Victim B had been badly beaten prior to this. While Furundzija continued to interrogate Witness A and Victim B [X] beat Witness A and Victim B on the feet with the baton. Then [X] forced Witness A to have oral and vaginal sexual intercourse with him. Furundzija was present during the entire incident and did nothing to stop or curtail [X]'s actions."
Furundzija and his anonymous co-accused are charged on one count of Grave Breach of the Geneva Convention (torture or inhumane treatment) and on two counts of Violations of the Laws or Customs of War (torture and outrages upon personal dignity including rape).
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