Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

No Trace of Mujahedin

Witness in Hadzihasanovic case tells of fruitless search for a rumoured 2,000-strong force of foreign mercenaries.
By Alison Freebairn

A leading international monitor has told the tribunal that he was unable to find any trace of foreign mujahedin fighters in central Bosnia in early 1993, despite searching for some time.

 

Mats Torping, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Swedish army, spent more than a year in Bosnia during the war – first with the European Commission Monitoring Mission, ECMM, and later as a liaison officer with the Nordic Battalions.

 

The witness was appearing at the trial of ex-general Enver Hadzihasanovic and former colonel Amir Kubura, who were in charge of the Bosnian army’s Third Corps and Seventh Muslim Brigade respectively.

 

They deny that the much-feared mujahedin - or soldiers from other Muslim countries who came to Bosnia during the war - were operating with their knowledge and under their control, arguing that such mercenaries, if they existed, were not part of the Bosnian army.

 

When questioned by the prosecution on his experiences in central Bosnia in early 1993, the witness told the court of a conversation he had had with the then mayor of Travnik in mid January of that year.

 

“He said he was very concerned because there were a lot of mujahedin fighters in the area, approximately 2,000 of them,” Torping said, adding that while he had heard such rumours before, this was a much stronger accusation which had to be acted upon.

 

When asked where these mujahedin were believed to operate, the witness replied, “I’m not exactly sure, but somewhere around Travnik, east of Zenica and north of Vitez.”

 

Torping told how he had travelled around these areas looking for any trace of mujahedin or any military headquarters they may use, and stopped at one building near the centre of Travnik to question a Bosnian soldier about it. In turn, they were introduced to a commander who said he was an “instruction officer” but refused to give his name and was clearly unhappy to see the international monitors in the building.

 

“We asked him if we could look around for mujahedin, and he told us that there were no foreign fighters there – only local Bosnian soldiers,” he said.

 

The officer claimed to speak for the Seventh Muslim Brigade, Torping said, but was dressed as any other Bosnian soldier and did not have any badge or insignia – although the witness said that this was not uncommon at the time.

 

“Later, I met with the Third Corps commander [to raise the issue] and he said, ‘There are no foreign fighters in Third Corps, only Bosnians’,” Torping said.

 

When asked how many times he had raised the issue of the mujahedin, the witness replied, “Around five times.” And when asked who the commander of Third Corps was, he replied, “General Hadzihasanovic.”

 

During his first six months in Bosnia, Torping personally met with the defendant around six times, he said. On one occasion, in mid-January, a meeting was called to discuss a threat from the Croatian Army, HVO forces, which had threatened to shell the town of Zenica if the Bosnian army did not stop sending reinforcements to the area.

 

And later, the HVO had asked the ECMM to intervene after 14 Bosnian Croat civilians from three unnamed central Bosnian towns had been captured and killed, allegedly by Muslim troops. The corpses had been sent to Zenica hospital, and the dead people’s relatives – who were now refugees - had also travelled to the town.

 

“The Croats wanted us help clarify the situation, and to organise getting these refugees away from the Zenica area,” Torping said, “and this had to be discussed with Hadzihasanovic at his HQ.”

 

When asked by the prosecution if he had had any social contact with the defendant outside these meetings, the witness described how he and two other international monitors had been invited to a dinner at the Third Corps headquarters on March 6, 1993, in which they had been “offered good food and something to drink in a nice, friendly atmosphere”.

 

“Later, Hadzihasanovic invited us to visit the underground command centre at the Third Corps building, from where he controlled his forces,” the witness said.

 

The bunker was large and apparently shellproof, Tording said, and filled with radios, a fax machine and many maps, all of which were partially covered. “The impression was of a professional place of command and control,” he said, adding that the overall impression of Hadzihasanovic was one of “a professional, balanced officer in control of the situation”.

 

In her cross-examination, Hadzihasanovic’s defence counsel Edina Residovic asked, “Would it not be normal [for a commander] to try to create such an impression?”

 

The witness agreed, but stressed, “In general I think that is normal, but my impression of Hadzihasanovic, [especially] in the later part of my time in Bosnia, was that he was very much in control.”

 

She went on to query the witness’ expedition in search of the mujahedin fighters rumoured to be operating in the Travnik area, and asked to him to confirm that he had found nothing.

 

“That’s correct,” he said. “There was no real information – only rumours. I didn’t find any real evidence of mujahedin in the Third Corps area.”

 

Hadzihasanovic and Kubara - the highest-ranking Bosnian army figures to be indicted by The Hague so far - have pled not guilty to charges of bearing superior criminal responsibility for a series of crimes committed during the war, including the murder of Bosnian Serb and Croat civilians and the killing of Bosnian Croat prisoners of war.

 

The trial continues.

 

Alison Freebairn is an IWPR editor in London.

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