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Regional Report: Blaskic Case Reopened

Hague to re-examine Blaskic case after Zagreb submits crucial new evidence.
By Drago Hedl

The lawyer of Tihomir Blaskic, a former Bosnian Croat general convicted of war crimes and sentenced to 45 years imprisonment, has described the reopening of his case as a "dramatic" development.

Anton Nobilo says new evidence to be considered by The Hague court will strengthen his client's defence claim.

In March 2000, Blaskic, regarded by many in Croatia as a war hero, was given a then-record sentence when he was found guilty of involvement in the massacre at Ahmici, a Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) village where more than 100 men, women and children were killed in 1993, some of them burned alive.

But now an appeals chamber at The Hague, which has been deluged with new evidence, will meet on November 21 to hear representations from the prosecution and defence and decide whether to order a retrial.

It is thought much of the new evidence, more than 50 exhibits, are documents from the regime of the late hard line president Franjo Tudjman, which have been released by the new Zagreb authorities.

Blaskic's lawyer says the material will buttress his claim that the Bosnian Croat forces near Ahmici were split into parallel chains of command.

Blaskic has long insisted that he had no control over the units that carried out the massacre, since they took their orders from the political chiefs of the self-declared Bosnian Croat state, Herceg-Bosna.

In turn, these leaders followed instructions from the Tudjman regime in Zagreb, which funded and armed Herceg-Bosna.

Nobilo said the massacre, which took place amid fighting in the Lasva valley, was carried out not by regular forces, which Blaskic controlled, but by a special military police unit, the Vitezovi (Knights), under the direct command of the political chiefs of Herceg-Bosna.

The job of the Knights was the ethnic cleansing of Croat land in Bosnia, with the Ahmici massacre intended to send a clear message to all Muslims.

Nobilo says Blaskic ordered a report by military police - but as they included the same people who had done the killings, this was late and incomplete. One version of the report claimed the killings were the work of Serb soldiers dressed as Croats.

If successful, the appeal would be a feather in the cap of the new government of Croatia, which has thrown open the files of the former Tudjman regime.

The archive provided tens of thousands of documents recording the full extent to which Tudjman and a network of cronies robbed the Croatian state, subverted the law, and diverted government funds to supporting separatists in Bosnia.

Sources in Zagreb told IWPR that Tudjman's government knew it had documents that could clear Blaskic - but refused to hand them over.

They apparently feared the general's defence would implicate the military police commander, Dario Kordic, who was deputy president of Herceg-Bosna, the entity's president, Mate Boban, and possibly even his boss, Tudjman.

Kordic was later convicted of war crimes in the Lasva valley; Boban died of natural causes before he too could be accused of crimes.

Blaskic's wife Ratka, returning from visiting Blaskic in his jail cell in The Hague, said, "I believe that my husband will be acquitted and he hopes that the truth will be revealed."

The provision of new evidence could improve relations between Zagreb and The Hague, which have become strained due to Croatia's reluctance to extradite former army commander Janko Bobetko.

It could also buttress Croatian head of state Stipe Mesic and premier Ivan Racan - both fighting off right-wing criticism over their cooperation with The Hague - who could claim that they helped Blaskic.

Blaskic, an officer in the communist-era Yugoslav army, joined the Bosnian Croats early in the Bosnian war, providing them much-needed expertise and experience.

He was in control of Bosnian Croat forces in the Lasva valley when fighting broke out between Croats and Muslims in early 1993 - the two had previously been allied against the Bosnian Serbs.

The massacre at Ahmici was part of a campaign to empty the valley of Muslims, but it backfired when mostly-Muslim Bosnian government forces attacked from the north and surrounded the region, trapping 70,000 Croats in a pocket of land.

Blaskic commanded a successful defence of the pocket. And in February 1994, the siege was lifted following a peace deal known as the Washington Agreement.

Drago Hedl, a journalist with the Split-based Feral Tribune, is a regular IWPR contributor.

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