Fresh evidence found in previously sealed Croatian archives could clear General Tihomir Blaskic of involvement in the Ahmici massacre


Fresh evidence found in previously sealed Croatian archives could clear General Tihomir Blaskic of involvement in the Ahmici massacre

Blaskic Appeal: Defence Lawyer Reveals New Evidence

After a two-year trawl through secret Bosnian Croat Army, HVO, documents, the defence counsel for convicted war criminal General Tihomir Blaskic says he has the evidence needed to prove his client did not order the notorious 1993 Ahmici massacre in which over 100 Muslim villagers died.

Among the new evidence is a war-time military journal belonging to Blaskic, currently serving 45 years in prison following his conviction at The Hague tribunal on war crimes charges. "We now know who the real killers of Ahmici are," said lawyer Anto Nobilo.

Nobilo says a journal entry for April 16, 1993 - the day of the massacre - contains crucial details of a conversation between Blaskic, the then Lasva valley military commander, and Pasko Ljubicic, HVO police chief. Ljubicic surrendered to The Hague late last year and is accused of carrying out the killings in Ahmici.

According to Nobilo, the journal indicates that Ljubicic first contacted Blaskic at 11.42 a.m., six hours after the attack on Ahmici began. Blaskic reportedly ordered Ljubicic to leave Ahmici and take up a strategic position on high ground overlooking the village.

"Why are you still in Ahmici, don't stay in Ahmici," Nobilo quotes Blaskic as saying.The journal goes on to record that Ljubicic ignored this order.

Blaskic's defence lawyers have consistently claimed a parallel chain of command was operating in Bosnia and that political hardliners in the Bosnian Croat Democratic Union, HDZ, directed autonomous ethnic-cleansing units made up of military police like those under the command of Ljubicic.

Nobilo will present evidence that Blaskic, a regular army commander, was by-passed in this manner and later framed for the Ahmici massacre by the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjman and his allies following intense international condemnation of the killings.

Nobilo claims to have seen a file from Tudjman's office, which contains a 1000-word report on the Ahmici killings drawn up by Miroslav Tudjman, the late president's son and former Croatian intelligence chief.

The file was handed to The Hague by Tudjman's successor Stipe Mesic two years ago and reportedly "named the real killers and found Blaskic was not responsible".

The defence lawyer says Tudjman and the late Croatian defence minister Gojko Susak were aware of the report's findings but decided to protect the real Ahmici killers in order to disguise the role of the Zagreb authorities in waging an undeclared dirty war in Bosnia.

According to Nobilo, Blaskic was not interested in politics, mixed with people from different ethnic backgrounds, was "not a nationalist" and had not been a member of the HDZ. Zarko Puhovski of the Croatian Helsinki Committee spoke of Blaskic's disciplined and correct character, while BBC's Martin Bell testified to it in court.

Blaskic's defence team claim the general was ostracised from the inner circle, which allegedly connived in planning atrocities against Bosnian Muslims.

Nobilo also claims to have evidence disproving Blaskic's involvement in crimes against humanity in the Kiseljak area. The defence lawyer says he has found a memo signed by Blaskic and addressed to his commander General Milivoj Petkovic explaining that the Kiseljak forces were out of contact. According to the memo, Kiseljak was separated from the Croat strongholds of Vitez and Buscovaca by Bosnian army units and communication between Blaskic and the Kiseljak HVO commander Ivica Rajic was impossible.

Nobilo insists Rajic is the man The Hague should really hold responsible for crimes in Kiseljak. Rajic has been indicted for the 1993 murders of 16 civilians in Stupni Do but remains at large.

The HVO archive was opened following the HDZ electoral defeat in January 2000, which ushered in a new era of cooperation with The Hague. The HDZ government had denied the archive ever existed.

Shortly after the elections, Nobilo says a contact in the Croatian intelligence service tipped him off that HVO documents for 1992-1996 were kept in a huge secret service archive.

Nobilo, like the Hague prosecutors, was not allowed unrestricted access to the archive, but had to request specific papers, which required intuition, guess work and painstaking research.

"I knew what I was looking for, important information showing that Tudjman ultimately controlled the secret service and HVO," Nobilo said.

The defence lawyer says the absence of crucial HVO documents compounded the tribunal's ignorance of Bosnian Croat military structures.

"The tribunal had no idea of what really happened, British UNPROFOR [United Nations Protection Force] officers thought the HVO were a regular army like themselves," Nobilo said.

According to Nobilo, the British officers were well intentioned but confused outsiders who had been in Bosnia only a few months and failed to grasp the extent of Zagreb's underhand involvement in the Bosnian war.

Nobilo believes the new evidence will lead to Hague prosecutions against the Croatian politicians responsible.

The Zagreb political weekly Nacional echoed Nobilo's views. "Blaskic was sentenced to 45 years in prison, while those who gave the political orders for Ahmici today remain national heroes and distinguished members of HDZ," the paper commented.

The Hague appeals chamber is expected to review Blaskic's sentence in light of the new evidence. A date for the hearing could be set during the status conference on February 14.

Nobilo says he hopes, but does not know for sure, if all documents relevant to the Blaskic case have been released. Potentially incriminating papers relating to the Croatian army are in the ministry of defence vaults and not the state archives.

The lawyer is doubtful the authorities will hand over sensitive information to Hague prosecutors seeking to indict Croatian generals for their suspected roles in operations Flash and Storm.

Dusan Viro, a defence ministry spokesman told IWPR, "We have an obligation to keep these documents top secret."

Dominic Hipkins is a freelance journalist based in Croatia.

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