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Tudjman Transcripts Sought as Evidence

Observers say without these documents, the wartime events in Croatia and Bosnia cannot be fully understood.
International war crimes prosecutors may need Zagreb’s permission to admit as evidence transcripts that they say prove Croatia’s ex-president was intimately involved in an attempt to create a “Geater Croatia”.

The prosecutors are seeking to demonstrate official Croatian involvement in war crimes committed by the leaders of Herceg Bosna, a Croat statelet carved out of neighbouring Bosnia in the early 1990s.

Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic were senior political and military leaders of the self-proclaimed state and face 26 charges relating to the expulsion and murder of Muslims.

The requested documents detail the conversations of then Croatian president Franjo Tudjman and seem to show Croatian officials believed the West supported them in their undercover bid to prevent a Muslim state being created in Europe.

“If they want to include those documents as evidence they must seek government approval,” said Goran Granic, ex-deputy prime minister of Croatia.

In 2002, he agreed with the war crimes prosecutors at the Hague tribunal that they could use the transcripts but only to help their investigation, not as evidence.

It was not clear if the Croatian government had received a request for the documents to be used, and the judges are yet to rule on the matter, but defence lawyers in the case said they would oppose their submission.

“The main question is whether the prosecutors at the Hague tribunal have the right to propose these transcripts as evidence in this case,” said Vesna Alaburic, lawyer for Petkovic, a defendant who was a general in Herceg Bosna.

She added the protocol for the submission of transcripts, signed in 2002 by chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte and Granic, clearly states that these transcripts are submitted to help only in the investigation of facts.

“We think that all the procedures, necessary for the transcripts to be included as evidence, have not been satisfied,” she said.

The six defendants are also accused of being part of a joint criminal enterprise to politically and militarily subjugate and ethnically cleanse Bosnian Muslims and other non-Croats from parts of Bosnia and to join this territory to a Greater Croatia.

Experts on the crimes say that, although the transcripts do not prove individuals’ involvement in the atrocities, they do show a government-created atmosphere that encouraged such acts.

“These transcripts reveal one complete political strategy that at least silently approved on different levels some operations which were later classified as war crimes,” said Jasna Babic, a journalist of Slobodna Dalmacija who has written a book about war crimes.

“I really don’t know what their legal standing is, but as a journalist I think these transcripts are of the utmost importance, because they show full awareness of government leadership, their plans, their intentions and their agreements. Therefore I think this is something without which the events of the war in Croatia and Bosnia cannot be understood.”

Most of these transcripts have already been admitted in part or in full as evidence in other trials held at the Hague tribunal.

Several of the transcripts allegedly record how Tudjman ordered regular Croatian troops to be secretly sent to Bosnia to set up checkpoints and to support the Croats living there.

“The Hague prosecution wants to prove there was an international armed conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, meaning that the Republic of Croatia was involved… In that respect it is clear that the transcripts of President Tudjman's conversations about the war with key people in Croatia and Bosnia are of utmost importance,” said Anto Nobilo, who acted as a defence attorney in The Hague for a number of years.

“According to what I read, and I have read lots of those transcripts, specific atrocities were probably not discussed. In respect of proving specific atrocities those transcripts cannot be used. However, they can be used in establishing the political context in which the atrocities took place.”

He was confident that the transcripts would be accepted as evidence, since, he said, their authenticity is beyond doubt.

“There was something which is colloquially called parallel systems, including parallel chains of command and parallel politics. One kind of politics was used for the international arena and the other kind for us inside. Therefore to establish the complete truth the transcripts are very important,” he said.

“However, how much weight these transcripts will have and to what extent the court will rely on them are completely different questions.”

Enis Zebic is a reporter with Radio Free Europe and IWPR contributor in Zagreb.

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