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Witness says Tudjman Backed Bosnian Independence

Testimony contradicts prosecution claim that late president wanted to absorb Bosnian territory into Croatia.
By Denis Dzidic
A defence witness at the trial of former Bosnian Croat leader Jadranko Prlic said that Croatia’s former president Franjo Tudjman was in favour of an independent Bosnia.

Prlic is on trial at the Hague tribunal, charged alongside Slobodan Praljak, Bruno Stojic, Milivoj Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic with attempting to ethnically cleanse Bosniaks from the wartime Croatian mini-state of Herceg Bosna in Bosnia.

The indictment states that the accused – along with senior Croatians, including Tudjman and defence minister Gojko Susak, who are both now dead – took part in a “joint criminal enterprise” to seize parts of Bosnia by force and incorporate them into a “greater Croatian republic”.

This week, Zdravko Sanjcevic, the former Croatian ambassador to Bosnia, was presented with numerous extracts from books written by the president, as well as transcripts of meetings between him and representatives of Herceg Bosna, where Tudjman is quoted as saying he viewed Bosnia as a part of the Croatian “banovina” or province.

However, Sanjcevic said that he had several meetings with Tudjman where the president gave reasons why Bosnia’s independence was important.

“The first one was that the UN commission had stated that there would be no border changes after the break up of Eastern European countries,” said the witness.

“His second reason was that at that time Serb forces were in control of a part of Croatia and he was worried about setting a precedent of dividing parts of countries.

“Finally, Tudjman told me that if the Croatian parts of Bosnia were incorporated into Croatia, that would leave a Serb state just 100 kilometres from Zagreb, which he wouldn’t accept.”

Sanjcevic said he became the first Croatian ambassador to Bosnia in October 1992.

“I was told by President Tudjman that I had been given the role of ambassador because I was born in Bosnia and would have respect for the country as a whole,” he said.

However, he did not meet the then president of Bosnia Alija Izetbegovic till December of that year because Sarajevo was under siege by Serb forces at the time.

“Izetbegovic told me not to open my embassy in Sarajevo as the Serb forces ‘would destroy it the next day’. Those were his exact words, so I was forced to find a more peaceful base for the new embassy,” he said.

“Finally, I decided on [the western Bosnian town of] Medjugorje, because it was a peaceful area, the Croatian border was quite near and the main humanitarian aid route passed through the town, so it allowed me to have a lot of information.”

When asked about the war in Bosnia and clashes between the Bosnian army and the Croatian defence council, HVO, the witness denied that the two forces had ever been at war.

“Yes, there had been clashes between certain groups from both sides, but only between extremist groups. Most of the population and the military on both sides cooperated wonderfully throughout this period,” he said.

To support this, he recalled a visit he made to East Mostar in May 1993 as part of a Croatian-Turkish goodwill mission set up to promote better relations between Croatia and Bosnia.

Sanjcevic explained that although the mission was supposed to visit several parts of Bosnia, it was refused access to Bosnian territory by Arif Pasalic, the commander of the Bosnian Army 4th Corps.

According to the witness, he persuaded Pasalic to let the group visit East Mostar. However, the mission was warned not to stay long as Pasalic was about to attack the city.

“Pasalic said he had been given orders to take the entire Hercegovina region and large parts of the Croatian coast by force. This would have allowed mujahideen Muslim extremist fighters and military aid from extremist Islamic countries to come to Bosnia. Naturally, I reported this conversation to the Croatian authorities and the attack failed,” said Sanjcevic.

Sanjcevic stressed that this was only “one, extremist view”, and added that most of the Bosnian authorities at that time backed the Vance-Owen peace plan.

The plan, designed by UN special envoy Cyrus Vance and European Community representative Lord David Owen, which involved the division of Bosnia into 10 semi-autonomous regions, ultimately failed because it did not have Serb backing.

The witness also said that Prlic had a “brilliant mind” and “always worked hard for the interests of Bosnia”.

The trial will continue next week with another witness for Prlic’s defence.

Denis Dzidic is an IWPR-trained reporter in The Hague.

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