Croat Leader “Wanted Bosnian Independence”

Former Bosnian Croat leader accused of ethnic cleansing claims he supported an independent, integral Bosnia.

By Goran Jungvirth in The Hague (TU No 550, 9-May-08)
The ex-prime minister of the wartime Bosnian Croat mini-state Herceg Bosna testified in his own defence this week, telling judges that he always favoured an independent Bosnian state.
Giving evidence before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Jadranko Prlic sought to distance himself from the actions of the Bosnian Croatmilitary and police.

Prlic and five other Bosnian Croats are accused of taking part in a “joint criminal enterprise” aimed at expelling Bosniaks from parts of the country during the Croatian-Muslim conflict in 1993-94.
The prosecution argues that the defendants conspired to ethnically cleanse Muslim Bosniaks and other non-Croats from those parts of Bosnia that were claimed as Herceg Bosna in 1991, and that they planned incorporate this region into a “Greater Croatia”.

This week, Prlic supported his claim that he always advocated an independent Bosnia by presenting a recording of an interview with Sarajevo TV in 1992, in which he said that “in order to survive, Bosnia should be equally close to and equally distant from both Croatia and Serbia”.

He insisted that Herceg Bosna was created not to secede from Bosnia, but simply to help the territory function effectively during the war with Serb forces, he said.
According to the indictment, the Herceg Bosna authorities “established, supported and operated a system of ill-treatment, involving a network of prisons, concentration camps and other detention facilities… to arrest, detain and imprison thousands of Bosnian Muslims”.

Prlic, who did not take an oath before speaking, described how the late president of Herceg Bosna, Mate Boban, promised him that as prime minister, he would “have nothing to do with either the police or the military”.
The accused also said he did everything in his power to close the detention centres in which Bosniaks were held.

“During one of the meetings I attended… I asked for the dissolution of all detention centres – or else I’d leave the government and resign from all my duties,” he said.
Prlic tried to distance himself from his co-defendants, saying he met them only occasionally and did not command them or coordinate with them.

“My role… it was clearly shown, did not include military affairs,” he said.

Apart from Prlic, the others standing trial are the Bosnian Croat entity’s then defence minister Bruno Stojic, military police chief Valentin Coric, General Slobodan Praljak, General Milivoj Petkovic, and the head of the commission for prisoner exchanges, Berislav Pusic.
The former prime minister said his decision to quit the Croatian Democratic Union party, HDZ, in 2000 was the reason why he was now facing charges.

“[My departure] received strong media coverage. A series of articles, obviously commissioned, denounced me and pronounced me guilty of everything that happened during the war, including alleged war crimes,” said Prlic.
The first witness called by Prlic, Croatian diplomat Miomir Zuzul, proceeded to counter prosecution claims that the late president of Croatia, Franjo Tudjman, who exercised authority over the senior Bosnian Croats, wanted to annex parts of Bosnia to Croatia.

He also suggested that the Bosnian leadership was prepared to cut territorial deals.

Zuzul alleged that two days after signing a confederation agreement with Croatia in September 1993, the late Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic signed a similar document with Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic – and failed to inform Croatia of this.
This agreement, he said, envisaged the creation of a Serb republic within Bosnia Hercegovina, BH, with the possibility that the entity could break away after two years.

Prlic’s defence counsel Michael Karnavas asked, “Was [the agreement] about the customisation [division] of BH?”

“Yes, that opened up the possibility of customising BH,” replied Zuzul.

The witness also said that in spring 1993, Izetbegovic privately suggested to Tudjman that Croatia should annex western Hercegovina. This happened, Zuzul said, during a break in peace talks in Geneva.
Tudjman approached Izetbegovic who, according to Zuzul, said, “Western Hercegovina should be carved out of BH and then annexed to Croatia.”

The Croatian president rejected this proposal, the witness said, because he believed it would not solve the crisis in Bosnia or improve the position of Croats living there.

Zuzul said Tudjman did not want Bosnia Hercegovina to be divided up and wanted it to be a sovereign state. Tudjman was primarily interested in protecting Croatia’s borders, looking after the rights of the Bosnian Croats, and stopping the war, the witness said.

Zuzul will be cross-examined by the prosecution before the summer break on July 18.

The trial continues next week.

Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR-trained reporter in The Hague.
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