Tuta and Stela sentence confirmed

4. May 2006.21:38
Two Bosnian Croat officers, Mladen Naletilic Tuta and Vinko Martinovic Stela, have had their sentences confirmed by the Hague tribunal on appeal.

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The appeals chamber of the Hague tribunal confirmed the first instance judgment against two former Bosnian Croat officers Mladen Naletilic Tuta and Vinko Martinovic Stela on Wednesday.

This means that Naletelic and Stela will serve 20 and 18 years in prison respectively for crimes committed in the area of Mostar.

The defence requested that Naletilic’s sentence be commuted to eight year and that Martinovic be acquitted.

The two were convicted for their role in the ethnic cleansing of Bosniak civilians in the municipality Mostar between April 1993 and January 1994.

The appeals chamber confirmed that they were guilty of expelling, killing, illegal detainment and forced labour.

During that period, Naletilic was the commander of the Kaznjenicka unit, a group within the Croat Defence Council, HVO, while Martinovic was the commander of a battalion known as “Mrmak”, and later renamed as “Vinko Skrobo”.

Presiding judge Fausto Pocar said that although the appeal chamber accepted a small number of defence appeals, these did not influence the sentence given in the first instance judgment.

The panel confirmed once again the initial findings of the trial chamber that Croatia was involved in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and that the war in the country was an international dispute.

Reactions to the appeal chamber’s findings were divided along ethnic lines.

The former mayor of Mostar, a Bosniak who is the president of a non-governmental organization Centre for peace, Safet Orucevic, told Justice Report that he was satisfied with the decision.

“These are objective punishments which the tribunal has given. In any case there is a satisfaction in this for the victims. Now we are expecting a fair judgment for their commanders,” Orucevic said.

However, a former ally of Naletilic and Martinovic did not agree. Miro Grabovac Titan, an ex- HVO general, said that wrong people were punished.

“The indictment is motivated by politics. I don’t approve of any crime, but justice is not satisfied if the right people are not punished. I don’t know who is responsible, but I know that Tuta isn’t,” Grabovac said.

Andjelko Barun, president of the Association of Croat Invalids of the Civil War, HVIDR, is of a similar opinion. He believes that Naletilic and Martinovic do not deserve such a long prison sentence.

“Honestly, I am disappointed because the Hague tribunal is judging Croats in one manner, Bosniaks in another and Serbs in [another]. It is also obvious that the Hague has different objectives for all, and not to judge for war crimes. Tuta and Stela did not deserve to get a higher sentence than Biljana Plavsic,” Barun concluded.

The trial of the Naletilic and Martinovic started on September 10, 2001 and ended a year later. The first instance judgment was pronounced in March 2003 and confirmed on Thursday.

Prior to the beginning of the war, Naletilic, 60, lived outside of Bosnia and Herzegovina, mainly in Germany. After the fall of Yugoslavia he returned to the Herzegovinian town of Siroki Brijeg where he founded the Kaznjenicka unit, which, at the beginning of the conflict, fought against Serb forces in Mostar. According to witnesses of the defence, members of this unit were persons who were politically persecuted during the communist rule.

Before the war, Martinovic, 43, was a trader and a taxi driver in Mostar. In 1992, he joined the Croat Defence Forces, HOS, where he became a commander. Later he transferred into Kaznjenicka unit.

The Kaznjenicka unit acted at the time of the so-called Croat community of Herceg-Bosna, HZ HB, which pronounced its existence on November 18, 1991, claiming that it is a separate “political, cultural, economic and territorial unit” in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Its purpose, among other things, was to foster closer relationship with Croatia. Croatian currency and language were adopted as official in HZ HB while its citizens were granted Croatian citizenship.

On September 14, 1992, the Constitutional court of Bosnia and Herzegovina pronounced the HZ HB illegal. It was never recognized as a separate unit within Bosnia and Herzegovina by the international community neither.

By October 1992, HVO attacked Bosniaks in the municipality of Prozor which triggered off an armed dispute with the Army of BiH that lasted until February 1994.

The Kazenjenicka unit participated in numerous combat actions throughout Herzegovina in this period. From May 1993, members of the unit participated in attacks on the town Mostar and in the siege of the part of town controlled by the Army of BiH. Naletilic and Martinovic were, according to the indictment, among leading executors of that campaign.

“Mladen Naletilic … meet almost daily with those who were his direct subordinates and with lower ranked commanders of Kaznjenicka unit, often communicating with common soldiers, visiting various bases of the unit and acting as a commander on the front line for certain actions,” the indictment states.

During the attack of Mostar, Martinovic commanded the units on the front line on Bulevar, part of the town that was turned in the first front line.

The two were also accused of transferring Bosniaks to HVO detainment camps, where they were beaten and tortured. One of the detainment camps was Heliodrom near Mostar, which was the main detainment centre in that area.

Beside the fact that the camp inmates were abused by members of the Kaznjenicka unit, Naletilic and Martinovic also tortured Bosniaks in Heliodrom, the indictment read.

“Mladen Naletilic and Vinko Martinovic tortured the detained Bosniaks on numerous occasions, ordered their subordinates to torture them and encouraged by example to torture,” the indictment states.

Safet Orucevic is of the opinion that the judgment and facts determined during the trial represent a significant step for the future of BiH.

“In any case, court procedures and judgments for the creators of a para-state on the territory of BiH are good for the peace between Croats and Bosniaks, in both Mostar and entire BiH. Justice is slow, but it always arrives,” Orucevic told Justice Report.

This post is also available in: Bosnian