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Mihaljevic: The Memory of Crime

3. October 2007.00:00
In 1993, civilians were massacred in the village of Tulice near Kiseljak. The Prosecution charges Zdravko Mihaljevic, also known as Pijuk, with this crime.

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By: Merima Husejnovic

On 1 October, the Prosecution of BiH completed its evidence presentation process against Zdravko “Pijuk” Mihaljevic (1964), whom it considers responsible for the crimes committed in Tulice village in Kiseljak municipality.

The Prosecution evidence presentation process has lasted for five months. In this period, Prosecutor Slavica Terzic has examined 12 witnesses, some of whom identified the indictee in the courtroom and accused him of the murder of their neighbours and family members.

The first part of the trial was marked by the Defence’s alleged attempts to put pressure on the witnesses.

One witness claimed that the Defence had tried to bribe two women in Tulice. In addition, the Prosecution alleged, on the basis of a report made by the State Investigation and Protection Agency, that one witness was directly pressured. This led to postponement of the witness’ appearance before the Court.

We have been informed by the PR office of the Prosecution of BiH that an investigation concerning “the influence on witness A” has been opened “against several persons for grounded suspicion that they committed the criminal offence of revealing the identity of a protected witness” and “the criminal offence of interfering with the work of judicial institutions”. The Prosecution has also informed us “the investigation is underway”.

Testimony of protected witness had to be postponed because he had received, as alleged by the Prosecution, an upsetting anonymous phone call on the eve of his appearance before the Court.

The Prosecution claimed that the witnesses had been “contacted by an unknown person who had offered a certain amount of money” in turn for a false testimony.

The Prosecution tried to prove, through the witnesses’ statements and presented documents, which Mihaljevic had participated, as commander of “Maturice” special purposes squad of the Croatian Defence Council (HVO), in the attack on the village of Tulice conducted on 12 June 1993.

The witnesses and the indictment filed by the Prosecution allege that, on 12 June 1993, Mihaljevic led a group of soldiers, including Vlatko Trogrlic, Anto Cvijanovic, Stjepan Laco, Prajo Tibor, Ljubo Medic and Nikica Medic in Tulice. All village residents were captured. The men were separated from the women. Eight of the men were then shot dead in the village.

Witnesses confirmed the allegations contained in the indictment that Refik Huseinovic, Mufid Tulic, Safet Kadric, Ahmed Bajraktarevic, Zijad Huseinovic, Aziz Huseinovic, Kasim Huseinovic and Salko Bajraktarevic.

The remaining men were then taken to the detention centre located in the barracks in Kiseljak. Some have been missing since then. The witnesses have also confirmed the allegations that one prisoner was killed on the way from Tulice to Kiseljak. This crime is also charged upon Mihaljevic.

The village was pillaged and set on fire.

The indictment alleges that this case was marked, in The Hague and in Sarajevo, as a “highly sensitive” case, which means, “there is enough evidence to prove that Zdravko Mihaljevic committed severe violations of the international humanitarian law”.

Witness Elvir Huseinovic, who was 16 years old in 1993, claimed to have seen when “the army with HVO marks” entered Tulice and gathered all residents “in front of one neighbour’s house”.

“There were 40 of us and the soldiers guarded us. They said we should wait for the ‘Chief’, who would let us go home,” the witness has said adding that, a minute later, the “Chief”, with a “sock pulled over his face”, arrived and killed Salko Bajraktarevic.

Huseinovic was not able to recognise Mihaljević and identify him as the person whom the other soldiers called “Chief”. He did, however, remember that the person had been of the same height as him at the age
of 16 and that he had been skinny.

Huseinovic was taken to Kiseljak together with a group of captured men.

Avdija Bajraktarevic claims to have been taken to be executed near the local cemetery. While standing in a line together with 38 other people, he claims to have seen, among the soldiers, “a man wearing a cap over his face, whom the others called Pijuk”.

“They were all shooting, but Pijuk killed most people. His gun always hits the target,” Bajraktarevic said pointing at the indictee.

“This is Pijuk,” he said, adding that he once saw him in Kiseljak without a mask covering his face.

In the course of his testimony, Bajraktarevic accused Defence attorney Dusko Tomic of having “brought presents to Fejza Huseinovic and Fikreta Bajraktarevic” from Tulice. The attorney did not deny the allegations, but he said that the two women were not witnesses at that trial.

Muzafer Huseinovic from Tulice said that, on 12 June 1993, while he was performing some works in the field, he saw soldiers approaching the village and shooting.

“I burrowed for some time, and then I moved towards my house. As I was approaching the house, I saw a few armed soldiers wearing camouflage uniforms, taking my father away,” Huseinovic has said adding that he was captured a short after.

Huseinovic has said that he was taken away and detained in the barracks in Kiseljak together with 28 village residents.

“As we were driving towards the barracks, Ibrahim Jahic threw a small package out of the truck. Most probably it contained money or documents. They stopped the truck and took Jahic away. I never saw him
again,” the witness has said.

Zilha Huseinovic confirmed that HVO soldiers had taken her husband away. She also added that she identified his remains after the war.

In the course of the evidence presentation process, Mihaljevic went on hunger strike on two occasions. He did that jointly with other indictees tried before the War Crimes Chamber who asked for the application of the Criminal Code of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) instead of the Criminal Code of BiH, which prescribes more severe punishments. Both times, his attorney claimed that Mihaljevic’s health was endangered due to the hunger strike.

The Defence’s evidence presentation process was postponed because Mihaljevic allegedly felt so ill that he could not appear in the courtroom, but he refused to receive medical treatment. Tomic asked the Trial Chamber to order the hospitalisation of his client and added that he would not attend hearings without the indictee. He also announced he would file a motion for his client to be released from custody.

In its introductory remarks, presented at the beginning of the trial, the Defence announced that it would try to prove that Mihaljevic “did not come to Tulice village” on 12 June and that the village residents were not shot dead but “died in a different way”.

Mihaljevic surrendered voluntarily on 3 August 2006. He is the first person that the Court of BiH has indicted for crimes committed in Kiseljak area. The indictment against him was confirmed on 2 February 2007. Ten days later, Mihaljevic denied the allegations contained in it.

Merima Husejnovic is Justice Report journalist. [email protected] Justice Report is BIRN internet publication.

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This post is also available in: Bosnian