Murders and former fellow soldiers

8. March 2013.00:00
After two and a half years, the Prosecutor's Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina has completed the evidentiary hearing in the trial of six former members of the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ABiH, who are charged with war crimes committed in Trusina near Konjic.

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The attack on the Trusina village near Konjic took place on 16 April 1993 in which Croats were killed in their homes and in the street. The first trial for war crimes committed in that village almost 17 and a half years ago has been heard before the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The BiH Prosecution indicted Mensur Memic, Dzevad Salcin, Senad Hakalovic, Nedzad Hodzic, Nihad Bojadzic and Zulfikar Alispago.

The surviving victims testified that upon the arrival of soldiers to the village, which was inhabited by Croats and Bosniaks, the mistreatment of women and children began, along with fierce shooting and the killing of men. According to the indictment, a total of eighteen civilians and four soldiers of the Croat Defence Council, HVO, were killed.

Memic, Salcin and Hodzic were the members of the “Zulfikar” Detachment of the ABiH, commanded by Alispago, with Bojadzic as his deputy. Hakalovic was the member of the “Neretvica” Brigade of the ABiH.

Ramiz Beciri, a former member of the “Zulfikar” Detachment testified that together with approximately 40 of his fellow soldiers he had arrived to a school in the Parsovici village near Trusina where the “Neretvica” Brigade command was located.

“Nihad Bojadzic lined us up and informed us that the attack operation on the Trusina village would start the following morning. We left at around five o’clock in the morning,” Beciri stated, adding that they had guides from the “Neretvica” Brigade.

This witness stated that he was granted immunity from criminal prosecution, which prosecutor Vesna Budimir denied. The Defence teams decided not to hear the witness because “the Prosecution learned that he was not telling the truth.”

Before the end of the operation, two members of the “Zulfikar” Detachment were shot at the village crossing, one of whom subsequently died. Following that, a group of soldiers left for Gaj hamlet where Croats resided. Outside a house, there were civilians, HVO soldiers who had surrendered, as well as ABiH members.

After women and children had been moved behind the house, according to the indictment, six men – three civilians and three soldiers – lined up against the house wall were shot to death.

A surprise witness

More than one member of the “Zulfikar” Detachment who took part in the attack on the village testified in favor of the Prosecution. A few witnesses stated that it was Memic and Hodzic who shot at the lined up soldiers.

One of the most significant witnesses for the Prosecution suddenly became Rasema Handanovic – also known as Zolja – a member of the “Zulfikar” Detachment. In late 2011 she was extradited to Bosnia and Herzegovina from the United States and a few months later she entered into a plea agreement with the Prosecution, which also included her testimony against other indictees.

According to her, the soldiers entered the village from a nearby hill where she heard Bojadzic say that “not even a chicken should be left alive“.

Testifying about the events that took place in the village, she retold the conversation Hodzic and Bojadzic had via a Motorola hand-held radio. She claims that when asked by Hodzic what he should do with the captives, Bojadzic replied that none would be spared.

“Nedzad said we should go to the firing squad and shoot. We all did. It all happened in less than a minute,” she stated, and when asked whom she had seen firing at the captives, she named some of her former fellow soldiers, including Hodzic and Memic.

The Defence teams for the accused challenged the credibility of Rasema Handanovic. Defence counsel Vasvija Vidovic started posing questions as to indicate the criminal responsibility of the witness in Trusina, but the Court Panel interdicted it. Vidovic subsequently quit the further examination of the witness.

The Defence for Bojadzic filed a criminal report with the BiH Prosecutor’s Office against Handanovic wherein they stated that she had also committed other murders which were not included in the plea agreement. Enclosed with the criminal report were the witness statements. The Court of BiH, having accepted the guilty plea, sentenced Handanovic to five and a half years in prison.

Some of the eyewitnesses, including Handanovic, state that Hodzic said that the people should be killed.

“These people should be executed, Samko most probably died,” protected witness R stated, noting that he paraphrased what Hodzic had said.

Samko, a former “Zulfikar” member was wounded before the shooting, but he soon died.

According to the indictment, Bojadzic ordered the soldiers to attack Trusina and “allegedly he ordered that nobody in the village should remain alive.” He also commanded the attack from a nearby hill using a radio connection. Hodzic was accused that within this order he also ordered the execution in which Memic participated.

Protected witness O stated that he witnessed the shooting but could not recall who said that the captives should be killed, and therefore he could not confirm whether Hodzic was shooting. He stated that he did not notice Memic in Trusina, which several other witnesses reiterated.

The witnesses gave different accounts of Bojadzic’s role in the attack on Trusina. Some of them stated that they had seen him immediately before and after the attack he commanded, while some of them had not seen him at all. Protected witness C stated that he had not heard the order that “all living souls” in the village should be killed, nor had he seen Bojadzic.

“The sons” of Zaim Hakalovic

According to the indictment, Hakalovic told Ivan Drljo (also known as Crni), whom he had known since childhood, that he should go to the village accompanied by two unknown soldiers and invite some locals. After they arrived at Gaj hamlet they were executed.

During the trial, a question was raised as to which of Zaim Hakalovic’s sons was seen in Trusina – in the courtroom some witnesses pointed at the accused Senad, whereas other mentioned his brother.

Witness Milka Drljo stated that “Zaim’s son”, whom she described as fair-haired, a little chubby, mid-height, approached her son Ivan and told him to go and get Zdravko and Zeljko.

In the courtroom, the witness pointed at the accused as “Zaim’s son”. Defence counsel Kadrija Kolic showed the witness a photo of the accused from 1995, stating that it seemed to him that Senad looks “chubbier“ and strikingly fair-haired. The witness responded that in Trusina to her he seemed “more blond and chubbier.”

Witness Cecilija Simunovic stated that she had noticed Sead, whereas she had not seen Senad, whom she knows well. This was reiterated by witness Enes Gagul, the former member of the “Neretvica” Brigade.

Dzevad Salcin (also known as Struja) was accused of participating in the lining up of about 14 civilians and three soldiers at a gunpoint next to a house in Gaj, using abusive language and taking their money, gold and other valuables.

Witness Bosiljka Kreso stated that the soldiers had taken them to a nearby house, and forced them to surrender the money and jewelry. “I heard somebody ordering: ‘Struja, pick that up. “I saw that young man; he was black-haired, with a beard, and curly hair, and he collected all our money,” the witness clarified.

Mara Drljo also remembered seeing in Trusina a soldier nicknamed “Struja”. She agreed with the accused Salcin that one of the soldiers took Dragan, who was 13 years old at the time when the crime was committed, out of the line-up. According to the witness, the soldier took them inside the house when the rain started, gave them a lighter, lit a fire for them, and displayed fair behaviour.

Having examined the witness, the accused said: “I am Struja, believe me, I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Alispago (Zuka) is charged with “not taking the necessary and reasonable measures” to punish subordinate soldiers who committed the crime. According to the indictment, the “Zulfikar” Detachment was attached to the ABiH Supreme Command Staff.

Expert witness Nehru Ganic stated that the documents indicated that Alispago was not present in Trusina at the time of the attack. Ganic explained that the duty of a commander is to investigate the crime for the purpose of punishment and if that is not possible then the commander should inform his superiors.

Towards the end of the evidentiary hearing for the Prosecution, a recording was played of an intercepted conversation between Alispago and Sefer Halilovic, the former chief of staff of the Supreme Command. It could be heard on the recording as Halilovic was saying to Alispago that Trusina village had been burned down and that the people had been slaughtered. Alispago replied that the soldiers who had engaged in fighting, not civilians, had been killed.

In the course of the trial, members of the Detachment stated that Alispago would often tell them that civilians must neither be abused nor killed. Protected witness X, a former member of the “Zulfikar” Detachment, said that Alispago had asked him questions in relation to Trusina but that he was afraid to tell him anything.

More than 70 witnesses testified for the Prosecution, and the prosecutor tendered around 350 pieces of material evidence into the file. Some of the witnesses were granted protective measures, which included closed hearings in relation to some parts of the testimony.

Hearing evidence of the Defence for the first-accused Memic will commence on 18 March when the accused is scheduled to testify in his favour.

Amer Jahić

This post is also available in: Bosnian