News 20 Mar 17

Bosnian Croat Wartime Leader Denies Criminal Enterprise

Jadranko Prlic, the former premier of the unrecognised wartime Herzeg-Bosna statelet, appealed against his war crimes conviction, denying involvement in a joint criminal enterprise with Croatian officials.

Radosa Milutinovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Jadranko Prlic in court in The Hague on Monday.

Jadranko Prlic on Monday began the first in a series of six appeals by wartime Bosnian Croat political and military leaders seeking to overturn guilty verdicts at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, ICTY in The Hague.

Prlic told the ICTY that he was not responsible for crimes against Bosniaks during the Bosnian war and that the self-proclaimed Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosna wartime statelet was not the result of a joint criminal enterprise.

In the first instance verdict in March 2013, former Herzeg-Bosna prime minister Prlic was sentenced to 25 years in prison for crimes against the Bosniak population, including expulsions, murders, unlawful detentions, inhumane treatment and destruction of property.

But he told the court that Herzeg-Bosna was intended to be “the foundation for the future development of Bosnia and Herzegovina, not for its destruction”.

He also said that contrary to the verdict, which said there was organised deportation of Bosniaks from Herzeg-Bosna, a significant number of Bosniaks remained on its territory.

He also said that many Bosniaks were members of the Croatian Defence Council, the main Bosnian Croat-led force at the time, which Prlic called “the only multi-ethnic army in the former Yugoslavia”.

He insisted however that he did not give orders to Croatian Defence Council forces, claiming he had never been in “the chain of command”.

The 2013 verdict said the crimes were committed as part of a joint criminal enterprise led by Croatian President Franjo Tudjman.

According to the verdict, the enterprise was aimed at establishing “a Croat entity, whose borders would partially follow the borders of the Banate of Croatia from 1939” through the forcible deportations of Bosniaks.

The verdict said that the aim of the establishment of Herzeg-Bosna was to “reunite the Croat people”.

The joint criminal enterprise intended for it to “either be united with Croatia in case of the disintegration of Bosnia and Herzegovina”, or remain within Bosnia and Herzegovina, “retaining close ties with Croatia”.

But Prlic insisted that contrary to the allegations in the verdict, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman “supported the independence of [Bosnia and Herzegovina]” and was “against the change of borders”.

“He refused the annexation of Herzegovina, which was offered to him by [Bosniak wartime political leader] Alija Izetbegovic,” he said.

Prlic’s is the first of six appeals by former senior Herzeg-Bosna officials.

They were all of convicted in May 2013 of crimes against humanity, violations of the laws or customs of war, and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions committed between 1992 and 1994.

Jadranko Prlic, Bruno Stojic, Slobodan Praljak, Milivoje Petkovic, Valentin Coric and Berislav Pusic all held senior political or military roles from 1992 to 1994.

Stojic was the Herzeg-Bosna defence minister, Praljak was the chief of the Main Headquarters of the Croatian Defence Council, Petkovic was the deputy commander of the Croatian Defence Council, Coric was former commander of the Croatian Defence Council military police, while Pusic was the president of Herzeg-Bosna's prisoner exchange commission.

Under the first-instance verdict, Prlic was jailed for 25 years, Stojic, Praljak and Petkovic for 20 years each, Coric for 16 years and Pusic for ten years.

The defence appeals hearings will continue until March 27.

The prosecution will then lay out its appeal on March 28, hoping to persuade judges to almost double the men’s sentences.

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