Feature 12 May 17

Bosnian Wartime Aid Convoy Attackers Evade Justice

Twenty-four years have passed without any prosecutions for the ambush of the ‘Tuzla Convoy of Salvation’, when seven Bosniak truck drivers and several passengers were killed by Croat forces.

Admir Muslimovic BIRN Sarajevo
The convoy was filmed in a BBC News report.

On June 4, 1993, a long column of trucks and other vehicles dubbed the ‘Tuzla Convoy of Salvation’, which was taking aid supplies to Bosniaks through central Bosnia to the town of Tuzla, was halted by women and children who had blocked the road.

After the convoy was halted in the village of Rankovici in the municipality of Novi Travnik, the women began breaking the windows of the vehicles with clubs, according to reports from the time.

This was the cue for a mass robbery to start, and the murders of several of the Bosniak truck drivers by Croatian Defence Council fighters.

The Bosnian prosecution has confirmed that there is a legal case related to the attack, but not whether an investigation has actually been opened or not.

The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Foundation, a rights NGO, says that it is shameful that no one has yet been prosecuted that the attack on the convoy as it was videotaped by both the BBC and Croatian Radio-Television, HRT.

A lucrative ambush

Seven drivers were killed in the convoy attack - Fikret Hadzibeganovic, Fikret Ademovic, Mustafa Karic, Hamdija Mutisevic, Hasan Gusic, Hazim Grahic and Adil Akeljic. The fate of another, Salko Memic, is still unknown. Three more people are still missing.

Reports suggest that Croatian Defence Council, HVO fighters pillaged 142 trucks, 20 cars, nine minivans, two ambulance vehicles in the huge convoy.

They stole equipment and medicinal products, consumer goods worth 8.7 million euros and around 500 tons of other goods whose value has not been estimated, as well as around 670,000 euros in cash.

Nurdin Durmanovic. Photo: BIRN.

One of the convoy’s participants, Nurdin Durmanovic, said they were returning from Germany, where they had held concerts, and planned to give the money they had earned to their families in Tuzla.

“After the convoy was stopped, the pillaging and mistreatment of passengers began, particularly of us, the Muslim. They dragged me out of my car, knocked me down and began beating me. They broke three of my ribs and stole my car and money,” Durmanovic said.

Jasminko Hozic, another convoy passenger, said the convoy was slowed down by a funeral procession, which he believes was not on the road by chance.

“Considering that the funeral procession participants began smashing automobiles and stealing money immediately after the convoy had been stopped and shelled, you know it did not happen accidentally,” Hozic claimed.

Following the robbery, the convoy moved on, but it was then attacked by the HVO as it entered Vitez, and the vehicles were stolen.

Jasminko Hozic. Photo: BIRN.

Hozic claimed that the people in the convoy had to unload the goods from the trucks while being mistreated and threatened by HVO fighters.

“The attack lasted several hours. Some of the passengers got killed by artillery that opened fire at us from the surrounding hills, while some, as I heard later, were killed with firearms,” he said.

At the time, London newspaper The Independent quoted Major James Miles, a spokesman for British UN forces in Vitez, as saying that the HVO was retaliating for a Bosnian Army offensive in central Bosnia which displaced thousands of Croats.

“After they have been chased from their villages, murdered, plundered, they have obviously got something together and they are turning now to fight back against their neighbours,” the British officer said.

UN troops fired warning shots but were unable to stop the violence.

A press cutting from a German newspaper report about the attack.

Bosnian prosecutor blamed

The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Foundation holds former Bosnian chief state prosecutor Marinko Jurcevic partially responsible for the fact the attack on the convoy has not been investigated.

According to the NGO, Jurcevic was a military prosecutor when the attack happened and the “fourth top official in the HVO hierarchy at that time”.

“We, the members of the foundation, claim with full responsibility that Jurcevic is the man who knows everything about this crime,” said Sinan Alic, the president of the foundation.

But Jurcevic, who now works as a notary public, says he was not the HVO military prosecutor at that time.

He insisted that while he was working as the chief state prosecutor from 2003 to 2008, he requested that a comprehensive strategy for investigating war crimes be prepared.

“Prior to my departure from the Bosnian state prosecution, the preparation of a strategy for investigating war crimes was underway, but unfortunately, as far as I know, a comprehensive strategy whose preparation I advocated has still not been drafted. You should investigate and publicise the reasons for which this has not happened,” Jurcevic said.

Jurcevic went on to explain that the situation in the central Bosnia area was totally chaotic in June 1993.

Courts and prosecutor’s offices were not functioning during the conflict between Croatian Defence Council forces and the Bosniak-led Bosnian Army in June 1993.

Alic explained that the case went from the prosecution in the town of Zenica to the state prosecution, where it “remained in a drawer” for three years.

“The most recent information we have got indicates that it eventually ended up with the prosecution of the Central Bosnia Canton in Travnik,” he said.

The Central Bosnia prosecution said that it not have an ongoing case associated with the attack on the convoy, however.

“Pursuant to the State War Crimes Processing Strategy and the criteria set by the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina for the referral of cases, complex cases covering a number of victims, such is this specific case, fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Bosnian state prosecution,” said Ernesa Beganovic, an expert associate at the Central Bosnia prosecution.

State prosecution spokesperson Boris Grubesic said that the case exists and is being worked on.

Durmanovic and Hozic, who survived the attack on the ‘Tuzla Convoy of Salvation’, told BIRN however that nobody has ever asked for their statements for the past 24 years.

“Apart from journalists, who occasionally call us on the eve of anniversaries, nobody, neither police nor prosecutor’s offices, has ever called me, or to the best of my knowledge, any other convoy participants, to ask us what happened on that day,” Durmanovic said.

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