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Alleged War Criminal Says He Couldn’t Stop Massacre

Wed., Aug. 20, 1997

Video images of children’s bodies blown apart on a basketball court were shown Tuesday to the U.N. war crimes tribunal by lawyers defending a Bosnian Croat general charged with crimes against humanity.

Attorneys for Gen. Tihomir Blaskic apparently will argue that the 1993 massacre of Bosnian Croat children in the central Bosnian town of Vitez sparked retaliation by Croats against Muslims that Blaskic could do nothing to prevent.

Without emotion, Blaskic and three judges watched flickering footage of the eight children who were blown apart by a mortar shell while playing basketball. The shell allegedly was fired by Muslim forces.

Blaskic, the highest-ranking suspect to go on trial at the U.N. court, is charged with commanding Bosnian Croat troops who went on a rampage of killing and destruction in 1993 to drive Muslims out of Bosnia’s Lasva Valley. He faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if convicted.

Defense lawyers are expected to claim that Blaskic was powerless to stop any of the Croats’ attacks against Muslim civilians, even if he was a commander.

His Croatian attorney, Anto Nobilo, also appeared to lay groundwork for a rebuttal of testimony by prosecution witness Sefkija Djidic, who commanded Muslims in Vitez while they were under siege by Blaskic’s troops in 1993.

Djidic denied ordering the mortar attack and said the Muslim’s single mortar did not use the caliber of shell which tore apart the eight young children.

He said he received orders not to attack Bosnian Croat forces “in the interest of good neighborly relations,” adding that Croats and Muslims should have fought together against “the joint enemy … the Serbs.”

Djidic, a Muslim police chief in Vitez, is the first witness to testify in Blaskic’s trial.

Nobilo, who said the video images came from local television, said he would provide a more detailed analysis of the video and its contents when the defense presents its case.

Although the tribunal has publicly indicted 77 suspects and has a secret list of additional suspects, just 10 are in custody in The Hague. Its most-wanted suspects - former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his wartime general, Ratko Mladic - remain free.


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