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The Continuation of the Muslim Offensive (July-August 1993)

Even as the Muslim-Croat battles raged around Travnik and Novi Travnik, the ABiH intensified its efforts to sweep up the smaller and weaker HVO positions on the periphery of the Operative Zone Central Bosnia area of operations. On June 14, the ABiH overran HVO forces in the Kakanj area, and the survivors of the Kotromanic Brigade as well as some thirteen thousand to fifteen thousand Croat civilian refugees filtered southward to the Kiseljak area or north to Vares.1 The HVO outposts south of Novi Travnik fell in late June and early July: Ravno Rostovo on June 24 and Rat and Sebesic in July. Between July 19 and 23, the ABiH attacked the HVO forces in and around Bugojno, seized control of the town, and killed or captured most of the fifteen-hundred-man HVO Eugen Kvaternik Brigade, which was defending the town. The prisoners fiom the Kvaternik Brigade, as well as the Croat civilians in the Bugojno area were subjected to horrible mistreatment at the hands of the victorious ABiH troops.


Continuation of the ABiH Offensive in the Vitez-Busovaca Area

Although the major ABiH assault was launched in April, the struggle for the key Vitez-Busovaca area continued with varying degrees of intensity right up to the signing of the Washington agreements in March, 1994. The fighting was nearly continuous and was marked by large ABiH attacks almost every month. Sniping and artillery/mortar exchanges were routine, and the Croat enclave within the Lasva Valley continued to be the locus of heavy fighting. Although the HVO was able to prevent a major ABiH victory, the cumulative effect of casualties, the exhaustion of HVO personnel, the consumption of supplies and equipment without replacement, and the gradual loss of ground significantly reduced the HVO's capacity to resist as time went on.

In May, 1993, the ABiH succeeded in taking the Gradina heights between the villages of Loncari and Putis, and most of the critical Kuber and Kula positions fell to the ABiH in June. In July, the 17th Krajina Mountain Brigade launched yet another unsuccessful attack on Vitez. At a press conference on August 3, HVO military and civilian authorities addressed the serious situation facing the Croat community in central Bosnia, noting the continuing Muslim propaganda campaign that accompanied the shelling of Croat population centers and assaults on HVO positions. In mid-August an ABiH mortar round landed in the center of Vitez, injuring two adults and seven children, four of them seriously.

Continuation of the ABiH Offensive in the Kiseljak Area

Kiseljak area was cut off from the Croat enclave in the Lasva Valley (including Travnik, Novi Travnik, Vitez, and Busovaca) in late January, 1993, when the ABiH seized Kacuni. Thereafter, ground communication between Vitez-Busovaca area and the Kiseljak area was very difficult, and HVO forces in the Kiseljak enclave operated almost independently. Until the summer of 1993, most of the Muslim-Croat fighting in the Kiseljak area occured in the north, particularly in the Gomionica area in April. After an abortive attempt to force open a line of communication at the eastern end of the enclave from Ran Ploca to Tarcin in the south, the ABiH started attacking HVO forces in the Kiseljak area from the south, driving toward Fojnica and Kresevo in the west and toward Ran Ploca in the east. Had ABiH offensives in the Kiseljak area succeeded, which they did in part, Muslims would have linked the II, III, and VII Corps to the north with the I, IV, and VI Corps to the south, saving about a hundred kilometers, over the Zenica-NoviTravnik-Gornji Vakuf route.

The village of Ran Ploca controlled the upper end of the potential route south via Tulica-Zabrde-Toplica to connect with the road from Kresevo to Tarcin. It also controlled the eastern terminus of the Busovaca-Kiseljak-Sarajevo road and the rear of the HVO positions facing the Serbs surrounding Sarajevo. In August, 1992, checkpoints were set up, and some incidents occurred in the area of Ran Ploca and the nearby village of Duhri. The HVO disarmed the Muslims in the Ran Ploca-Duhri area but later returned their weapons (on the orders of Colonel Blaskic) so they could defend themselves against the Serbs. The Muslims in Duhri again surrendered their weapons to the HVO on April 22-23, 1993, following the fighting around Gomionica, but the Muslims in Ran Ploca refused to do so. Fighting broke out at 10 A.M. on May 20, when the ABiH forces in the area tried to block the road. After a three-day battle, HVO forces succeeded in pushing the Muslims back to Koroska and Muresc toward Visoko. During the fighting around Ran Ploca, the ABiH attempted to send reinforcements from Visoko, but they arrived too late. Most of the ABiH troops fled at the end of e battle, leaving behind those Muslim civilians who had refused to leave (or were ordered not to by the ABiH) earlier. The HVO lost four men KIA and ten WIA during the fighting, which pitted one HVO company against out two hundred well-armed ABiH troops. It should be noted that the battle did not start until the Muslims rejected the HVO forces' demand that they surrender their weapons and thus avoid a fight. Ran Ploca was yet another instance in which the HVO purposefully left open an escape route for civilians.

Gomionica was the focal point of the Muslim-Croat fighting in the Kiseljak area in Januarv and April, 1993. From May 23-25, HVO forces finally managed to clean out the Gomionica pocket and relieve the threat to the key Fojnica intersection. The Muslims subsequently evacuated the entire salient and HVO forces pushed them back toward Visoko, stopping only at the Kiseljak Opcina boundary. Even so, the ABiH returned to the area on July 5 and, under cover of other offensive operations in the Kiseljak area, made three assaults (at 4 A.M., between 8-9 A.M., and at 5 P.M.). The attacks were unsuccessful, but HVO casualties were high: thirteen KlA and fifty WIA.

At the end of May and beginning of June, the conflict in the Kiseljak region shifted to the south. It continued to rage there until the Washington agreements were signed in March, 1994. The ABiH formed a line against the HVO in the vicinity of Toplica north of Tarcin manned by elements of the ABiH 9th Mountain Brigade supported by four tanks. The objective was to secure a north-south line of communication from Ran Ploca to Tarcin, west of the line against the BSA surrounding Sarajevo, and to cut the HVO off from the BSA. The village of Tulica (in the Kiseljak Opcina) subsequently became a focal point of the ABiH offensive from the south.

Tulica sits in a narrow corridor astride the potential ABiH route from Tarcin to Ran Ploca. On June 16, the ABiH attacked the Serbs surrounding Sarajevo from the west with some success, but the Serbs reinforced with tanks and pushed back, and the HVO moved into the former Muslim positions to the east of Tulica. By the early summer of 1993, Tulica had become a Muslim enclave immediately behind the HVO lines facing the BSA ringing Sarajevo, and for that reason constituted a significant military threat to the Croats, who were obliged to take the village in order to link their lines. In his testimony in the Blaskic case, Brigadier Ivica Zeko stated that the fighting in the lower Kiseljak area (around Tulica, for example) involved Muslims trying to cut the HVO off from doing business with the Serbs as well as trying to seize the important Kiseljak-Tarcin corridor. The HVO took Tulica on June 26 and subsequently repelled five major Muslim attacks on the position, losing twenty-five HVO soldiers KIA on the front by the time the Washington agreements were signed. It was a difficult position to defend, and the Muslims employed special operations forces (the "Black Swans" of the 17th Krajina Mountain Brigade) against the HVO position. Eight persons, apparently Muslims soldiers, appear to have been executed in Tulica after the HVO took the village. Their identity and the exact circumstances of their deaths are unknown. Two days after Tulica fell to the HVO, Muslims attacked the village of Bojakovic, killing three women, a fourteen-year-old girl, and a number of old people.

The Fall of Fojnica

Having been stymied in their attempt to force a passage through the Kiseljak area along the Tarcin-Toplica-Tulica-Ran Ploca axis, the ABiH refocused their attacks to the west toward Kresevo and Fojnica. The HVO forces defending in the Fojnica-Kresevo area included the Ban Josip Jelacic Brigade's 2d and 3d Battalions. The brigade, commanded by Ivica Rajic, had a total strength of about twenty-five hundred men. The brigade's 1st Battalion was responsible for the northern front toward Visoko. The 2d Battallion, commanded by Ivo Kulis, a former JNA infantry captain, held the eastern (Kresevo) sector of the southern front up to Crnice. The 3d Battalion, commanded by the newly assigned Branko Stanic, held the western and northern (Otigosce-Fojnica) sector up to the Busovaca-Kiseljak road with some seven hundred to 950 men.

The ABiH task force of six thousand to eight thousand men involved in the offensive on the Kiseljak enclave from the south included elements of both the III and VI Corps and was commanded by Dragan Andric, a VI Corps officer. As of August 21, 1993, the task force included the local Territorial Defense units and the 310th Mountain Brigade from the Fojnica area (normally assigned to OG Istok); elements of the 317th Mountain Brigade from Bugojno; the 17th Krajina Mountain Brigade, the 7th Muslim Motorized Brigade, and the 9th Mountain Brigade from Pazaric (VI Corps); and the 4th Motorized Brigade from Sarajevo (I Corps).

The fighting in the Fojnica area began on July 2, shortly after the visit of Gen. Philippe Morillon, the UN commander in Bosnia-Herzegovina, who promised to maintain the town as a peaceful oasis. Fojnica fell to the ABiH on July 10, and the Croats were chased out and went over the mountains to Visnica, where they occupied empty Muslim houses. In the-course of the Muslim attack on Fojnica, the ABiH burned part of the HVO war hospital as well as the Hotel Reumal, and the mental hospital was damaged by attacks and snipers from Muslim positions on Zvjezdice opposite the Drin and the Mal Ploca Heights opposite Bakovici.
Before the conflict began in the Fojnica area on July 2, 41 percent of the town's population was Croat (about sixty-six hundred people), but the ECMM reported in October that the town was almost entirely Muslim, with only 150 Croats remaining-and they were preparing to leave because the Muslims would not provide them with food. Following Fojnica's fall, Croat villages in the area were thoroughly cleansed by the Muslims. On October 3, an ECMM team visited the former Croat village of Tjesilo, which had been completely destroyed, giving, according to the ECMM observer, "an impression of total hate and the wish to completely erase traces of former inhabitants."2

At the beginning of August, the ABiH attempted once more to force the HVO enclave from the northeast in the vicinity of the villages of Han Ploca, Duhri, and Lepenica by cutting across the Lepenica Valley. At the same time, they launched an attack along the Ostja-Kokoska line with the objective of separating the HVO from the BSA in that area. These attacks, too, were repelled. On August 11, the ABiH took Bakovici, but another ABiH attack by elements of the 7th Muslim Motorized, the 17th Krajina Mountain, and the 317th Mountain Brigades lasting from August 21-26 was repelled. The ABiH offensive in the Kiseljak region continued into September with the HVO slowly losing ground in some places and holding on in others.

The ABiH Attack on Zepce, Zavidovici, and Novi Seher, June-July 1993

Having successfully attacked and "cleansed" the HVO troops and Bosnian Croat civilians from Travnik and most of the Novi Travnik area in early June 1993, the Muslim-led ABiH turned its attention northward hoping to catch the isolated Bosnian Croat community in the Tesanj-Maglaj salient off guard. On June 24, the ABiH III Corps launched an attack on the town of Zepce and other HVO positions at the base of the salient.3 The Muslim assessment of the weakness of the Croat defenders of Zepce proved to be ill founded, however, and their attack met stiff resistance and ultimately failed. The Bosnian Croat enclaves in the Tesanj-Maglaj salient thus survived until the signing of the Washington agreements in March, 1994.

The town of Zepce lies on the north (left) bank of the River Bosna about forty-five kilometers northeast of Zenica and some seventy kilometers northwest of Sarajevo. Until the municipal boundaries in the area were gerrymandered by the Communist government in 1953, Zepce's population was two-thirds ethnic Croat. The 1991 census counted 22,966 inhabitants in the municipality of Zepce, of whom 10,820 were Muslim. In the town itself, the population in 1991 totaled 5,571, of whom 3,367 were Muslim. The major road passing through Zepce from Zenica (to the southwest) to Doboj (to the northeast) was an important line of communication for both the ABiH and HVO forces manning the lines against the Bosnian Serb Army in the Tesanj-Maglaj salient inasmuch as it was the only resupply route available in the area.

The Serbian-JNA attack on the Republic of Croatia in 1991 caused great anxiety amongst Bosnian Croat residents in the Zepce area, but the Muslim- led government in Sarajevo appeared to ignore the situation. In the face of the RBiH government's inactivity, the Bosnian Croats in Zepce began organizing for defense in May, 1991, and the HVO was formed there on April 8, 1992. Muslim citizens in the Zepce area were invited to participate with the HVO in efforts to form a joint defense against the Serbs, but they persistently refused to cooperate. The local Muslim leaders seemed willing enough, but ABiH forces in the Zepce area were controlled by much more radical elements from Zenica. The HVO subsequently assumed the bulk of the defense against BSA attacks in 1992, including taking over the defense of Maglaj when Muslim authorities asked them to do so.

Although relations between the two organizations were never cordial, the ABiH refrained from direct attacks on the HVO in the Zepce area until the summer of 1992 primarily because it was the mainstay of the common defense against the BSA in the region. However, Muslim attitudes toward their Croat neighbors had hardened by that summer. The first real clash between the two communities in Zepce occurred in September, when Muslim troops were sent to take down a Croat flag in the town while all of the HVO soldiers were on the front lines in Maglaj. The Muslims were disarmed by Croat reserve police officers. The worst that could be said about HVO forces in Zepce is that they held loud training exercises on Fridays and took control of several buildings in the town, including the Cultural Center, which housed the HVO 111xp Brigade's headquarters, and the Hotel Balkans, which became the HVO military police headquarters after the 111xp Brigade HQ moved into the Cultural Center. There was little communication or cooperation between the Muslim and Croat communities in Zepce by the fall of 1992.

When the ABiH began making probing attacks in the Lasva Valley in January, 1993, the HVO started entrenching in Zepce and on the heights of Visoka Rudia and Suhi Kriz, positions that commanded the Muslim villages of Ozimica and Golubinja. The entrenchment activity intensified in early June, and by June 24, the Croat residents of predominantly Muslim villages in the Zepce area had been evacuated to predominantly Croat villages. This was done, of course, to ensure their safety in the event of a Muslim attack, which was expected momentarily.

The situation worsened in the spring of 1993 with the arrival of Refik Lendo to assume command of the ABiH's Operative Group "Bosna" in Zavidovici. Lendo, a radical Muslim from the Travnik area, began replacing the ABiH brigade commanders in the area with men more attuned to his views, the local commanders being altogether too cooperative with the HVO in his opinion.4 Meanwhile, Lendo ordered his subordinates to prepare for an offensive against the HVO in the Zepce-Zavidovici-Novi Seher area. Hoping to reduce tensions, HVO officials met with the commander of the ABiH 319th Mountain Brigade, but they were unsuccessful.

On April 18, the ABiH III Corps cleared HVO forces and many Bosnian Croat civilians from the municipality of Zenica and cut the road to Zepce, thereby isolating the HVO forces and Croat civilians in the Tesanj-Maglaj salient. Surrounded by hostile Muslim forces, the Croats in Zepce had only one option for communicating with the outside world: through territory held by the Bosnian Serbs. The HVO thus opened negotiations with the Serbs, who for their own reasons were willing to cooperate.5 The Bosnian Croats in Zepce were not eager to deal with the Serbs, but they had no other choice. A cease-fire between the Serbs and Croats in the Zepce area was announcedon June 14.

The UNPROFOR authorities were warned of the coming attack on several occasions. On June 23, BRlTBAT officers visited the Zepce and Zavidovici areas and met with Nikola Jozinovic, commander of the HVO 111xp Brigade, who-not for the first time-claimed that the ABiH was planning to attack HVO forces in the area. Jozinovic also claimed thatABiH troops were assembling for the offensive in two areas: elements of the 314th and 303d Mountain Brigades and the 7th Muslim Motorized Brigade in the villages of Begov Han and Zeljezno Polje, and elements of the 309th Mountain Brigade in the villages of Kamenica and Mitrovici. The BRITBAT subsequently confirmed the presence of 150 soldiers from the 309th Brigade in Kamenica and elements of the 303d and 314th Brigades southwest of Zepce, as well as a number of soldiers from the 306th Brigade in Cardak. After the fighting in Zepce started, BRITBAT authorities commented: "At present it is not clear who was the initiator of the fighting but the balance of probability would suggest that it was the BIH who were responsible. The presence of the 314th Bde soldiers, normally based in Zenica, the number of 309th Bde soldiers (Kakanj) observed on 23 June in Kamenica and the locally dominant position of the BIH all suggest this."6

The HVO and ABiH forces normally stationed in the Zepce area were generally balanced. The HVO 3d Operative Group, commanded by Ivo Lozancic from his headquarters in Zepce, consisted of the 110th Brigade, commanded by Nikola Antunovic, at Usora and the 111xp Brigade, commanded by Nikola Jozinovic, at Zepce. The total number of HVO troops in the region was approximately seven thousand, with about two thousand of them in the immediate Zepce area. In addition to being heavily outnumbered by the Muslims, the HVO forces had three problems: their territory was not contiguous; they had no centralized logistics system; and they lacked adequate communications. Nevertheless, the HVO forces were somewhat better armed than the Muslims and held the bulk of the lines against the BSA, with resulting heavy casualties.7

Zepce became part of the ABiH III Corps in February, 1993, and was assigned to Refik Lendo's OG Bosna, headquartered in Zavidovici. The two ABiH brigades native to the area were Galib Dervisic's 319th Mountain Brigade in Zepce, and Ismet Mamagic's 318th Mountain Brigade in Zavidovici. Each brigade had some twenty-five hundred to three thousand men, but Muslim witnesses reported that most were deployed on the front lines and only about two hundred were in Zepce.

Regular ABiH forces in the Zepce area were augmented by at least two of Narcis Drocic's Green Beret platoons with thirty men each. There were also three Muslim Territorial Defense companies in Zepce, the members of which manned ABiH checkpoints in the town. Like the HVO, the ABiH forces native to the Zepce-Zavidovici area existed in isolated pockets, were poorly coordinated, and lacked good logistical support.

In order to attack Zepce and Zavidovici, the ABiH was obliged to move additional forces into the area. The headquarters of British forces in Bosnia- Herzegovina subsequently identified the ABiH brigades operating in the Tesanj-Maglaj salient as of June 28, 1993, as elements of the 30lst Mecha- nized Brigade, 303d and 314th Mountain Brigades, and 7th Muslim Motorized Brigade from Zenica; the 309th Mountain Brigade from Kakanj; the 318th Mountain Brigade from Zavidovici; the 319th Mountain Brigade from Zepce; and the 20lst Mountain Brigade from Maglaj. The introduction of ABiH forces from outside the Zepce-Zavidovici area was a clear indication of the ABiH III Corps commander's aggressive intent, the more so in that several of the "outside" units were known to have been used previously for assault purposes in the Lasva Valley (to wit, the 301st, 303d, 309th, and 7th Muslim Brigades). The sudden appearance of these offensive forces in the Zepce area was foreshadowed by Gen. Stjepan Siber of the ABiH General Headquarters attempting to negotiate with Ivo Lozancic of the HVO 3d OG on May 30 to allow a 160-man mobile ABiH unit to enter Zepce. Lozancic refused to permit the stationing of the entire unit in Zepce, and half the detachment subsequently went to Begov Han, fourteen kilometers from Zepce, while the remainder stayed at the Nova Trgovina warehouses on the eastern edge of the town.

Saint Ivo's Day-June 24, 1993-was a Croat holiday, and most of the Bosnian Croats in Zepce were preparing to go to mass when the blow forecast by Ivo Lozancic was struck without warning.8 In fact, the first burst of fighting occurred on the evening of June 23, when mujahideen advanced from Zeljezno Polje on the Croat village of Dolubina, The following morning, elements of five Muslim brigades-approximately 12,500 men-advancing in two columns from the southwest (Zenica) and the southeast (Kakanj) opened the main attack north of Brezovo Polje and soon surrounded Zepce. The Muslim forces occupied the high ground west, south, and east of Zepce, and over the next few days the Croat residents of the Muslim-dominated area on the south bank of the Bosna River fled to Croat-held areas. In Zepce itself, firing broke out at approximately 9:15 A.M. as ABiH mortars and artillery opened up on the town and Muslim Green Berets surrounded the HVO military police headquarters in the Hotel Balkans.

On June 25, and again on June 26, the BRITBAT reported that HVO sources were claiming that Zepce had been attacked by the ABiH from the direction of Zeljezno Polje (that is, from the direction of Zenica) and that the fighting in the area had been sparked by the HVO's refusal to surrender in Novi Seher. Inasmuch as the town was surrounded and the Muslims were firing into it from positions on the heights, the HVO forces thought it was necessary to clear the town. The resulting fight lasted six days and was very bitter, with both sides shelling their opponent's positions in the town. The HVO did, however, leave the pedestrian bridge over the Bosna clear for civilians to use to escape the fighting. Meanwhile, BRITBAT patrols reported fighting in the Zepce area at 9:30 A.M. on June 24, with smoke rising from the town and small-caliber mortar fire coming from the eastern end of the town. At 2 P.M., BRITBAT patrols reported that Zepce was under mortar and heavy machine-gun fire from the vicinity of the village of Ljubana, and that a number of buildings were on fire, including a large apartment complex that was totally engulfed in flames. The BRITBAT also reported that as of 6:30 P.M. there were obvious tensions on the route between Zenica and Zepce with the number of checkpoints having been doubled and the manning doubled as well.

On June 26, COMBRITFOR reported that the fighting in Zepce continued, with heavy mortar fire being directed into the town from ABiH positions near the village of Golubinja and elsewhere to the west. The HVO headquarters in town had been extensively damaged, a large number of buildings around it were on fire, and soldiers leaving the town claimed that bitter street fighting was taking place. On June 27, the BRITBAT reported that soldiers in the area stated that the HVO and ABiH each controlled 50 percent of Zepce and that the fighting was less intense than before. The BRITBAT also reported a conversation on June 27 with the deputy commander of the ABiH III Corps, Dzemal Merdan, who claimed that ABiH forces were preparing to blockade Zepce in order to suppress the HVO. Merdan claimed this tactic would subsequently be employed on Tesanj, Maglaj, Novi Seher, and Zavidovici.

Both sides shelled the town relentlessly during the battle. The ABiH units from outside Zepce held the high ground west, south, and east of Zepce but did not come down into the town itself, leaving the bitter fighting there to local Muslim forces. One witness claimed that the town was shelled continuously for seven days (presumably by the HVO) and that 80 percent of the casualties were Muslim, while not a single bullet hit the Varos area near the river, a Croat part of town.9 The inaccuracy of both the ABiH's and the HVO's artillery fire make Dedovic's claim incredible. In fact, the destruction of the town caused by the fighting was severe, perhaps half of its buildings having been bummed during the fight. The human toll on both sides was high as well, both for civilians and for military personnel.

Eventually, the HVO gained the upper hand and succeeded in pushing the Muslims to the river's south bank in the area known as Papratnica. By June 30, the HVO had cleared most of the Bosna River's west bank and the western portion of Zepce of Muslim attackers. The battle ended on June 30 with the surrender of the ABiH 305th and 319th Brigades. Galib Dervisic, the ABiH commander, had been called upon to surrender on June 25 but had refused. As the shelling intensified on June 26, the HVO slowly gained control of the town, and Muslim ammunition began to run low. Dervisic negotiated surrender terms with Bozidar Tomic on the thirtieth, agreeing to surrender the bulk of his forces in town at 5 P.M. However, some Muslim fighters held out in the eastern part of town and across the river in the Prijeko area. The Muslim forces across the river from Zepce managed to held out until September, when the HVO pushed them back from the bank toward Zenica and Kakanj, thus freeing Zepce from continued direct threat. Elements of the Green Berets in the Zenicki Put area refused Dervisic's surrender order and resisted until the next day, July 1, when they were finally forced to surrender to the HVO. Another group of 105 ABiH fighters escaped over the River Kranjace on June 18, refused Dervisic's surrender order, and held out in Zenicki Put until July 1, when they surrendered and were sent to the "silos."

Several BSA tanks, perhaps "borrowed" by the HVO, were positioned around town on June 29 and began firing on Muslim positions the next day. One eyewitness claimed he saw seventeen Serb tanks in the area while on his way to the HVO command post at Tatarbudzak, four or five kilometers from Zepce, on July 1.10 The reports of BSA tanks in Novi Seher and moving toward Maglaj seemed to genuinely worry ABiH III Corps leaders, who on the night of June 28-29 and again the next day complained to BRITBAT officers about what they conducted was active collusion between the BSA and the HVO in the Maglaj-Zepce-Zavidovid-Novi Seher area, noting that Maglaj itself was "being attacked by BSA artillery from the east and by HVO infantry from the west."

Following the ABiH surrender on June 30, approximately four thousand to five thousand Muslim civilians were detained by the HVO for seven to ten days in the area of the Nova Trogvina company warehouses under conditions that were unsatisfactory but comparable to those in which Croat civilians were detained by the ABiH elsewhere. Once released, many of the civilians went to the nearby village of Kiseljak (not to be confused with the town of Kiseljak) by way of Perovic. Captured ABiH military personnel were also detained at the Rade Kondic school, the elementary school in Perkovic Han, and, most notably, at the so-called silos. The conditions under which they were held were horrific, but they were no worse than those endured by HVO prisoners held by the ABiH in other areas. The Green Berets and the 105 ABiH soldiers who surrendered at Zenicki Put on July 1 appear to have been singled out for especially harsh treatment. Many of the military prisoners were later sent to Mostar when the local HVO com- mander pleaded that he could not maintain them properly.

The Muslim attack on Zepce was accompanied by simultaneous attacks on Zavidovici and Novi Seher, although Tesanj and Maglaj remained quiet. Elements of the HVO 111 xp Brigade in Zavidovici were surrounded by ABiH troops but held their positions on the north bank of the Bosna for a week before withdrawing over the mountain toward Zepce, taking the Croat civilians with them. They then established a line against the ABiH forces attacking Zepce. Some 1,000 Croat residents stayed in Zavidovici, but only 300-500 remained by the end of the conflict. Croat villagers from other locations fled as well: 800 from Lovnica, 500 from Dijacic, and 300 from Debelo Brdo. There were about 350 Croat casualties in Zavidovici itself, many of them civilians.

According to HVO sources, the Muslim-Croat conflict in the Zepce area began with the HVO refusal to surrender to the ABiH in Novi Seher. At 7:40 P.M. on June 24, the BRITBAT reponed that Novi Seher was "in flames." However, the major fighting there appears to have taken place on the morning of June 25, although the BRITBAT reponed continuing small-arms fire and some shelling during the afternoon. The BRlTBAT also reported that Novi Seher's streets appeared to be deserted and several houses were on fire, with HVO forces dug in around their headquarters in the southern pan of town. The ABiH HQ in town had been evacuated, and Muslims were manning positions in the northern pan of town. The HVO apparently controlled the villages of Lukici, Radjcici, Grabovica, Ponijevo, and Takal, and the former HVO headquarters was still intact with Marko Zelic in command. The front line ran from east to west through the center of town, and the ABiH 201st Brigade controlled the town center and the nearby villages of Strupina, Domislica, Cobe, and Kopice. Following the two-day fight for Novi Seher, the HVO area around the town was very compact, and HVO forces received supplies through the Serb lines. The HVO position was not continuous and consisted primarily of positions in front of the key villages.

The ABiH offensive against the HVO in the Zepce-Zavidovici area appears to have been initiated by ABiH III Corps rather than II Corps, which British UNPROFOR sources judged to be less concerned with promoting tensions with the HVO, noting that: "this interfactional fighting was probably started with the blessing of the commander, III Corps BlH. Whether it indicates a wider agenda, which might spread to II Corps BlH is hard to assess." Both Enver Hadzihasanovic, the ABiH commander, and deputy commander Dzemal Merdan told British UNPROFOR officers that the II Corps did not "understand what the HVO was capable of" and thus had not acted aggressively against it. The COMBRITFOR assessment of the radical nature of the ABiH III Corps command was that "the border between 2 and 3 Corps is almost like crossing into a different country. In the Tuzla area there is a real sense of common purpose with Muslims, Croats, and Serbs serving in the same units whether BIH or HVO. In the north people join the formation nearest their home regardless of whether it is BIH or HVO. The people in this area are as unable as we are to explain the ethnic violence which is taking place in Central Bosnia." Moreover, COMBRITFOR noted that this "gulf in understanding" also appeared to exist between the radical leaders of the ABiH III Corps and the RBiH government in Sarajevo.

When queried by the BRITBAT commander on June 24, as to the causes of the fighting between Muslim and Croat forces in the Zepce area, the ABiH III Corps commander replied, "it was purely a case of the 'problems' of the Lasva Valley spreading north." Indeed, it was; and Hadzihasanovic was himself the party responsible for their spread. On June 26, COMBRITFOR reported that a BRITBAT assessment noted that

"the reasons for the fighting throughout the area are still unconfirmed but the BIH are increasingly looking like the aggressors. If this is proven it might be regarded as a further stage in the perceived strategy of Muslim "land grab." The story of the "mujahadeen" involvement as the precursor has been noted in a number of areas. It would appear, however, that the capacity for escalation was either unforeseen or underestimated. At present, Tesanj is the only population centre unaffected and there must be a grave danger that the troubles will spread further and seriously compromise the line against the Serbs. Unlike the Travnik area, Maglaj and Zavidovici have traditionally been areas of Serb interest and they are unlikely to miss any available opportunity....This HQ assesses that the BlH took any escalation of the conflict with the HVO into consideration during their planning of the operation. It is assessed that the BIH want the HVO out of the 3 Corps area and think that they can achieve this and, at the same time, maintain the integrity of the [common front line] with the BSA in the Maglaj finger."11

The August Assessments

In August, 1993, both sides took time to reassess their position. Colonel Tihomir Blaskic, the OZCB commander, conducted a review of the personnel and equipment status in his command and forwarded his report to Mostar on August 11. No report was available on the Bobovac (Vares), Kotromanic (Kakanj), 110th (Usora), 111xp (Zepce), or Josip Ban Jelacic (Kiseljak) Brigades due to poor communications.

By mid-October, the HVO personnel situation in central Bosnia was becoming critical, and Colonel Blaskic took note of the rising number of desertions by issuing an order calling for severe disciplinary measures to be taken against any HVO soldier abandoning his post on the defensive lines.

Leaders of the ABiH met in Zenica on August 21-22 to review the state of their forces and to plan for the continuation of the campaign against the HVO in central Bosnia and northern Herzegovina. Among the matters discussed were recent losses of territory to the BSA, the confused state of the RBiH's political leadership and the lack of support for the ABiH, the question of military discipline in the ABiH, logistical support and the development of an indigenous Bosnian arms industry, and the conflict with the HVO.

The newly formed ABiH VI Corps headquartered at Konjic was a problem from the beginning. Thus, on August 29, a team from ABiH GHQ headed by the chief of staff. Gen. Sefer Halilovic, began an investigation and assumed responsibility for coordinating the efforts of the III, IV, and VI Corps. The group's report, issued on September 20, noted deficiencies in the VI Corps, notably its failure to accomplish the previously assigned tasks of "liberating" the line of communications between Dusina (the hamlet in the Kiseljak municipality) and Fojnica and the "liberation" of Kresevo as well as the Konjic line of communications and the village of Celebici, making the planned operations in the Vrbas and Neretva Valleys more difficult. Problems in the VI Corps cited by the team included the inadequacies in staff training, the high number of desertions, the defection to the HVO of a security officer, and the murders of the commander of the 47th Mountain Brigade and other officers. The involvement of the corps headquarters in the growing of marijuana in the Blagaj area and its smuggling into Sarajevo and central Bosnia was also noted. The team report also remarked upon the unsatisfactory standards in the 317th Mountain Brigade from Bugojno and the poor performance of the independent Prozor battalion, which caused the loss of the Muslim positions "liberated" in the Crni Vrh. As a result of the Halilovic team's report, large-scale changes in the leadership of the ABiH III, IV, and VI Corps were recommended, and many changes were subsequently carried out. Among other changes, Mehmed Alagic replaced Enver Hadzihasanovic as the III Corps commander and Refik Lendo became the VI Corps commander. At the same time, Arif Pasalic, the IV Corps commander was replaced by Selmo Cikotic. These personnel changes marked teh ascendancy of the "hard-core" Bosnian Muslim faction, represendted by Hadzihasanovic and Alagic, over the ABiH's more moderate "multiethnic" leaders, and did not bode well for the Bosnian Croats surrounded by ABiH forces in central Bosnia


1 Sljivic, Kordic-Cerkez trial testimony. See also COMBRITFOR MILINFOSUM no. 226, June 10, 1993, para. 2c(13), KC D317/1; ibid., no. 227, para. 2c(7), KC D317/1; ibid., no 229., para. 2c(7), KC D317/1; and ibid., no 231, para. 2c(8-9), KC D317/1. The Kotromanic Brigade, commanded by Neven Maric, was subsequently dissolved. The ABiH takeover in Kakanj area resulted in as many as 120 Croats killed – mostly women and men aged fifty to eighty – and tewnty five hundred Croat homes, thirty chapels, and thirty cemeteries destroyed.
2 ECMM Team V3, "Background Report: Fojnica," 2, 3. According to Stjepan Tuka, former commander of the HVO battalion in Fojnica (Kordic-Cerkez trial testimony, Nov. 22, 1999), the ABiH destroyed about 70 percent of the Croat villages in the Fojnica area, and some 5,500 Croats became refugees.
3 The following account of the ABiH attack in Zepce-Zavidovici-Novi Seher area in June and July, 1993. is based on three principal sources; the prosecutor’s summary, witness statements, and other materials included in the so-called Zepce binder submitted by the ICTY prosecutor in the Kordic-Cerkez trial and subsequently admitted by the trial chamber; HVO artillery commander in the Zepce area, conversation with author, Zepce, Aug. 22, 1999; and contemporary MILINFOSUMs produced by COMBRITFOR.
4 COMBRITFOR MILINFOSUM no. 240, June 24, 1993, para. 2C(2), KC D317/1
5 For example, the Serbs in Ozren, northeast of Zepce, were eager to cooperate since they were not to be included in the Serbian area under the Vance-Owen peace plan. The Serbs offered to allow Croat civilians and wounded HVO personnel to pass through their lines as well as to provide the HVO with artillery support.
6 COMBRITFOR MILINFOSUM no. 240, June 24, 1993, para. 2C(2), KC D317/1.
7 HVO artillery commander conversation. One HVO civilian official stated that 116 HVO soldiers from Zepce died in battle against the Serbs while only twenty nine Muslim soldiers from Zepce perished. Overall, the 111xp Brigade suffered some 450 casualties from 1992-94.
8 Saint Ivo was the patron of Vrankovici Parish in the municipality of Zavidovici, but he was honored in Zepce as well. In fact, the Muslim forces attacked two days earlier than the written attack order from Zenica specified.
9 Dedovic, witness statement, 3. Page 2 of the OTP summary in the Zepce binder incorrectly states that the HVO occupied the surrounding hills and fired artillery into the town. However, the ABiH occupied the hills, west, south, and east of Zepce. As a result, the artillery fire from the direction of Papratnica and Zeljezno Polje at 9a.m. on June 23(?) could have only come from the ABiH forces occupying those areas (OTP Summary "Zepce binder,", 7). Known ABiH firing positions were in Ljubna, Bljuva and Vorosiste, all to the northwest of Zepce. See COMBRITFOR MILINFOSUM no. 242 para. 2C(2) (d), KC D317/1.
10 What the eyewitness apparently observed were seven tanks and ten armored fighting vehicles from the BSA Teslic Brigade’s 1st Batallion.
11 Ibid., para. 2C(3), KC D317/1.


Source: HercegBosna.org

Prelude to Civil War in Central Bosnia

Written 08.12.2009. 11:23
The fall of Jajce to the Bosnian Serb army on October 29, 1992, marked the beginning of open conflict between the Muslims and Croats in central Bosnia. Until that time, the two communities had maintained an uneasy alliance against the BSA, but the tension between them grew during the course of 1991-92. The HVO and ABiH squabbled over the distribution of arms seized from the JNA, and there were numerous local incidents of violence by one group against the other. However, only in the last quarter of 1992 did Muslim-Croat disagreements begin to rise to the level of civil war.

In January, 1993, the building animosity transformed into open conflict as the ABiH, strengthened by large numbers ofMuslim refugees and the arrival of the mujahideen, mounted a probing attack against their HVO allies. Muslim extremists, abetted by the Izetbegovic government and fervent nationalists within the ABiH, planned and initiated offensive action against their erstwhile ally in the hope of securing control of the key military industries and lines of communication in central Bosnia ang clearing the region for the resettlement of the thousands of Muslims displaced by the fighting against the BSA elsewhere in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

There is, of course, no "smoking gun" - no operations plan or policy decision document that proves beyond a doubt the ABiH planned and carried out an attack on the Croatian enclaves in central Bosnia with such objectives. The time and place at which the plan was approved, and who proposed and who approved it, remain unknown. Did a written document outlining the plan ever exist? Probably. Does a copy of that document still exist? Probably deep in the ABiH's archives. Will it ever be produced for public scrutiny? Probably not - for rather obvious reasons. On the other hand, neither does such clear evidence exist to support the oft-repeated hypothesis of journalists, UNPROFOR and ECMMpersonnel, and Muslim propagandists that the HVO planned and carried out such an offensive against the Muslims. The answer to the key question of who planned and initiated the conflict between Muslims and Croats in central Bosnia can only be determined by carefully evaluating the thousands of fragments of evidence and fitting them into a coherent pattern showing means, motive, and opportunity in the same way a detective arrives at a viable reconstruction of a crime. The process is tedious, but it produces reliable results. When applied to the events in central Bosnia between November, 1992, and March, 1994, it leads to just one conclusion: only the ABiH had the necessary means, motive, and opportunity; it was, in fact, the ABiH, not the HVO, that developed a strategic offensive plan and attempted to carry it out.

HVO-ABiH Cooperation in the Battle against the Serbs

At the beginning of the conflict with the Bosnian Serbs, the HVO attempted to strengthen coordination in the Muslim and Croat alliance. In mid-April, 1992, the HVO requested that RBiH president Alija Izetbegovic create a joint military headquarters to govern both the HVO and the Muslim-led Territorial Defense forces, but Izetbegovic ignored the request and the issue was never put on the agenda of any meeting of the RBiH Presidency, despite repeated pleas from Croat members of the Presidency. Efforts to improve coordination at the local level also met with Muslim indifference and obstruction. In central Bosnia, the HVO and TO attempted to form a joint military unit to defend against the BSA onslaught. In early 1992, the Vitez Municipality Crisis Staff proposed the establishment of a joint Vitez Brigade made up of a battalion from the HVO and one from the TO. A Croat, Franjo Nakic, would serve as commander, and a Muslim, Sefkija Didic, would be both deputy commander and chief of staff. The rest of the staff would be composed of both HVO and TO officers. However, the Muslims' foot- dragging and quibbling regarding the proposed brigade antagonized the Croats, who increasingly left the Territorial Defense forces for the HVO, which was farther along in its preparations to defend against the Serbs.

Nevertheless, by mid-1992, the hastily assembled and armed HVO and TO forces, with some assistance from the Croatian armed forces, managed to establish a defensive line against the more numerous and much better equipped Bosnian Serb army. However, the BSA had surrounded Sarajevo, the RBiH capital, and the scratch Muslim and Croat forces faced the superior Serb forces on several fronts ringing the newly declared state. The co-operating HVO and Muslim forces faced significant BSA threats in both eastern and western Herzegovina, and a predominantly Muslim army struggled to retain control of several eastern Bosnia towns invested by the BSA. Of principal concern to the commanders of the HVO OZCB and the ABiH III Corps in central Bosnia were an eastern front running from Hadzici north to the Visoko-llijas area; a northern front in the Maglaj-Doboj-Teslic-Tesanj area; and a western front in the area extending from Jajce southward to Donji Vakuf and Bugojno. In all three areas, the RBiH's HVO and Muslim forces struggled to hold back the BSA advance.

The Growth of Muslim-Croat Hostility, March, 1992-January, 1993

Tensions between Muslims and Croats increased steadily throughout the course of 1992 as the two sides vied for political power in the various municipalities in central Bosnia; squabbled over the division of the spoils left by the JNA, which abandoned Bosnia-Herzegovina in May, 1992; sought to gain control over key localities and facilities; and acted to protect their communities from all comers. Despite growing tensions and a number of armed confrontations, the HVO and ABiH continued to cooperate in the defense against the Bosnian Serbs backed by the rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and the remnants of the JNA. However, three essentially unrelated incidents in late October-just before Jajce fell to the BSA - signalled the coming conflict: the Novi Travnik gas station incident, the assassination of the HVO commander in Travnik, and the Muslim roadblock at Ahmici. These incidents led to a flare-up of small-scale Muslim-Croat fighting throughout the region that was tamped down by an UNPROFOR arranged cease-fire. Tensions and incidents increased substantially following Jajce's fall and the consequent influx of Muslim refugees, many of them armed, into the Lasva-Kozica-Lepenica region. At the same time, the mujahideen presence in central Bosnia began to make itself felt, and the ABiH began to infiltrate armed cadres into the villages and to position regular ABiH units in the Lasva-Kozica-Lepenica valley in preparation for the planned offensive.

Following numerous Muslim-Croat disagreements and confrontations in the Busovaca area, HVO authorities took over the Busovaca municipal government on May 10, blockading the town, demanding the surrender of weapons by the Muslim-dominated TO units, issuing arrest warrants for prominent Muslims, guaranteeing the security and eventual evacuation of JNA elements from the Kaonik area, and mobilizing the Croats in the town. Moreover, the Croat authorities announced that the Busovaca HVO would take over all JNA weapons, equipment, and barracks in the local area. The Muslim-led Bosnian government was incensed by the Croats' seizure of control in Busovaca and on May 12 openly condemned the HVO authorities for not handing control of the town over to the central government on demand.

The tensions in the Busovaca area were intensified by the Muslim failure to hold to the agreed upon plan for the distribution of arms from the former JNA arsenal in the area. Several similar incidents occurred elsewhere, resulting in small fights between Muslims and Croats over the distribution of the spoils resulting from the JNA's withdrawal. There was a Muslim-Croat confrontation at the Bratstvo armaments factory in Novi Travnik on June 18 when HVO elements attempted to prevent Bosnia-Herzegovina's Muslim-led government from removing from the factory arms the government intended to sell abroad. Two months later in August, HVO and Territorial Defense elements forced the turnover of the JNA arsenal at Slimena in Travnik. The arsenal had been mined by the JNA, and while the HVO tried to negotiate a surrender and the removal of the mines, TO elements broke into the factory and exploded them. In the aftermath of the debacle, the TO soldiers gathered up undamaged weapons parts, which they subse-quently reassembled to make whole weapons. One result of the consequent increase in the numbers of weapons in Muslim hands was an increase in confrontations in the area.

Representatives of the various Croat communities in central Bosnia met in Busovaca on September 22 to discuss the situation, particularly the growing tensions between Muslims and Croats resulting from one municipality or the other coming under the exclusive control of either Muslim or Bosnian Croat authorities. The conferees enumerated a number of general observations regarding the situation throughout the region. They noted in particular the need to revive the local economy and speed up preparations for winter in case they were totally cut off from Herzegovina and Croatia. They called for better coordination between HVO military and civilian authorities and uniformity of policy. Complaints were also made regarding the behavior of Muslims who acted ''as if they have an exclusive right to power in B and H and as if they are the only fighters for B and H," and regarding Muslim attempts to enforce their policies through the use of Croatian Defense Forces (HOS) elements. Special concern was aniculated regarding the daily arrival of new Muslim refugees in the area, as well as the increasing , presence of Muslim forces in the various towns while HVO forces were busy holding the lines against the BSA and HVO military authorities were being urged to prepare defense plans in case of confrontations with the Muslims.

In mid-October, three apparently unrelated incidents led to open fighting between Muslims and Croats in central Bosnia. The first of these occurred in the town of Novi Travnik on October 18, and involved a dispute that began at a gas station near HVO headquarters. By mutual agreement, Muslims and Croats were sharing the region's fuel supplies. The conflict apparently broke out when Croats manning the gas station in Novi Travnik refused to provide gasoline to a Muslim Territorial Defense soldier. A squabble began, the Muslim was shot dead, and within minutes HVO and TO forces in Novi Travnik were engaged in a full-scale firefight in the town center. The fighting, led by Refik Lendo on the Muslim side, continued for several days despite the efforts of British UNPROFOR officers to bring it to a halt.

News of the fighting in Novi Travnik spread quickly throughout the region. Both Muslims and Croats erected roadblocks, mobilized local defense forces, and in some areas fired upon each other. Even so, the conflict rermained localized and uncoordinated, the Muslim and Croat forces in each town and village acting according to their own often faulty assessment of the situation. However, the situation worsened two days later when the commander of the HVO brigade in Travnik, Ivica Stojak, was assassinated on October 20 by mujahideen near Medresa, apparently on the orders of Col. Asim Koricic, commander of the 7th Muslim Motorized Brigade.1 From about the time Jajce fell, the newly arrived mujahideen had begun to appear in the Travnik area, and the number of small incidents between Muslims and Croats had risen substantially. Nevertheless, Stojak's assassination may have been personal rather than part of some larger Muslim plot against the HVO in Travnik.

Perhaps the most serious incident of the October outburst was the establishment of a roadblock by Muslim TO forces near the village of Ahmici on the main road through the Lasva Valley. The roadblock was established on October 20, and the TO forces manning it refused to let HVO forces en route to the defense of Jajce pass.2 The TO commander in the Ahmici area, Nijaz Sivro, was young and inexperienced, as was his deputy, Muniz Ahmic. Sivro had gone to the front lines against the Serbs in Visoko just before the roadblock at Ahmici was set up, and Ahmic was entrusted with the task of establishing the roadblock by the "Coordinating Committee for the Protection of Muslims." One Muslim officer characterized the setting up of the barricade as "ill-prepared and disorganized," and the initial confrontation at the Ahmici roadblock resulted in one Muslim soldier killed and several wounded. 'Two days later, October 22, the roadblock was removed without a fight, and HVO forces could again use the Lasva Valley road for mo ing troops to the Serb front. During the course of the altercation, the Muslim TO commander in Vitez told the UNPROFOR's Lt. Cot. Bob Stewart that Muslims had established the roadblock at Ahmici to prevent the HVO from reinforcing their forces then fighting in Novi Travnik. In fact, the establishment of the roadblock had been ordered by the ABiH zone headquarters in Zenica (later HQ, III Corps). 3

After several days of fighting and almost fifty casualties in the Lasva region, officers of the British UNPROFOR unit managed to negotiate a ceasefire on October 21 in the Vitez area that was then extended to Novi Travnik and the rest of the region. The Muslirn-Croat fighting had been widespread, but it appears to have been spontaneous rather than the result of a coordinated action by either side. Although a planned provocation by the Muslims, in and of itself the October 20 roadblock at Ahmici was a minor event. As far as the HVO authorities at the time were concerned, it was not a serious incident. It took on much greater significance, however, after HVO forces assaulted the village on April 16, 1993. Those who wished to portray the HVO as the aggressor in the Muslim-Croat conflict in central Bosnia have painted the October incident as a cause of the April, 1993 events, although the only real connection between the two is that they occurred in approximately the same location: the point at which the village of Ahmici touches the Vitez-Busovaca road at the narrowest part of the Lasva Valley.

One historian has characterized the period from January, 1992, up to the outbreak of Muslim-Croat hostilities in late January, 1993, as one in which "there was some 'pushing and shoving' between Croats and Muslims, and a lack of wholehearted cooperation as each group sought to stabilise and strengthen its own territory."4 Indeed, one can point to numerous small-scale local confrontations between Muslims and Croats in central Bosnia during the course of 1992 designed to gain control over stockpiles of arms, munitions, and other military supplies; to gain control of key facilities or lines of communications; and to test the other side's will and capabilities to resist. Such incidents increased in frequency and intensity after Jajce fell on October 29, 1992, but they do not appear to have been part of a coordinated plan by either party. Indeed, they appear to be random, unconnected, and short-lived episodes resulting from the increasing level of tension and distrust between the two communities in central Bosnia. Even the build up of Muslim forces, the infiltration of armed ABiH soldiers and mujahideen into key villages and towns, and the suggestive positioning of ABiH units in central Bosnia went largely unnoticed by the HVO at the time.5 Only in retrospect do they appear to be part of a pattern of actions taken by the ABiH to prepare for the opening of an all-out Muslim offensive against the Croatian community in the Lasva-Kozica-Lepenica region.

The ABiH Strategic Offensive Plan

Although its author and the date of its creation remain uncertain, events clearly reveal the existence of an ABiH strategic offensive against the HVO in central Bosnia that began in mid-January, 1993, and continued in several phases until the signing of the Washington Agreements in late February, 1994. The strategic objectives of the plan were:

1. To gain control of the north-south lines of communication (LOCs) passing through the Bosnian Croat enclave in central Bosnia, thereby linking the ABiH forces north of the Lasva-Kozica-Lepenica Valleys with those to the south and securing the Muslim lines of communication to the outside world.
2. To gain control of the military industrial facilities in central Bosnia (the SPS explosives factory in Vitez and factories in Travnik and Novi Travnik) or on its periphery (factories in Bugojno, Gomji Vakuf, Prozor, Jablanica, Konjic, and Hadzici, among others) so as to facilitate the arming of the ABiH in the war against the Serbs.
3. To surround the Bosnian Croat enclave in central Bosnia and divide it into smaller pieces that could then be eliminated seriatim, thereby clearing the Croats from central Bosnia and providing a place for Muslim refugees expelled by the Serbs from other areas to settle.

Achieving the third objective would also ensure that the Muslims retained political control of central Bosnia so they could continue to dominate the RBiH's central government. There was probably also an anticipation of a peace agreement that would result in a partition of Bosnia-Herzegovina among the Serbs, Muslims, and Croats, in which case possession of the Lasva-Kozica-Lepenica region would probably be tantamount to its inclusion in the Muslim area under any settlement, regardless of the area's former ethnic composition, a principle that was observed subsequently in areas seized by the Serbs. In fact, the area in question was part of Canton 10 , under the Vance-Owen Peace Plan and was assigned to the Croats, but at the time the Muslim offensive plan was devised and set in motion the issue was still undecided.6 In any event, occupation by the ABiH of the Lasva-Kozica-Lepenica region would probably be cause for revision of the VOPP. In a larger and less sinister context, the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina's infant central government may simply have been eager to exert its authority over such territory as had not already been taken by the Bosnian Serbs. It should also be noted that the Croat enclaves in northern Bosnia posed no threat politically or militarily to the Muslim-led government and were useful for propaganda purposes to show the multiethnic composition and co-operation in the Muslim-led RBiH.

Such a complex and far-reaching plan could only have been worked out in the ABiH General Staff under the direction of Chief of Staff Sefer Halilovic, and further elaborated in Enver Hadzihasanovic's III Corps headquarters. Only they had the resources and expertise to prepare such a plan, and there are some indications that they had considered such a plan much earlier. By the time Jajce fell at the end of October, 1992, the ABiH's logistical situation was near collapse. The Izetbegovic government had failed to induce the United Nations to cancel its arms embargo or to intervene militarily, and, despite Chief of Staff Halilovic's persistent entreaties, had done little to mobilize the Bosnian economy for war. Too weak to seize the arms and equipment it needed from the far more powerful Bosnian Serb army, the ABiH still had sufficient strength to overpower its erstwhile ally, the HVO-at least in the central Bosnia area. Success in such an endeavor would solve two of the most pressing logistical problems. First, it would provide an immediate gain in arms and other equipment, which could be quickly turned against the Serbs. Second, it would open the ABiH's lines of communications through central Bosnia, thereby facilitating the more effective deployment of available ABiH troops, armaments, and supplies, as well as the importation of arms, ammunition, and other vital supplies obtained on the international arms market. Moreover, General Halilovic's associates on the ABiH General Staff had long since identified Kiseljak, Busovaca, Vitez, and Vares as the site for refugee settlements. In the summer of 1992, two of Halilovic's subordinates, Rifat Bilajac and Zicro Suljevic, attended a meeting at SDA headquarters in Sarajevo to discuss the refugee situation. Halilovic relates that they returned to the headquarters infuriated, Bilajac stating angrily:I was informed about everything in the SDA headquarters. There were some 10-12 members of the executive committee present, and when I suggested that refugee settlements should be built in Kiseljak, Busovaca, Vitez and Vares, Behmen tells me nicely: 'It can't be there, as that's Croat national territory.' The other members were silent. Then we quarreled and left the meeting. Well, what are we dying for if this is Croat national territory?"7

As to the question of when such a plan might have been conceived, it is important to note that the ABiH III Corps first openly attacked HVO forces in the Lasva Valley in late January, 1993. A significant amount of time, probably not less than two months, would have been required to assemble and prepare the forces necessary for an offensive on the scale of the January attacks. Thus, the basic plan needed to have been completed no later than November 1, 1992, suggesting that the necessary planning was already in progress even before Jajce fell. It seems likely, therefore, that the concept of the ABiH strategic offensive against the HVO in central Bosnia was developed in the late summer or early fall of 1992 and that the “go-no go" decision was probably made in early November-soon after the fall of Jajce.

The HVO Reaction

While the ABiH was clearly the aggressor in the Muslim-Croat civil war in central Bosnia, the HVO commanders did not sit idly by waiting to be overrun by their more numerous Muslim opponents. Instead they adopted what is known in U.S. military parlance as an "active defense” that is, a defense in which the defender actively and continuously seeks to improve his defensive posture by seizing and controlling key terrain and lines of communication, degrading the enemy's offensive capabilities, and acting aggressively to spoil enemy attacks and keep the enemy off balance.8 To an observer on the ground who did not understand the overall strategic situation-particularly one prone to rash judgments and broad inferences-the HVO's conduct of the active defense might well appear to have been offensive in nature. Yet, the fact is, it was largely reactive and preventive.

Thus, from an HVO perspective the strategic battle was entirely a defensive one, albeit marked by selective use of preemptive spoiling attacks (pre- ventivi), counterattacks, and other offensive actions designed to support the Croat defensive strategy by the conduct of an “active defense" rather than a purely positional defense in the Lasva-Kozica-Lepenica Valleys. Surrounded, heavily outnumbered (by as much as eight or ten to one according to some accounts), and logistically bankrupt, it would have been com- pletely illogical for the Croats to try to mount a systematic campaign to expand the enclave or to ethnically cleanse Muslims from the Lasva Valley, much less from all of the proposed Canton 10. One former HVO officer has said that an HVO commander would have had to be "insane” to have contemplated an offensive against the Muslims given their tenuous manpower, logistics, and full deployment against the Serbs.9 They were barely able to repel the repeated Muslim attacks and were certainly too weak in numbers, arms, and ammunition to attempt a major offensive. Nevertheless, the hard-pressed HVO forces did manage to mount a number of small offensive actions to secure better defensive positions, prevent the Muslims from obtaining their objectives, and to clear their rear areas of troublesome Muslim enclaves. Generally, a clear military necessity can be shown for each of those offensive actions. More commonly, the HVO forces simply took up defensive positions and repelled a series of increasingly heavy Muslim attacks that inexorably whittled away the territory held by the HVO, inflicted casualties, and slowly asphyxiated the Bosnian Croat defenders.


1 Ljubas, Kordic-Cerkez trial testimony, May 16, 2000; Filipovic, Kordic-Cerkez trial testimony, Apr 11, 2000.
2 Zeko, Blaskic trial testimony, Sept. 11, 1998.
3 Maj. Sulejman Kalco, Kodic-Cerkez trial testimony, Mar. 7, 2000. Kalco was deputy commander of the Muslim forces in Stari Vitez in 1993. He later retired from the Federation Army.
4 O’Ballance, Civil War in Bosnia, 48
5 Major Zeko, the HQ, OZCB, intelligence officer at the time, noted that although he mentioned to his superiors several times the growing disadvantage of the HVO position in the area due to Muslim infiltration and the positioning of ABiH forces to the rear of HVO units defending the front against the Serbs, there did not appear to be any urgent reaction on the part of the HVO leadership (conversation with author, Split, Aug. 17, 1999)
6 The Vance-Owen Peace Plan canton map was not agreed upon until January 10-12, 1993.
8 Halilovic, Lukava Strategija, 78. See also the comments of journalist Ed Vulliamy regarding the "grand scheme" of Mehmed Alagic, a senior ABiH commander in central Bosnia, for "consolidation of the Muslim triangle in central Bosnia" (Seasons in Hell, 257-58)
8 U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Pub 1-02, 3, defines "active defense" as: "The employment of limited offensive action and counterattacks to deny a contested area or position to the enemy". Indeed, the former commander of OZ Northwest Herzegovina used the term exactly in its American sense to describe the series of small counterattacks and other offensive actions taken by the HVO in the Lasva-Kozica-Lepenica Valleys and elsewhere (Maj. Gen. Zeljko Siljeg, conversation with author, Medjugorje, Aug. 23, 1999)
9 Zeko conversation, Aug. 27, 1999.

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