In October, 1992, Jajce, an important town northwest of Travnik on the main road to Banja Luka, had been under siege by the Bosnian Serb Army (BSA) for nearly five months. A mixed garrison of Croatian Defense Council and Army of the Republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina soldiers defended the town and its two important power stations. They were supported from Travnik over a tenuous, narrow, twenty-five-mile-long corridor through Serb-held territory. Reinforcements, food, ammunition, and other vital supplies were brought forward by truck, usually at night. Constantly under fire, the nightly convoys that snaked from Travnik along the primitive road through rough mountain terrain barely sufficed to keep Jajce's beleaguered ganison and civilian population alive. On October 27, 1992, the BSA's I Krajina Corps acted to end the siege of Jajce with an all-out attack preceded by several air strikes. The following day, Jajce's HVO defenders evacuated their sick and wounded along with the Croat civilian residents before abandoning the town that evening. The Muslim soldiers and civilians soon followed when, on October 29, the BSA entered the town and began a program of "ethnic cleansing" that resulted in what has been called "the largest and most wretched single exodus" of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
For many of the thirty thousand refugees who fled over the mountains or down the by-then notorious "Vietnam Road" toward the relative safety of Travnik, it was not the first time they had been forced to flee before the BSA. Many had fled earlier to Jajce from Banja Luka, Prijedor, Sanski Most, Kotor Varos, and other towns and villages in the Bosanska-Krajina region. For the most part, the HVO soldiers and Croat refugees who fled Jajce filtered down into the relative safety of Herzegovina or even into Croatia itself. The twenty thousand or so Muslim refugees, on the other hand, had no place else to go and therefore remained in Travnik, Novi Travnik, Vitez, Busovaca, or villages near Bila and Zenica. Amidst mutual accusations of having abandoned the defense of the city, both the HVO and the ABiH were forced to repair the substantial military damage suffered while their respective civilian authorities were faced with the problems caused by a major influx of refugees into the central Bosnia area.
Therein lay the seeds of the coming conflict. The Muslim refugees from Jajce posed both a problem and an opportunity for Alija Izetbegovic's government. The problem was where to relocate them. The opportunity was a military one: the large number of military age males, well motivated for revenge against the Serbs and equally ready to take on the Croats, provided a pool from which the ABiH could fill up existing units and form new mobile ones that would then be available to undertake offensive missions. Until the last months of 1992, the lack of mobile units trained and motivated for offensive operations had prevented the ABiH from mounting a sustained offensive action against the BSA or anyone else. However, the influx of refugees from Jajce, combined with large numbers of military-age refugees from eastern Bosnia and the arrival of fundamentalist Muslim fighters (mujahideen) from abroad, made it possible for the ABiH to form such mobile units and to contemplate offensive action on a large scale for the first time.
Thus, contrary to the commonly accepted view, it was the fall of Jajce at the end of October, 1992, not the publication of the details of the Vance-Owen Peace Plan (VOPP) in January, 1993, that precipitated the Muslim-Croat conflict in central Bosnia. It was the Muslims, who had both the means and motive to strike against their erstwhile ally. The United Nations-backed VOPP proposed the division of Bosnia-Herzegovina into ten provinces, each of which-except for the one surrounding Sarajevo- would be dominated by one of the three principal ethnic groups. The plan's details were announced in December, 1992, and the supporting map was released the following month. The common but nevertheless erroneous argument is that the Muslim-Croat conflict in central Bosnia arose from the Bosnian Croats' premature and ruthless efforts to implement the plan in the central Bosnian provinces assigned to them.(1) However, that argument rests on faulty post hoc propter hoc reasoning unsupported by convincing factual evidence as to means, motive, and opportunity. Nor does it take into account the time required to plan and execute an offensive campaign. Open conflict between the Muslims and Croats in Central Bosnia broke out on January 14, 1993, just two days after the VOPP cantonal map was finalized in Geneva but two and one-half months after Jajce fell.
On the other hand, the temporal and causative connections between the massive influx of Muslim refugees into central Bosnia following Jajce's fall and the outbreak of the Muslim-Croat conflict are clear. Their disruptive presence in central Bosnia's towns and villages, their incorporation into the ABiH's new mobile offensive units, and the urgent need to find them living space are well-known and widely accepted facts. The role they played as the catalyst for the Muslim-Croat conflict was pointed out by Franjo Nakic, the former HVO Operative Zone Central Bosnia chief of staff, and many other witnesses appearing before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Fomer Yugoslavia in The Hague. As Nakic succinctly stated, "the Croats and Muslims, the local ones, would never have entered into a conflict were it not for the influx of these refugees who sought a space for themselves, having lost their own in Western and Eastern Bosnia."(2)
1 The unsubstantiated opinion that the Muslim-Croat conflict in central Bosnia was precipitated by the Croat insistence on early implementation of the VOPP surfaced early in the conflict. For example, Lt. Col. Robert A. Stewart, commander of the British UNPROFOR battalion in the Lasva Valley, recorded in his diary that he had expressed to the Equerry to the Prince of Wales his belief that “the HVO were causing problems in order to force the Muslims to agree to the Geneva Peace Plan” (Stewart diary, Jan. 29, 1993, sec. 3, 12, KC D56/1 and KC d104/1). It has also been promoted by journalists (e.g. Peter Maas in Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War, n 286); by human rights organizations (e.g. Helsinki Watch [Human Rights Watch] in War Crimes in Bosnia-Hercegovina, 2:379-81); and in other Western publications (e.g. Jane’s Information Group, Jane’s Bosnia Handbook, sec. 2, 3-4).
2 Franjo Nakic, Kordic-Cerkez trial testimony, Apr. 13, 2000. Nakic was chief of staff of the HVO’s OZCB from December 1992 to December 1996.