Ethnic Cleansing in Ahmici by Croatian troops (HVO) - Bosnia and HerzegovinaAhmići massacre was the culmination of the Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing committed by the Croatian Community of Herzeg-Bosnia's political and military leadership on Bosnian Muslim (Bosniak) civilians during the Bosnian War in April 1993. It is the biggest massacre committed during the conflict between Croats and the Bosnian government (dominated by Bosniaks). The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague has ruled that these crimes amounted to crimes against humanity in numerous verdicts against Croat political and military leaders and soldiers, most notably Dario Kordić, political leader of Croats in Central Bosnia who got 25 years in prison. [1]

The attack began at 05:30 hours on April 16, 1993. The Croat Defence Council (HVO) shelled the Bosniak part of Ahmići and moved in killing many Bosniaks, including women, children and the elderly. They destroyed a large number of Bosniak homes, and caused extensive damage to the village's two mosques. An estimate puts the death toll at 120. The youngest was a three-month-old baby, who was machine-gunned to death in his crib, and the oldest was a 96-year-old woman.

Aerial shot of Ahmici - Bosnia and Herzegovina
Aerial shot of Ahmići - Bosnia and Herzegovina



Background

Ahmici is a village in central Bosnia and Herzegovina, located in the municipality of Vitez in the Lašva Valley. According to the 1991 census, 1,178 people lived in the village of them 509 were Bosniaks, 592 were Croats, 30 were Serbs and 47 were others.

On April 3, 1993, the Croat leadership met in Mostar to discuss the implementation of the Vance-Owen Peace Plan. The Croats decided to implement the creation of "Croatian Provinces" (Provinces 3, 8 and 10) placing the Bosnian armed forces under the command of the General Staff of the HVO. On April 4, according to Reuters, the HVO HQ in Mostar set a deadline for President Izetbegovic to sign the above agreement and stated: If Izetbegovic fails to sign this agreement by April 15, the HVO will unilaterally enforce its jurisdiction in cantons three, eight and ten. In a message from Kordic, Ignac Koštroman and Anto Valenta, the Croat people were told to display more Croatian flags on buildings. [2]

An organized attack

On Friday, April 16, 1993 at 05:30 hours, Croatian forces simultaneously attacked Vitez, Stari Vitez, Ahmići, Nadioci, Šantici, Pirici, Novaci, Putiš and Donja Veceriska. General Blaškic spoke of 20 to 22 sites of simultaneous combat all along the road linking Travnik, Vitez and Busovača. The ICTY Trial Chamber found that this was a planned attack against the Bosniak civilian population. [3] The attack was preceded by several political declarations announcing that a conflict between Croatian forces and Bosnian forces was imminent. On the day of the attack, telephone lines had been cut because all communication exchanges in the municipality of Vitez were under HVO control.

Croat inhabitants of those villages were warned of the attack and some of them were involved in preparing it. Croat women and children had been evacuated on the eve of the fighting. The method of attack displayed a high level of preparation. The attacks in the built-up areas, such as those carried out in the Ahmici area were operations planned in minute detail with the aim of killing or driving out the Bosniak population, resulting in a massacre. On the evening of April 15, unusual HVO troop movements had been noticed. On the morning of April 16, the main roads were blocked by Croat troops. According to several international observers, the attack occurred from three sides and was designed to force the fleeing population towards the south where elite marksmen with particularly sophisticated weapons shot those escaping. Other troops, organised in small groups of about five to ten soldiers, went from house to house setting them on fire and killing the residents. Around one hundred soldiers who took part in the operation. [4] The attack resulted in the massacre of the Bosniak villagers and the destruction of the village. Among the more than 100 who died were 32 women and 11 boys and girls under the age of 18. The aim of the HVO artillery was to support the infantry and destroy structures which the infantry couldn't. The mosque, for example, was hit by a shot from a powerful weapon. Later the minaret was blown up by Bralo and Jukic. [5]

Murders of civilians

Civilians from Ahmići killed by Croatian troopsMost of the men were shot at point blank range. Some men had been rounded up and then killed by Croatian soldiers. Twenty or so civilians were also killed in Donji Ahmići as they tried to flee the village. The fleeing inhabitants had to cross an open field before getting to the main road. About twenty bodies of people killed by very precise shots were found in the field. Military experts concluded that they had been shot by marksmen. Other bodies were found in the houses so badly charred they could not be identified and in positions suggesting that they had been burned alive. The victims included many women and children. [6]

 



Civilians from Ahmići killed by Croatian troopsAn ECMM observer said he had seen the bodies of children who, from their position, seemed to have died in agony in the flames: "some of the houses were absolute scenes of horror, because not only were the people dead, but there were those who were burned and obviously some had been burned with flame launchers, which had charred the bodies and this was the case of several of the bodies". According to the ECMM report, at least 103 people were killed during the attack on Ahmici. [6]

 

Civilians from Ahmići killed by Croatian troopsCivilians from Ahmići killed by Croatian troops
Civilians from Ahmići killed by Croatian troops



Destruction of property

Mosque in Donji Ahmici was destroyed Croatian troops by explosives laid around the base of its minaretAccording to the Centre for Human Rights in Zenica, 180 of the existing 200 Bosniak houses in Ahmići were burned during the attack. The Commission on Human Rights made the same finding in its report dated May 19, 1993. According to the ECMM practically all the Bosnian Muslim houses in the villages of Ahmići, Nadioci, Pirici, Sivrino Selo, Gacice, Gomionica, Gromiljak and Rotilj had been burned. According to ECMM observer "it was a whole area that was burning". [7] Several religious buildings were destroyed. Two mosques were deliberately mined and given the careful placement of the explosives inside the buildings. Furthermore, the mosque in Donji Ahmici was destroyed by explosives laid around the base of its minaret.[8]

The troops involved

The troops involved in the attack included the Military Police Fourth Battalion and, in particular, the Džokeri Unit. The Džokeri (Jokers), an anti-terrorist squad with twenty or so members, were created in January 1993 from within the Military Police on the order of Zvonko Vokovic, whose mission was to carry out special assignments such as sabotage, stationed at the bungalow in Nadioci. Other participants included the Vitezovi, the Viteška brigade of the municipality of Vitez, the Nikola Šubic Zrinski brigade of Busovaca, together with Domobrani units (units set up in each village in accordance with a decision from Mostar dated February 8, 1993) stationed at Ahmići, Šantici, Pirici and Nadioci. Many witnesses in the Blaškic case also referred to soldiers in camouflage uniforms being present, wearing the emblem of the Croatian Army. Several Croat inhabitants of these villages also participated in the attack. They were members of the Domobrani such as Slavko Milicevic for the Donji Ahmici sector, Žarko Papic for the Zume area, Branko Perkovic in Nadioci, Zoran Kupreškic in Grabovi (an area in the centre of Ahmici), Nenad Šantic and Colic in Šantici. [9]

Denial

After the massacre, Croat leaders, supported by propaganda efforts, tried to deny the massacre or to blame other sides in the Bosnian War. Dario Kordić denied to Payam Akhavan, an investigator with the United Nations Centre for Human Rights, that the HVO were involved in the Ahmici massacre; indeed, he said that his men, as good Christians, would never commit such acts and blamed the Serbs or the Muslims themselves: according to him, no investigation was necessary. A similar response was given by general Tihomir Blaškić to British Colonel Stewart in Kordić's presence.[5]

Trial

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague has ruled that these crimes amounted to crimes against humanity in numerous verdicts against Croat political and military leaders and soldiers, most notably Dario Kordic, political leader of Croats in Central Bosnia who got 25 years in prison. [1] Based on the evidence of numerous HVO attacks at that time, the ICTY Trial Chamber concluded in the Kordić and Cerkez case that by April 1993 Croat leadership had a common design or plan conceived and executed to ethnically cleanse Bosniaks from the Lašva Valley. Dario Kordić, as the local political leader, was found to be the planner and instigator of this plan. [10] Further concluding that the Croatian Army was involved in the campaign, the ICTY defined the events as an international conflict between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.[11] The ICTY initially indicted sixteen Croats and convicted eight of them by now of their roles in the Lašva Valley ethnic cleansing. The conviction of Tihomir Blaškić, who was the HVO commander for the Central Bosnian Operative Zone, was reduced from 45 to 9 years, and he was released after serving 8 years and 4 months of his sentence.


 

References:

1. a b "ICTY: Kordic and Cerkez verdict". [1]
2. "ICTY: Kordic and Cerkez verdict - ICTY: Kordic and Cerkez verdict - IV. Attacks on towns and villages: killings- C. The April 1993 Conflagration in Vitez and the Lasva Valley". [2]
3. "ICTY: Blaškic verdict - B. The municipality of Vitez - 1. Ahmici, Šantici, Pirici, Nadioci". [3]
4. "ICTY: Blaškic verdict - B. The municipality of Vitez - 1. Ahmici, Šantici, Pirici, Nadioci - A planned attack with substantial assets". [4]
5. a b "ICTY: Kordic and Cerkez verdict - C. The April 1993 Conflagration in Vitez and the Lašva Valley - 3. The Attack on Ahmici". [5]
6. a b "ICTY: Blaškic verdict - B. The municipality of Vitez - 1. Ahmici, Šantici, Pirici, Nadioci - b) An attack against the Muslim civilian population - iv) Murders of civilians". [6]
7. "ICTY: Blaškic verdict - B. The municipality of Vitez - 1. Ahmici, Šantici, Pirici, Nadioci - b) An attack against the Muslim civilian population - v) Destruction of dwellings". [7]
8. "ICTY: Blaškic verdict - B. The municipality of Vitez - 1. Ahmici, Šantici, Pirici, Nadioci - b) An attack against the Muslim civilian population - vi) Destruction of institutions dedicated to religion". [8]
9. "ICTY: Blaškic verdict - B. The municipality of Vitez - 1. Ahmici, Šantici, Pirici, Nadioci - ii) The troops involved". [9]
10. "ICTY: Kordic and Cerkez verdict - IV. Attacks on towns and villages: killings - C. The April 1993 Conflagration in Vitez and the Lašva Valley - 3. The Attack on Ahmici (Paragraph 642)". [10]
11. "HRW: Conflict between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia". [11] 12. Photo: © Gilles Peress courtesy of the Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley