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27 August 2015
Analysis

The Trusina Attack: Five Year Trial Comes to a Close

Amer Jahić BIRN BiH Sarajevo

After a trial that lasted nearly five years, the case involving the Bosnian Army attack on the village of Trusina ended. Five former members of the Bosnian Army will receive their verdicts on Tuesday, September 01.

Mensur Memic, Nihad Bojadzic, Senad Hakalovic, Dzevad Salcin, Nedzad Hodzic and Zulfikar Alispago have been charged with the murder of Croat civilians and prisoners of war in the village of Trusina near Konjic. Due to his poor health, court proceedings against Alispago have been separated.

The indictment alleges that Alispago was the commander of the Zulfikar Special Unit with the Supreme Command of the Bosnian Army, and Bojadzic was his deputy. Salcin and Hodzic were members of the Zulfikar Unit. Hakalovic was a member of the 45th Mountain Brigade Neretvica.

Memic, Bojadzic and Hakalovic denied their involvement in the Trusina attack with various alibis. Salcin and Hodzic did not dispute their presence in Trusina, but said they did not participate in any crimes. Alispago didn’t present his defense in these proceedings.

This is the longest first-instance trial held before the Bosnian state court. The defendants were arrested in 2009, and their trial began one year later. The defendants have defended themselves at liberty since.

The state prosecution finished its presentation of evidence in early 2013, when BIRN published an analysis on the case titled Murders and Former Fellow Fighters.

The defense challenged the indictment through the testimony of the defendants, 30 witnesses, several expert witnesses and hundreds of documents.

The defense said testimony from former Zulfikar Unit member Rasema Handanovic, protected witnesses A, B, R and others who described the criminal activity of the defendants was unreliable. The defense sought to convince the trial chamber that such witnesses were also responsible for war crimes and that it was in their personal interest to testify against the defendants.

Handanovic was sentenced to five and a half years in prison, after admitting to participating in the execution of captured soldiers in Trusina. The defense claimed Handanovic’s admission of guilt prevented from being convicted of other crimes she committed.

The state prosecution contested these claims.

The Attack on Trusina

The attack on the village of Trusina occurred on the morning of April 16, 1993. Fifteen Croat civilians and six surrendered members of the Croatian Defense Council were killed.

Bosnian Army soldiers allegedly went to Trusina from the headquarters of the Nerevtica Brigade, which was located in the nearby town of Parsovici.

Bojadzic allegedly issued orders to leave no one in the village alive and commanded the attack from a nearby hill.

“The stories that claim I commanded the attack on Trusina are fabrications and false. Some say I said no one should remain alive, but only a sick mind would invent such a thing, in order to cover up his own crimes,” Bojadzic said.

The defense called on 20 witnesses to testify in Bojadzic’s defense. Nusret Avdibegovic, the former commander of the Third Battalion of the Nerevtica Brigade, was one of them.

Avdibegovic was also suspected of war crimes in Trusina, but the investigation against him was suspended. In his testimony, he denied that he was with Bojadzic near Trusina during the attack.

Hasan Hakalovic, a former commander with the Nerevtica Brigade, was also suspected of participating in war crimes in Trusina. He said he checked with former members of the brigade regarding claims about Bojadzic’s stay in Parsovici. Hakalovic said no one knew Bojadzic was in Parsovici.

A protected witness known as D was a member of the Zulfikar Unit and also participated in the attack on Trusina. He said Samir Semsovic led Zulfikar Unit soldiers in the attack, and said he didn’t see Bojadzic. He said Semsovic was wounded in Trusina, and died later on.

According to the defense, Bojadzic was in Pazarici in the municipality of Hadzici and Bradina in the municipality of Bradina during the Trusina attack. Bojadzic’s former driver, Elvedin Ibrahimovic, testified on Bojadzic’s whereabouts during the attack.

Ibrahimovic said he drove Bojadzic to an imam in Pazaric to commemorate the anniversary of his mother’s death. They then allegedly went to barracks in Bradina, where Bojadzic rested.

In its closing statement, the state prosecution said their evidence could be brought into doubt by evidence presented by Bojadzic’s defense.

New Soldiers Didn’t See Combat, Memic Defense Claims

Memic, who has been charged with participating in the execution of six captured members of the Croatian Defense Council, claimed he was at the Zulfikar Unit headquarters during the attack because he was a new soldier.

The defense said Memic became a member of the Zulfikar Unit on April 7, 1993. According to the defense, new soldiers weren’t sent into combat until they became familiar with their fellow soldiers.

“Memic stayed. He greeted Orhan. I didn’t see him again, until I got back,” witness Bedirhan Mesic said.

Other former members of the Zulfikar Unit confirmed that new soldiers weren’t immediately sent into combat. Memic’s claim that he was on Mount Igman at the time of the Trusina attack was confirmed by two former cooks in the Zulfikar Unit. Several members of the Zulfikar Unit also confirmed that they didn’t see Memic in Trusina.

Memic said he believed former members of the Zulfikar Unit said he was in Trusina and involved in the shooting due to animosity towards him.

“What they did to me I wouldn’t do to my worst enemy. It’s up to their conscience why they chose me,” Memic said.

During the state prosecution’s closing statements, they said Rasema Handanovic went into combat in Trusina, although she claimed to have joined the Zulfikar Unit after Memic. Memic claimed to have spent time alone in a room in the Mraziste Hotel when the Zulfikar Unit’s soldiers went to Trusina - a claim the prosecution described as illogical.

Testifying in his own defense, Hakalovic said Ivan Drljo, whom he’d known since childhood, called on two civilians during the Trusina attack. Drljo and two other soldiers then allegedly executed the two civilians and three captured members of the Croatian Defense Council.

Former members of the Zulfikar Unit also stated that Hakalovic was on the frontline in Buturovic Polje during the Trusina attack.

“Senad was in the part towards Majdan, where our trench was,” defense witness Musan Padalovic said.

The defense claimed that state prosecution witnesses unlawfully identified Hakalovic as a soldier they saw participating in the Trusina attack. The defense said several witnesses participated in the identification process together. According to the defense, a female witness was helped by her son during the identification process. They also said older photographs of the defendants weren’t presented to the witnesses.

“It’s clear someone is lying,” prosecutor Emir Neradin said. He asked the trial chamber to believe the testimony of state prosecution witnesses.

Judges Prejudiced Towards Defendants, Defense Claims

Salcin’s defense did not call on any witnesses. Salcin has been charged with lining up 14 civilians and three soldiers against a wall during the Trusina attack. He threatened them, verbally abused them, and took their money and other valuables.

During his testimony, Salcin claimed he acted “completely normal” during the Trusina attack and took the civilians into a house when it started to rain. He said he rescued a teenage boy from the shooting.

“A fifteen year old boy went after them. I didn’t want to separate him from his sister, so I told him not to go with them. Then I heard the same voice saying, ‘Firing squad, get ready.’ I told the women to hide the boy and several bursts of gunfire could be heard,” Salcin said.

Salcin’s defense attorney, Kerim Celik, presented minutes from the Commission for Human Rights from Zagreb, which indicated that Salcin saved a boy named Dragan Drljo.

Salcin said he didn’t see Memic, Bojadzic or Hodzic in Trusina.

Hodzic has been charged with ordering and participating in the shooting during the attack.

The defense focused its efforts on proving that Hodzic was not fit to stand trial. He was repeatedly examined, and neuropsychiatrist Abdulah Kucukalic concluded that he was mentally unwell and had brain damage.

Other mental health experts disagreed with Kucukalic’s findings, and said they had doubts as to whether Hodzic was pretending to be mentally unwell.

The trial chamber accepted Kucukalic’s proposal to have Hodzic examined in a hospital. Hodzic was examined in a hospital in Banja Luka in 2013, and the results of his stay determined that he had brain damage and a slight degree of intellectual dysfunction.

“This doesn’t mean he doesn’t understand what’s going on…[this] doesn’t exclude the capability to [follow] the court procedure,” mental health expert Nera Zivlak-Radulovic said.

The defense claimed Zivlak-Radulovic’s report was incomplete, and requested a new examination at a hospital in Sarajevo. The trial chamber did not accept this proposal.

The defense said that the testimony of witnesses who described Hodzic’s participation in the shooting didn’t even meet the standards of circumstantial evidence. According to the defense, Hodzic was in Trusina, but put down his rifle while tending to Samir Semsovic, who’d been wounded before the shooting.

A protected witness named A testified in favour of the defense. When asked whether he saw Hozdic involved in the shooting, he said “Unfortunately, he was involved. I’m really sorry.” He said he didn’t confirm his involvement in earlier statements, because he wasn’t asked directly about Hodzic’s participation in the shootings.

The defense also requested that two members of the trial chamber be exempted, following the conviction of Edin Dzenko for crimes in Trusina in a separate proceeding.

Vasvija Vidovic, Bojadzic’s defense attorney, said Dzeko’s verdict was based on witnesses who also testified in this court proceeding. Vidovic said the two judges in the trial chamber therefore have already formed attitudes about the case. This request was refused.

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