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Eyewitness describes ‘ideal’ ethnic coexistence in prewar Bosnia

July 25, 1997

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ Muslims, Croats and Serbs lived ``like a big extended family″ in central Bosnia before the war, a former Muslim commander told the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal Friday.

Sefkija Djidic was the first eyewitness to testify in the trial of Tihomir Blaskic, a Bosnian Croat general accused of ordering troops to kill hundreds of Muslims and destroy their villages in central Bosnia’s Lasva Valley in 1992 and 1993. He has pleaded innocent.

Blaskic allegedly operated from the town of Vitez, where Djidic commanded Muslim forces during the war. Djidic now is the town’s police chief.

Describing what he called ``the good life″ before the conflict, Djidic said, ``Our life was almost ideal from the standpoint of cohabitation.″

Muslims, Croats and Serbs, ``lived like a big extended family,″ he said.

But as Yugoslavia began to crumble in 1990, hatred spawned by hard-line nationalist politicians crept into the peaceful Lasva Valley, poisoning relations between ethnic groups.

In 1991, Bosnian Croats formed a breakaway state in Bosnia, sparking the conflict that led to Blaskic’s alleged involvement in anti-Muslim atrocities.

Djidic’s testimony was to continue Monday, when he will give the three-judge panel details of the bitter and bloody conflict.

Earlier Friday, a prosecution witness admitted under cross-examination that tribunal investigators have discovered no written orders issued by Blaskic commanding his troops to destroy civilian targets.

Prompted by Blaskic’s U.S. attorney, Russel Hayman, investigator Simon Leach added that prosecutors do have documents signed by Blaskic ordering troops not to attack civilian targets.

Blaskic’s defense team is expected to argue that Blaskic attempted to halt atrocities and that Croat irregulars out of his control committed the Lasva Valley atrocities.

Leach was the second prosecution witness in the Blaskic trial, which began June 24 and is expected to last at least six months.

The trial takes place on alternate fortnights because it has to share the tribunal’s only courtroom with another case.

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