War crimes divide one Bosnian town, as another rebuilds
Sep. 03, 1997
VITEZ, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) _ In the ruined town of Vitez, the actions of a foreign court hundreds of miles away are reinforcing the hatred of war.
Eleven Croat war crimes suspects from Vitez remain at liberty, but one, Gen. Tihomir Blaskic, is on trial at The Hague, Netherlands, for alleged atrocities against Muslims by his Croat militia.
Showing support for Blaskic, posters with his image adorn the Croat side of Vitez, where residents go about their business without even glancing at the town's Muslims, much less greeting them. The posters are a constant reminder of the gulf separating the two populations.
``The tribunal is deepening this conflict, not solving it,'' said Zvonimir Cilic, a journalist in Vitez.
But in Konjic, just 40 miles away, residents offer a different appraisal of the tribunal, saying it has been a healing force. This despite the fact that several people from the area also are on trial in The Hague.
``When the tribunal began its work, people said it was a good thing,'' said Dragan Subotic, a policeman in Konjic. ``Everybody should get what he deserves.''
The contrasting stories in Vitez and Konjic, both in central Bosnia, speak to the fact that although the tribunal's task is the same throughout Bosnia -- to bring war crimes suspects to trial -- its reception swings widely depending on the location. To some, the panel is meddlesome and biased, while to others, it's the best hope for justice and life after the war.
Croats in Vitez argue that the U.N. tribunal has chosen not to prosecute Muslims, whom they say should be indicted for alleged crimes such as a 1993 mortar attack the Croats say killed eight kids playing basketball.
A Muslim judge who investigated atrocities in Vitez says no Muslims have been indicted because there is no evidence linking them to crimes.
``I can claim with certainty that the Bosnian army was not committing war crimes,'' said Judge Safet Hadrovic in nearby Zenica.
Konjic shows barely a trace of such bitter division _ even though during the war Muslims and Croats incarcerated Serbs in the Celebici camp, just outside the city, raping, torturing and killing inmates. Four Muslims and a Croat from Konjic are now on trial at the tribunal.
Subotic said the trial has only helped improve ethnic relations, which remained strong throughout the war because the communities' continued contact with one another.
For Hadrovic, the war crimes tribunal in distant northern Europe is a guarantor of peace, even if the NATO-led international peace force leaves Bosnia.
``I think peace will hold because people are tired of war and will concentrate on work and rebuilding the economy and helping their families,'' he said. ``But only on the condition that all the war crimes suspects are arrested and taken away, so that they cannot stay and poison relations between people any more.''
Croat journalist Cilic disagreed.
``It is impossible to live together because of all the victims on the Croat side and all the victims _ maybe more _ on the Muslim side,'' he insisted.
Konjic is reaping rewards for its willingness to bury the horrors and grudges of the war. It is one of the few Bosnian communities getting funds from a U.N. ``Open Cities'' program that dangles extra aid before local officials if they promote unity over division.
A joint police force is being set up with Subotic the only Serb among Muslim and Croat officers.
``I have no trouble with them. I work and talk with them every day,'' Subotic said.
Christian Pedron, a Frenchman with the international U.N. police force, said Croat and Serb refugees were planning to return to Konjic.
Not so in the Vitez region, where plans for a joint police force have been stymied. Refugees are definitely not welcome in places like the nearby hamlet of Ahmici, where more than 100 Muslims were massacred by Croats in April 1993.
``They don't want to come back, and we don't want them,'' Luka Kupreskic, a Croat in Ahmici, said of the Muslims. Her two sons are among the 11 local Croats indicted for war crimes.
And the war crimes tribunal?
``We don't know what is going on there, who is going to tell what kind of lies against my sons,'' she said.