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Zenica

Written 08.12.2009. 13:10
Busovaca, Kiseljak, Zenica, and Elsewhere

Although the principal objectives of the April, 1993, Muslim offensive-the SPS explosives factory, OZCB headquarters, and the vital Travnik-Kaonik road-were in the Vitez area, the attack extended, as HVO intelligence officer Ivica Zeko predicted, to the Busovaca, Kiseljak, and Zenica areas. Elsewhere-in Travnik, Novi Travnik, Zepce, and Vares-the ABiH elected to avoid an all-out attack in order to concentrate their forces in the critical Vitez-Busovaca-Kiseljak-Zenica area. The HVO mounted a strong active defense and repelled the Muslim attack in Busovaca and Kiseljak. But Muslim attackers in the Zenica area succeeded in destroying the HVO forces and expelling the Croat population from the town and many of the surrounding villages.

The ABiH Attack in the Busovaca Area

The town of Busovaca and the road junction at Kacuni were important ABiH objectives during the probing attacks in late January, 1993. Although elements of the ABiH 333d Mountain Brigade seized control of the Kacuni intersection and took up positions overlooking Busovaca from the east, they were unsuccessful in taking either the Kaonik road junction north of Busovaca or the town itself, both of which the HVO vigorously defended. In the Muslim offensive that began on April 16, Busovaca and the critical Kaonik intersection were important Muslim objectives, and the fighting in the HVO Nikola Subic Zrinski Brigade's defensive zone was intense and sustained, punctuated by sequential Muslim attacks and HVO counterattacks that flowed back and forth over the hapless villages north and east of the Vitez-Busovaca road. The more numerous ABiH aggressors gained ground and inflicted heavy casualties on the HVO defenders, but they were ultimately unsuccessful in obtaining their principal objectives.

The ABiH forces committed to the offensive in the Busovaca area in April, 1993, consisted of elements of five mountain brigades (the 302d, 303d, 305th, 309th, and 333d), the 301st Mechanized Brigade, and the 7th Muslim Motorized Brigade, supported by the 2d Antisabotage Detachment-Zenica (2d PDO-Zenica), RBiH Ministry of the Interior police, Territorial Defense troops from Rovna, Kruscica, Busovaca, Fojnica, and Kakanj, Muslim Armed Forces units, and other troops. In all, the attacking ABiH forces probably totaled over five thousand men.

Unlike the HVO defenders in the Vitez area, who had to defend against a Muslim attack on a broad front but from only one direction (albeit with significant pockets in the center of Vitez and to their right and left rear), the Zrinski Brigade in Busovaca was compelled to adopt an all-around defense with significant "fronts" to the northwest, north/northeast, east/southeast, and south. The 3d Battalion, 333d Mountain Brigade, reinforced by elements of the 2d PDO-Zenica, was deployed northeast of Busovaca on a front extending from the village of Putis south across the Kaonik-Lasva road to a point just southeast of the village of Skradno. The battalion command post was located in Grablje. The 2d Battalion, 333d Mountain Brigade-with its command post near Bozevic-was deployed to the southeast of the 3d Battalion, extending east of the village of Krcevine to run parallel to (and north of) the Busovaca-Kiseljak road to the Kacuni intersection. The area south- west of the Kacuni intersection was occupied by the 1st Battalion, 333d Mountain Brigade with its command post co-located with the Brigade command post near Benchmark (BM) 455 just northwest of the village of Mehurici and reinforced by the 4th Company, 3d Battalion, 7th Muslim Motorized Brigade. The 1st Battalion, 333d Mountain Brigade's zone began at the Kacuni intersection and ran southwest to Prosje, then northwest to Ocehnici, and then southwest again to link up with a 180- man detachment of Muslim TO forces from Fojnica in the vicinity of BM 751. The Muslim line extended farther to the southwest in an area occupied by elements of the 305th Mountain Brigade's 1st Battalion (about 170 men), extending from a point northeast of BM 1138 and running southwest to BM 1410. To the west of Busovaca, HVO forces were opposed by an eighty-man detachment from the Rovna TO forces deployed just west of the village of Kovecevac and a small ABiH pocket just to the northwest of the village of Bare. The area directly north of Busovaca, from the village of Nadioci east to the Loncari-Jelinak-Putis area was assigned to elements of the ABiH 303d Mountain Brigade from Zenica.

The area to the rear of the 333d Mountain Brigade's 2d and 3d Battalions in the vicinity of the villages of Merdani, Dusina, and Lasva was occupied by elements of the 305th Mountain Brigade, which maintained its command post in Biljesevo near Kakanj. The ABiH forces in the Busovaca area were also supported by several tanks from the 301st Mechanized Brigade in Zenica. Later in the battle, elements of the 302d Motorized Brigade from Visoko were also committed in the Busovaca area.

The HVO defenders in the Busovaca area consisted of the three battalions of the Nikola Subic Zrinski Brigade, commanded by Dusko Grubesic from a command post at "Sumarija" in Busovaca. The 3d Battalion was deployed northwest of Busovaca in the vicinity of the village of Bare, facing local Muslim forces from the Ravno and Kruscica area. The 2d Battalion, commanded by Anto Juric from a command post just south of the Kaonik intersection, was deployed north of Busovaca astride the road guarding the vital Kaonik intersection, with forward elements forming a thin screen in the Kuber area north of the intersection from the vicinity of Nadioci east to include Loncari, Jelinak, and Putis then southeast to the vicinity of BM 366 across the road from the village of Katici. The headquarters of the 1st Battalion, commanded by Anto Dusic, was located just west of the center of Busovaca and northwest of the road to the village of Kupres, and the battalion manned a line in the Kula area running southeast from the Strane area to Mejdani then just west of Solakovici south to the Busovaca-Kiseljak road in the vicinity of Krcevine. The 1st Battalion sector also included a deep salient along the Busovaca-Kiseljak road toward Kiseljak, the point of which was near Kacuni, the northern shoulder at Donja Polje, and the southern shoulder near Ocehnici.

The situation remained relatively calm in the Busovaca area in early April as the HVO and ABiH forces faced off in the area north, east, and south of the town. The Muslim roadblock at Kacuni, established on January 23, prevented direct HVO access between Busovaca and Kiseljak, but there were no major direct confrontations. On April 8-9, the commanders of the 333d Mountain and Zrinski Brigades issued a joint order addressing the plan for filling in of trenches in the area no later than April 12, and the completion of the withdrawal of outside forces by April 16 in accordance with the pro- visions of the January cease-fire agreements On April 8, Zrinski Brigade headquarters reported a quiet night, and on April 10 the ABiH III Corps headquarters reported a generally quiet situation with "occasional provocation by HVO forces in the Busovaca municipality" as a result of the deterioration of Muslim-Croat relations in the Travnik area. The following day, April 11, III Corps HQ reported that on the night of April 10-11, an HVO platoon deployed on the Kula-BM 712-Mejdani line opened fire with small arms on ABiH positions on the Solakovici-Marjanov Kosa line. Single shots and short bursts provoked no ABiH response, and there were no casualties. An UNPROFOR patrol also reported the fall of six mortar rounds in the vicinity of the UNPROFOR checkpoint near Kacuni at 12:40 A.M. on April 11, as well as heavy small arms and machine-gun fire in the surrounding area following the mortar impact.

On April 12, the Zrinski Brigade HQ reported a generally quiet situation in the preceding period with no significant combat activity, stable defense lines, satisfactory morale, good logistical support, and functioning communications. The Busovaca-Kiseljak road remained closed, and new ABiH entrenchments were observed in the Kula sector. On April 13, ill Corps HQ re- ported that during the previous night HVO forces had provoked ABiH units in the Gornja Rovna area, but no one was hurt.The ECMM reported progress with filling in the trenches in the Busovaca area on April 14, and ECMM representatives met with the Croat mayor of Busovaca and the Muslim president of the War Presidency of Kacuni, who agreed to form a temporary joint municipal government."
Despite the relative calm and apparent progress in implementing the January cease-fire agreements in the Busovaca area, there were solid indications that the Muslim forces were preparing for offensive action. On April 11, a soldier from the Zrinski Brigade's 2d Battalion reported to the Busovaca Security Information Service office that while talking with one Vinko Ljubicic from Zenica he had learned that rumors were rampant in Zenica that the ABiH was prepared to sacrifice three thousand to five thousand men in order to capture territory in the vicinity of the Busovaca municipality.1

The Muslim offensive in the Busovaca area began on Apri115, and for the next four days it took the form of artillery, mortar, and direct-fire attacks from a distance. There was little or no movement toward the HVO defensive lines, and thus no direct close combat. At 3:05 P.M., April 15, two HVO Zrinski Brigade soldiers were wounded in the area of Sarcevici and transported to the war hospital in Busovaca. At 3:30, ECMM and UNPROFOR observers reported small-arms fire in the vicinity of the Kacuni bridge, and ECMM monitors protested to the HVO headquarters in Busovaca. The HVO authorities claimed their forces were being fired upon by ABiH troops in positions overlooking the HVO checkpoint at Gavrine Kuce, a claim that was later confirmed. At about 5:30, HVO forces mounted a spoiling attack with small arms supported by artillery against ABiH units in the village of Putis. The ABiH casualties included two KIA and two WIA.

The 303d Mountain Brigade's participation in the Busovaca attack provides an important indicator of Muslim intentions and the timing of the ABiH offensive. At noon on April 16, Suad Hasanovic, the brigade commander, issued his attack order based on orders received from the III Corps commander.2 The order noted that the 3d Battalion, 303d Mountain Brigade, controlled the villages of Merdani, Grablje, and Putis from a command post in Grablje and that the 2d Antisabotage Detachment of the Zenica TO forces had organized the defense in the Saracevica-Kicin area. The 303d's 2d Battalion was ordered to move from its deployment area along the Zenica-Drivusa-Janjici-Gumanic axis to occupy defensive positions on the line Saracevica (BM 957)-Kicin (BM 921) as far as BM 567. After consolidating its defenses along that line, the units were then to “mount an attack" along a primary axis of advance from Saracevica via Jelinak to Loncari; to occupy the Obla Glava-Gradina heights; and then “mount an attack" along the Saracevica-Vrela route to reach the line BM 813-Vrana Stijena-Bakije-Katici, where the battalion was then to prepare to advance on order toward the Busovaca-Vitez communication line. After occupying the defensive area between Saracevica and Kicin, elements of the 2d and 3d Companies of the 2d PDO-Zenica were to come under the control of the 2d Battalion, 303d Mountain Brigade, which would also be reinforced by the following forces: part of the brigade reconnaissance platoon; a 120-mm mortar platoon; two squads of 20-mm antiaircraft guns; a squad equipped with a 128-mm light rocket launcher; and one Maljutka (Sagger) antitank rocket. The 3d Battalion was to designate a company to act as a reserve for the attacking 2d Battalion. Following occupation of Saracevica, the 2d Battalion was also to be reinforced by one T-55 tank from the 301st Mechanized Brigade, the employment of the tank and the Maljutka antitank weapon to be controlled directly by the 303d Mountain Brigade commander. The brigade artillery group (minus the 120-mm mortar platoon) and other brigade elements were assigned suitable supporting tasks. As shown on a captured ABiH map, the sector assigned to the 303d Mountain Brigade ran from BM 514 just northeast of the village of Ahmici east through Loncari and Jelinak to Putis.

Two important facts need to be emphasized regarding the 303d Mountain Brigade's attack order of April 16, 1993. First, it is clearly labeled an "Order for Attack," and it indeed instructs subordinate units to carry out an attack-rather than a counterattack or a defensive action. Second, the rather lengthy and detailed order was apparently issued at noon on the sixteenth, following receipt of a III Corps order dated earlier in the day. Considering the time required to prepare and issue the III Corps order and the time required for the 303d Mountain Brigade commander to conduct his analysis of the corps order, prepare an estimate of the situation, and prepare his own implementing orders, it is highly unlikely that the 303d Brigade operation was undertaken in reaction to an HVO attack in the early morning hours. Given the known defects of ABiH staff work and communications, the 303d Brigade action had to have been planned much earlier.

At 8: 15 on the morning of Apri116, a British UNPROFOR patrol reported heavy fighting in the area of the Croat village of Rijeka and the Muslim village of Vranjska, where many houses were burning. At 5 P.M., Zrinski Brigade HQ reported that the fighting had continued during the day with a strong Muslim infantry attack launched from the Gornja Rovna and Pezici area at 5:30 A.M. on the HVO positions in the villages of Donja Rovna and Bare, to which the HVO forces responded vigorously. Light combat activity was also reported in the Kuber-Obla Glava area; otherwise, the defense lines around Busovaca remained quiet during the day. At 7:45 P.M., HQ, OZCB, issued orders for the Zrinski Brigade to reinforce the defense in the Kuber area with a minimum force of one company (120 men) of "your best prepared and most able forces." The Zrinski Brigade was further ordered to coordinate its actions with the Viteska Brigade and "make sure that Kuber does not fall."

The ABiH III Corps HQ reported on April 16 that the intensity of operations and the movement of HVO forces directed at the 333d Mountain Brigade had been "weak to the point of non-existence," and that in the southern sector occupied by the 333d Mountain Brigade's 1st Battalion and elements of the Busovaca TO forces, "no significant HVO forces activity has been observed."Elements of the 309th Mountain Brigade were also reported being introduced into the area of Sudine, and elements of the Kakanj TO forces into the area of Dusina.

The ABiH elements identified as belonging to the Muslim Armed Forces launched a strong infantry attack from the area of Dvor and Grabalje at about 5:30 A.M., April 17 , on HVO forces in Kuce, Putis, and Jelinak in the Kuber-Obla Glava area? The Muslim attack in that area continued with artillery support throughout the day. However. at 8:30 A.M., the Zrinski Brigade reported that Muslim forces had lost their positions on Mount Kuber and broken contact, and that ABiH forces were in control of BM 897 and Saracevici. At 11:25 on April 17, the Information Office of HQ, OZCB, notified International Red Cross, ECMM, and UNPROFOR authorities that Muslim extremists were killing civilians in the villages of Jelinak and Putis and throughout the Kuber area, with some sixty civilians massacred already. The international authorities were asked to investigate the situation and act to protect civilians. At 1:56 P.M., British UNPROFOR patrols reported that the village of Kuber was under attack by ABiH forces, and at 6:15 hours, HQ, OZCB, issued additional defensive orders for protection of the Kuber area and the vital Vitez-Busovaca road to the commanders of the Viteska and Zrinski Brigades and the 4th Military Police Battalion. The order, to take effect immediately, called for the formation of a defense line in the Kuber area to link forces from Vidovici via BM 514, BM 646, and Jelinak to Obla Glava in order to prevent a Muslim advance toward Kaonik and Nadioci at all costs.

Elsewhere in the area on April 17, a general alert was sounded in the town of Busovaca at 10 A.M. as mortar shells began to land. The positions of the Zrinski Brigade's 3d Battalion in Bare and Donja Rovna were also under fire all day from ABiH positions in and around Pezici and Gornja Rovna, and the 1st Battalion's positions in Strane, Gavrine Kuce, and Podjele also received sporadic fire from Merdani. The HVO reported one KIA and nine WIA (three seriously), and morale and logistics support were deemed satisfactory.

The HVO reconnaissance elements reported late on the seventeenth that Muslim mortars were firing on the Rovna and Donja Rovna areas of the Busovaca municipality from BM 536. On the morning of April 18, the Zrinski Brigade commander reported a quiet night in the brigade zone of operations and described the measures taken to increase the readiness of his forces and establish the defense lines prescribed by the OZCB commander the previous day. During the course of the day, the ABiH liaison officer to the ECMM reported heavy fighting in the area of Pezici and Rovna. The Zrinski Brigade also reported continued combat activity in the Kuber and Bare-Donja Rovna region as well as in the Kula area, including an intense attack launched by Muslim forces at 5: 50 P.M. that unsuccessfully attempted to break through the HVO defense lines in the areas of Polom, Vrata-Skradno, and Roske Stijene. Brigade headquarters also reported that an antiaircraft machine gun located in the area of Crna had fired into HVO positions in the village of Strane. All defense lines remained stable, and morale and logistics support continued to be rated satisfactory.

On April 19, even as the UNPROFOR-arranged cease-fire began to take hold in the Vitez area and the Boban-lzetbegovic agreement of April 18 became known, the fighting in the Busovaca area became even more intense. Colonel Blaskic, the OZCB commander, complained to UNPROFOR representatives that the ABiH offensive north of Busovaca centered on the villages of Kuber, Jelinak, and Kaonik contravened the cease-fire agree- ments. Zrinski Brigade HQ reported that the ABiH launched a general attack at 6:45 A.M. on Busovaca from the direction of Dvor-Putis-Gradina (BM 650) with a force of some 500 men from the 7th Muslim Brigade. Their objective was probably to take Gradina (BM 650) and seize control of the surrounding villages. In the Solakovici-Milavice sector, an attack was carried out by a force of approximately 450 men from the 333d and 309th Mountain Brigades in Kakanj. Finally, some 400 men from the 333d Mountain and 302d Motorized Brigades, supported by 82-mm and 120- mm mortars, launched an attack from the Kapak-Prosje-Polom-Ocehnici area apparently with the aim of taking the Draga barracks and surrounding buildings. Meanwhile, ABiH forces numbering some 2,000 men from the 303d and 305th Mountain Brigades, supported by a few tanks from the 301st Mechanized Brigade, were reported to be in reserve in the Dusina-Lasva-Merdani-Grablje area, poised to move along the Kaonik-Grablje-Lasva road to take HVO positions and gain full control of the lines of communication.

Zrinski Brigade HQ also reported the deployment of the thirteen hundred HVO defenders under its command on April 19. The 1st Battalion held the line Vrata-Podjele-Strane-Gravrine Kuce-Jelinak and the line Donja Rovna-Kovacevac-Roske Stijene-Busovaca-Grad-Tisovac-Polom and was currently engaged but repelling the attacks in the Dvor-Putis-Gradina and Kapak-Polom-Ocehnici areas with some difficulty. The 2d Battalion held the line Prosje-Polje-Milavice-Donja Solakovici-Krcevine-Kula-Vrata and was currently engaged on the stretches Solakovici-Milavice and Donja Polje-Prosje. Croatian Defense Council forces had pushed the ABiH attackers back some three hundred meters in the Solakovici-Milavice area, but they could not maintain the new positions due to unfavorable terrain and were thus forced to return to their starting position. The Muslim attack on the Donja Polje-Prosje sector was successfully repelled, and the attackers withdrew to their starting positions. The Dutch/Belgian UNPROFOR transport battalion based in Busovaca confirmed the fighting and shelling in the area, and noted that an M-63 Plamen multiple-barrel rocket launcher fired numerous salvos throughout the morning from a position between the villages of Kula and Skradno.

The battle continued on April 20 in the Polom, Roske Stijene, Putis- Gradina-Jelinak, and Bare-Donja Rovna areas. The HVO defenders repelled the Muslim attacks, but often with heavy casualties. During the course of the day, the HVO established roadblocks north and south of Busovaca to control traffic on the vital Kaonik-Kacuni road. Both the soldiers manning the HVO roadblocks and the deputy commander of the Zrinski Brigade insisted that the British UNPROFOR battalion had been involved in black market operations and the delivery of arms to Muslim villages in the Vitez area, so UNPROFOR vehicles were denied passage.3

The following day, April 21, the fighting in the Busovaca area began to subside as the Muslim offensive started to run out of steam. The battered HVO defenders sought a respite from the intense combat of the previous three days. The Dutch/Belgian UNPROFOR transport battalion based in Busovaca reported that the town remained quiet throughout the day and that, although the HVO roadblocks north and south of Busovaca remained in place, UNPROFOR vehicles were permitted to pass once the local police were informed. The two HVO checkpoints were removed altogether on April 22, but the ABiH established two additional checkpoints on the Busovaca-Kiseljak road and informed UNPROFOR patrols that no UN vehicles would be allowed to pass for the next ten to fifteen days. Lieutenant Colonel Bob Stewart, commander of the British UNPROFOR battalion, personally led a reconnaissance through the villages of Poculica, Vrhovine, Kuber, Jelinak, Loncari, and Ahmici on April 22. He observed that the Muslim soldiers he encountered were not happy about having received orders to withdraw from their forward positions in accordance with the peace plan then being put into effect.

On April 21, the British UNPROFOR battalion conducted an assessment of the situation in the Vitez-Busovaca area and noted that the ABiH III Corps seemed to be in the dominant military position despite having suffered heavy casualties in the fighting that began on April 15-16. The as- sessment also notes that the III Corps estimate of the situation was that a continuation of the "present conflict" (that is, the Muslim offensive) would probably provoke increased HVO artillery shelling of Zenica and perhaps the intervention of HVO forces from outside central Bosnia. Thus, although the ABiH was in position to continue the attack in the Busovaca area and against a number of key Croat villages, the decision to not do so was made in order to avoid additional casualties.

On April 25, the situation in the Kuber sector remained generally quiet, and UNPROFOR forces reported that the villages of Vidovici, Ahmici, Jelinak, and Putis appeared to be deserted. The fighting continued unabated on the Kula front east of Busovaca, however. At around 7:30 A.M., heavy machine gun and small arms firing broke out north of the UNPROFOR transport battalion's base in Busovaca, and HVO mortar positions in the town began firing in a northerly direction, expending some 140 rounds in the course of the morning. The HVO artillery located at Mosunj north of Vitez also fired between ten and fifteen rounds into the area northeast of Kula that morning. At 11 A.M., the OZCB commander complained to Dutch/Belgian UNPROFOR authorities that the Muslims had launched a large attack along the line Strane-Podjele-Kula-Donja Polje that began with the ABiH firing approximately ten mortar rounds from positions in the villages of Grablje and Merdani into the town of Busovaca at 4:30 A.M. The 9/12th Lancers ran a patrol into the area of Kula in the afternoon to investigate the HVO claims but found the village quiet other than for occasional small arms fire, although villagers reported that there had been mortar fire during the morning. At 6:37 P.M., the bridge across the Lasva River to Katici and Merdani was reported to have been demolished. The Muslim attack in the Kula area petered out on the afternoon of April 25, but the following day HVO authorities in Busovaca were still concerned, and the ABiH alleged that the HVO had launched an attack on Solakovici from Kula. The same day a British UNPROFOR liaison officer visiting the headquarters of the ABiH 305th Mountain Brigade confirmed that the brigade had in fact been committed in the Busovaca area.

The lines remained stable and there was only minor combat action in the Busovaca area on the morning of April 27 , although firing and troop movements occurred throughout the day in the vicinity of the village of Kazagici and Sotnice. At 7:30 A.M., HVO forces repelled a brief attack on the town itself, and at 9:30 ABiH artillery fired from the Silos area on civilian buildings in the village of Donja Polje. Three 120-mm mortar rounds were fired causing great destruction but no casualties. Snipers remained active throughout the area of operations.

The Muslims mounted attacks in the Kuber and Kula sectors on April 28. The HVO responded with artillery and mortar fire as well as a tenacious ground defense. Early in the morning, the ABiH launched an attack from the area of Putis on the villages of Bakje and Jelinak as well as the Gradina feature. Dutch/Belgian UNPROFOR observers in Busovaca reported that the HVO mortar positions north of town opened fire at 6: 15 A.M. and had fired some fifty rounds by 7:50, at which time small arms and heavy machine-gun fire could be heard south of the town as well. The ABiH launched another attack at about ten o’clock, this time from the Dusina and Solakovici areas on the HVO line from Kula down to Milavice, with heavy small-arms fire reported in the area which intensified around 2 P.M. Heavy fighting also continued in the Kazagici village area on April 28 as the ABiH retook the village from the HVO. The fighting in Kazagici on Apri127-28 resulted in heavy damage to the village, where almost every house had been set afire.

The heavy fighting in the Bakje-Jelinak-Gradina area and in the Kula area continued on April 29, even as Lieutenant Colonel Stewart escorted the senior officers of both the ABiH (Sefer Halilovic) and HVO (Milivoj Petkovic) to the lines near Kula in an effort to get the cease-fire going. Their efforts were largely in vain, however, and the month of April ended with HVO and ABiH forces still engaged around Busovaca in the Kuber and Kula sectors. On April 30, British UNPROFOR patrols reported seeing about a hundred ABiH soldiers occupying the ruins of the village of Jelinak and a group of fifty HVO soldiers in the village of Loncari. Although the ABiH was able to gain some ground and inflict heavy casualties on the numerically inferior HVO defenders, the Muslim offensive in the Busovaca area had failed to achieve its principal objectives, just as had the attack in the Vitez area. The stubborn HVO defense around Busovaca denied the ABiH the prized Kaonik intersection and the town of Busovaca for the moment, but the Muslims would soon resume their offensive.

The ABiH Attack in the Kiseljak Area

The April, 1993, Muslim attack in the Kiseljak area also developed much as Ivica Zeko, the OZCB intelligence officer, had predicted almost a month earlier. The HQ, OZCB, preparatory order issued at 10 A.M. on April 15 accurately forecast the details of the Muslim operational plan. As expected, the ABiH focused its April attack on occupying the BM 661-Svinjarevo-Mladenovac-Gomionica area, cutting the Busovaca-Kiseljak road at the Fojnica intersection just west of Gomionica, and linking up with Muslim forces in the Visnjica area, thereby dividing the already isolated Kiseljak enclave into two parts and effectively cutting off the HVO forces in Fojnica. The ABiH offensive against Kiseljak was thus restricted to a single axis of advance from the northwest, even though ABiH forces to the northeast, east, and south of the Kiseljak enclave had been active earlier. The ABiH IV Corps was committed to the Muslim spring offensive against the HVO in the Neretva Valley and was thus unable to mount a simultaneous assault from Tarcin toward the Kresevo-Fojnica-Kiseljak area. The ABiH I Corps units to the northeast and east of Kiseljak remained heavily engaged against the Bosnian Serb Army forces surrounding Sarajevo and were thus also unavailable for the offensive in the Kiseljak area.

Having failed to cut the Busovaca-Kiseljak road at the Fojnica junction in January, despite repeated bloody assaults, the Muslim forces consolidated and reinforced their positions in the villages northeast of the road (Svinjarevo, Behrici, and Gomionica) during the uneasy cease-fire in February and early April. The ABiH military police units from Visoko were brought in, and there was a steady stream of Muslim-Croat confrontations leading up to the renewal of active combat operations in mid-April. Muslim forces identified in the area north and northeast of Kiseljak in the December, 1992, through January, 1993, period included elements of the 302d Motorized Brigade from Visoko (command post near Dautovci); the 1st Battalion, 303d Mountain Brigade (command post southeast of Dautovci); the 1st and 2d Battalions, 17th Krajina Mountain Brigade; and Territorial Defense forces from the Kiseljak area. As far as can be determined, the same forces remained in place through mid-April.

The ABiH forces deployed in the area of Svinjarevo and Gomionica to the northeast of the Busovaca-Kiseljak road constituted the most significant threat to the Croats in Kiseljak. The forces in that area also posed a potential threat to the HVO defense of Busovaca to the northwest. Accordingly, at 9: 10 A.M., April 17, under heavy ABiH attack in the Vitez area, the OZCB commander ordered the Ban Josip Jelacic Brigade commander in Kiseljak to prepare for a preemptive attack on Muslim positions around Gomionica. He was further ordered to blockade Visnjica and other villages that could be used by the ABiH to launch an attack; to take control of Gomionica and Svinjarevo following a strong artillery and mortar preparation, the main attack to be made from Sikulje and Hadrovci; and reinforce the HVO positions at Badnje and Pobrdje with one company each. Finally, the brigade commander was enjoined to "keep in mind that the lives of the Croats in the region of Lasva depend upon your mission. This region could become a tomb for all of us if you show a lack of resolution."

Shortly before midnight on April 17, Colonel Blaskic gave final, detailed orders to the Jelacic Brigade for the proposed preemptive attack. The brigade was ordered to hold Zavrtaljka firmly and, following preparation of the objective area with mortar fire, to attack and capture Gomionica and Svinjarevo then regroup and conduct an artillery preparation for continuation of the attack to capture Bilalovac. HVO forces in the Fojnica area were assigned the mission of protecting the brigade's left flank and launching an attack on the hamlet of Dusina (south of Fojnica) or a breakthrough toward Sebesic. The operation was set to commence at 5:30 A.M., April 18.

At 1:40 A.M. on the eighteenth, the OZCB commander issued orders directly to the commander of the HVO battalion in Fojnica, instructing him to carry out the planned "combat operation" toward either Dusina or toward Sebesic, the purpose of which was to relieve pressure on the HVO defenders of Busovaca and gain control over the no-man's-land between the Kiseljak and Busovaca areas of operations. Despite being issued in the most forceful terms and essential to counteract the heavy Muslim attacks in the Vitez and Busovaca areas, Colonel Blaskic's orders were not obeyed by Stjepan Tuka, commander of the Ban Jelacic Brigade's 3d (Fojnica) Battallion, who with the support of the civilian authorities in Fojnica refused to execute the operations ordered and thereby provoked a crisis in the HVO command system.

Before the HVO attack ordered by Colonel Blaskic on April 17 to clear the Gomionica/Svinjarevo area could be mounted, the ABiH forces launched an attack of their own from the Svinjarevo-Gomionica area. At about 6 A.M. on Sunday, April 18, the battle for Gomionica-temporarily suspended in January-resumed when ABiH military police advanced from the village and made a frontal assault across the Busovaca-Kiseljak road.4 The Muslim assault was brought to a halt by ten, at which time the Jelacic Brigade headquarters reported that "our forces which are fulfilling their tasks in the village of Gomionica are being attacked." The same hurried situation report noted that other assigned tasks were being accomplished: the Muslim inhabitants of the villages of Jehovac, Gromiljak, Mlava, and Palez had been disarmed. The report also noted that "we have received zip from Fojnica bojna [battalion]."5 At 4:45 P.M., Mijo Bozic, the Jelacic Brigade commander, reported that the conflict had spread to the villages of Rotilj, Visnjica, Doci, Hercezi, and Brestovsko, and that the HVO had lost Zavrtaljka and failed to push the Muslim forces out of Gomionica-although they had advanced about a kilometer on either side of the village. Heavy fighting was still in progress, and the HVO forces reported three KIA, four W1A, and an unknown number of missing.

At 2 A.M. on April 19, Jelacic Brigade headquarters reported that heavy fighting continued in the Gomionica area as the Muslim forces reinforced their lines following an unsuccessful "counterattack"-a renewed attack launched after the HVO halted their initial attack. There was a lull in the fighting elsewhere in the Kiseljak area. The stalemate around Gomionica continued on April 19 and 20, with neither side able to advance. Despite several fevered messages from the OZCB commander referring to the massacre of Croats in Zenica and the imminent destruction of all HVO forces in central Bosnia, the Jelacic Brigade was unable to move forward in the Gomionica area until April 21, when it launched a counterattack that drove the ABiH forces back some five hundred meters north of the Busovaca-Kiseljak road. The lines stabilized once more, and would remain there for some time to come. The forces engaged in the Gomionica area from April 18-21 included about seven hundred ABiH soldiers and about 420 HVO troops. The HVO forces reported three KIA and thirty WIA, and estimated the Muslims had suffered some 266 casualties.

Having halted the ABiH assault at Gomionica on April 18, the HVO began to clean up the Muslim salient west of the Busovaca-Kiseljak road even before their successful counterattack on April 21. The Muslims simultaneously evacuated the entire salient. About 80 percent of the Muslim civilians in the area left on their own volition and moved to Visoko, Fojnica, and Kresevo. The Muslims in Doci and Hercezi surrendered their weapons on Apri119, and the HVO arrested 120 people in Brezovena and captured two 82-mm mortars and one 120-mm mortar. They also found five 120-mm, two 82-mm, and two 60-mm mortars, as well as three 60-mm mortars ABiH troops had thrown away in a stream. The HVO took Visnjica and Polje Visnjica on April 20, and evacuated almost all of the Muslim women and children there. It is perhaps worth noting that when Fojnica fell to the Muslims on July 10, 1993, and the Croats were expelled, many of them went over the mountains to Visnjica and occupied empty Muslim houses there.

The vigorous clearing actions in the villages on both sides of the Busovaca- Kiseljak road generated a fairly large number of Muslim refugees (some 1,038 went to the Visoko area alone before Apri128), and the HVO actions were subsequently characterized by ECMM teams in the area as "ethnic cleansing." Undeniably, Muslim houses were burned and Muslim civilians killed in the course of clearing armed Muslim defenders from positions in the various villages in the area of operations north and south of the Busovaca-Kiseljak road. However, neither the destruction nor the loss of life was disproportionate to the necessity of eliminating active centers of resistance in the HVO rear areas. Moreover, the ECMM reports appear to be based solely on Muslim allegations and quick visits to various Muslim villages. The ECMM monitors apparently did not investigate claims of destruction in Croat villages in the area; at least they did not comment on such claims. The British UNPROFOR observers appear in this case to have been more balanced in their judgments. On April 23, elements of the 9/12th Lancers conducted a detailed reconnaissance northeast of Kiseljak around the villages of Gromiljak, Svinjarevo, and Behrici. Fighting was still going on along the ridgeline between the villages of Svinjarevo and Podastinje, and houses were burning in Behrici and Gomionica. However, the British UNPROFOR intelligence analyst reported: "although the callsigns reported Croat/Mus1im clashes there appears to be no evidence of ethnic cleansing."

The village of Rotilj appears to have been of special concern to the ECMM monitors. Following the failed ABiH assault at Gomionica on April 18, some seventy ABiH soldiers occupied Rotilj. The HVO offered to accept the surrender of the Muslim weapons but was told to "buzz off" by the Muslim commander, who did not want to surrender. The HVO subsequently took the village in a one-day fight on the eighteenth. The ECMM report on the affair alleges that Rotilj was attacked from 3 P.M. on April 18 to noon on April 19 (a twenty-one-hour fight!) by some twenty masked soldiers "alleged to be HVO," who supposedly destroyed all the Muslim houses (nineteen of them) in the west end of village as well as other structures. As usual, the ECMM team reported that none of the Croat houses were damaged. The Muslim men in the village were reportedly arrested and jailed in the Kiseljak HVO prison, and most of the inhabitants evacuated to the older part of town-except for seven persons who were "savagely executed." On April 25, the ECMM reported some six hundred people were in the southwest part of the village (including about one hundred to 150 refugees from Visoko) surrounded by the HVO. They were still there on May 22. Apparently the HVO had a rather glacial ethnic- cleansing program.

The Muslim offensive in the Kiseljak area seems to have been launched in order to gain control of the important Visoko-Fojnica line of communications, divide the Kiseljak enclave into several smaller pieces and isolate the various Croat villages, and, ultimately, to open the area to settlement by Muslim refugees from eastern Bosnia and the Krajina. The ABiH was unable to achieve any of those objectives during the April fighting in the Kiseljak area, but it would renew its efforts in the months to come.

The ABiH Attack in the Zenica Area

The ABiH plan for its April, 1993, offensive appears to have included the elimination of HVO military forces in the Zenica area as well as the expulsion of the Croat community from Zenica and its surrounding villages. Although HVO forces and the Croat population in the Vitez, Busovaca, and Kiseljak areas came under heavy attack and suffered greatly, it was in the Zenica area that the Bosnian Croats received the most devastating blows. The two HVO brigades in Zenica were destroyed, most of the Croat population in Zenica was expelled and became refugees, and the Croat villages west and northwest of the city were attacked and "cleansed." In addition, the sole line of communication between the Croat enclaves in the Lasva Valley and those in the northern area around Zepce was severed.

Tensions in the Zenica area increased following the kidnapping of four HVO soldiers from Novi Travnik on April 13 and the ambush and kidnapping of Zivko Totic in Zenica on the morning of April 15, but the HVO forces in Zenica appear not to have expected any major confrontation.6 The two HVO brigades in the Zenica area (the Jure Francetic and 2d Zenica Brigades) increased their level of readiness and blocked the roads under their control notably the Zenica-Stranjani- Tetovo and Zenica-Raspotocje routes. Nevertheless, at 6 A.M. on April 16, the Jure Francetic Brigade's headquarters in Zenica reported that the preceding night had been quiet in the brigade zone, the town was under control and HVO units were permitting unarmed civilians to pass through checkpoints on their way to work.

The situation in Zenica changed dramatically in the early morning hours on April 7. Attacking from two directions, the ABiH began to take control of the Croat areas in the Zenica municipality and to encircle the two HVO brigades (Jure Francetic and 2d Zenica) and disarm them. Able-bodied men were taken to the detention center in Zenica, but elements of both brigades, escaped via Nova Kar to the HVO lines near Novi Bila, and HVO elements outside the town took up defensive positions. Vinko Baresic, commander of the 2d Zenica Brigade, then still in the process of formation, reported at, 5:30 A.M. that his headquarters had been attacked from all directions and was surrounded. In the same report, issued at 10:20 hours, Baresic urgently requested instructions and assistance from HQ, OZCB in Vitez, noting that HVO forces in the village of Stranjani were completely under siege and had been given an ultimatum by the ABiH to surrender their weapons; the Muslims were progressively surrounding the villages of Zmajevac and Cajdras; and many displaced Croats were seeking refuge in Cajdras. Baresic also informed HQ, OZCB, that he had issued orders for a breakout toward Janjac and Osojnica but that the morale of his forces was declining rapidly and he was unsure whether or not his orders would be obeyed. He himself was going to try to get to Cajdras.

At 1:15 A.M. on April 18, the OZCB commander appealed to the UNPROFOR battalion at Stari Bila and ECMM authorities in Zenica to take immediate action to protect the Croatian population in the Zenica municipality, particularly those in the village of Cajdras. Later that day, Colonel Blaskic telephoned Lieutenant Colonel Stewart and repeated his urgent request for the UNPROFOR forces to act to save the Croats in Cajdras. In his diary Lieutenant Colonel Stewart noted: "things got worse overnight; Zenica blown up with violence and Muslims having a go at Croats who live in/around Zenica; lots of Croat refugees in Croat-held area at Cajdras; 800 civilians ethnically cleansed from Podbrezje West of Zenica by Muslims; Muslim soldiers hostile and looting; HVO had been attacked and all HVO/HOS buildings in Zenica taken over by ABiH; Boban and Izetbegovic agreed to a cease-fire." 7

Indeed, things had gotten very much worse for the Croats in the Zenica area. At 3:45 P.M. on April 18, Vinko Baresic reported from Cajdras that although some two hundred men of the 1st Battalion, Jure Francetic Brigade, continued to man the defensive perimeter around Cajdras (running from the Cajdras crossroads-Palijike-Serusa-Strbci-Jezero-Tromnice); the 3d Battalion, 2d Zenica Brigade, had already agreed to Muslim demands; and the brigade's 1st and 2d Battalions, as well as the 2d and 3d Battalions of the Francetic Brigade, were sure to follow soon. Baresic noted that the HVO troops in Zmajevac were abandoning their positions, leaving the Cajdras defenders in an even more perilous situation. He also noted that he and some other officers did not wish to surrender because "even if we were to surrender, I am sure that we would be executed." He went on to request instructions regarding Lieutenant Colonel Stewart's offer to evacuate HVO personnel from Cajdras to Vitez or Busovaca.

The destruction and "cleansing" of Croat villages in the Zenica area was widespread and thorough, despite Muslim assurances that Croat refugees could return home. On April 21, the ECMM Regional Center in Zenica forwarded a special report to ECMM headquarters in Zagreb dealing with the two hundred Croats the Muslims had imprisoned in the Zenica Prison's military section; the existence of detention centers at Bilimisce, the "Music School" in Zenica, and Nemila; and the destruction by Muslims of Croat villages in and around Zenica. Having visited and investigated the devastated Croat villages of Cajdras, Vjetrenice, Janjac, Kozarci, Osojnica, Stranjani, Zahalie, and Dobriljeno, the ECMM monitors in their usual fashion minimized the damage to Croat property and the deaths of Croat civilians caused by the Muslims and concluded that "except from Zalje the damages was [sic] less than expected."

Having rid themselves of their erstwhile allies and a good part of the Croat civilian population in Zenica, blocked the road to Zepce, and "cleansed" the Croat villages in the Zenica area, the Muslims were free to concentrate on their offensive in the Vitez-Busovaca-Kiseljak area. Although the HVO forces and Croat civilians in the Lasva-Kozica-Lepenica area suffered significant destruction and casualties, Croat losses in the Zenica area were substantial, and the HVO presence and influence in the area definitively eliminated. Thenceforth, Zenica was a thoroughly Muslim stronghold. Nowhere else did the Muslims' April offensive achieve such decisive results.

The Alleged HVO Shelling of Zenica on April 19, 1993

Between 12:10 and 12:29 P.M. on April 19, six artillery shells fell in downtown Zenica, killing and wounding a number of civilians. After a hasty investigation, the ABiH authorities blamed the shelling on the HVO, claiming that it was intended as a warning to the Muslims. Numerous "experts" from the ABiH, UNPROFOR, and ECMM subsequently conducted additional analysis of the fuse and shell fragments and impact areas and concluded that the shells had been fired by HVO forces from a position near Puticevo. Faulty analytical methods and ignorance of the capabilities of the various types of artillery in use in the area reinforced the assumption that the HVO had fired the six rounds. However, as Prof. Slobodan Jankovic-a bona fide ballistics expert and expert on the artillery weapons and ammunition in use at the time-has demonstrated, it was more likely that the six rounds were fired by Bosnian Serb artillery located on the Vlasic massif, just as the HVO authorities suggested at the time. The essence of Professor Jankovic's technical argument is that the six rounds which fell in downtown Zenica on April 19 could have been fired either by the HVO or by the Serbs. Both had guns (122-mm and 152-mm) within range that used the type of shells and fuses of which fragments were found after the shelling. However, Professor Jankovic points out that: (1) the ABiH/ECMM crater analysis was limited to only one crater, and the allowable standard deviation (as to the direction from which the shells were fired) argues for a Serb gun rather than an HVO gun; (2) the HVO had no meteorological capability and could not have achieved such a tight dispersion pattern without it; (3) the two HVO guns in the best position to have fired the six rounds were reported by ABiH observers not to have fired during the period in question; and (4) the missing factor needed to determine definitively who fired the six shells is the tube life of the guns involved (which affects initial velocity) .

Although Professor Jankovic has declined to state definitively who fired the rounds, he leans toward two Serb guns located on the Vlasic massif firing three rounds each. He discounts the use of a forward observer who provided corrections, as well as the idea that the rounds might have been fired by one HVO gun that fired several rounds and then displaced. The HVO gunners simply were not well enough trained to have gone out of battery; moved, and reload the gun within the time available. In general, HVO artillery fire was quite inaccurate due to the absolute lack of meteorological data; substandard, black market ammunition (inconsistent performance); lack of ammunition management (use of mixed lots); lack of records of tube life (which meant most guns likely were used after their recommended tube life); and lack of gun crew training. All of this means that, even when aiming at a military target, the HVO artillery probably could not have avoided hitting nearby civilian facilities.

Actions Elsewhere in April, 1993

Ivica Zeko's predictions of March 25 as to probable Muslim actions in areas outside the main Vitez-Busovaca-Kiseljak area were remarkably accurate. Unable to mount simultaneous attacks on the HVO concentrations throughout central Bosnia, the ABiH elected to maintain the status quo with only minor actions in those Croat enclaves outside the central Vitez-Busovaca-Kiseljak-Zenica area. Tensions increased, as did the number of incidents, but there were no direct ABiH attacks in the peripheral areas. Novi Travnik, Travnik, Zepce, and Vares remained relatively quiet while the battle raged in the central area. In part, the ABiH decision to avoid open conflict outside the central area was dictated by the fact that the HVO held significant portions of the lines against the Bosnian Serb Army and could not be attacked and destroyed without crippling the Bosnian defense against the Serb aggressors.

Travnik and Novi Travnik


Conflict between Muslims and Croats erupted briefly in the Travnik-Novi Travnik area in mid-April following the dispute over the Croat flags at Easter in Travnik and the kidnapping of the four members of the Stjepan Tomasevic Brigade by mujahideen near Novi Travnik on April 13. Incidents multiplied, and there were numerous arrests and detentions of both military personnel and civilians from both sides as Muslims and Croats provoked and tested each other. On April 12, HVO forces detained a group of some forty to fifty armed Muslims, of whom twenty were ABiH soldiers in uniform, at a checkpoint in Dolac near Travnik. The detainees-including Nihad Rebihic, the assistant commander for morale, propaganda, and military police of the Vitez Territorial Defense organization-were taken to the local HVO headquarters and tied up. The civilians were released thirty minutes later. On Apri114, HQ, ABiH III Corps, reported that the security situation in the Travnik-Novi Travnik area had deteriorated since the kidnapping of the Tomasevic Brigade personnel and that, although they did not engage in combat, the HVO had occupied some key points in the Novi Travnik area, abused ABiH soldiers and Muslim civilians, and reopened the Stojkovici camp. Checkpoints and roadblocks were established by both sides in the area, weapons and vehicles were seized, and the vital road link to Gomji Vakuf was severed. On April 15, the intelligence sections of the ABiH 312th Mountain Brigade and OG West reported that the HVO had arrested some 150 Muslim civilians and ABiH personnel in the Travnik-Novi Travnik area between April 13 and 15, and put them in the so-called vats in the village of Stojkovici (Novi Travnik municipality) .Similarly, on Apri120, the Travnicka Brigade headquarters reported that its communications were being tapped and that Muslim forces were arresting Croats on a massive scale in the center of Travnik from the barracks to the entry of the town from the direction of Vitez. Also in mid-April, some 110 wounded HVO soldiers were expelled from the Travnik hospital, and a makeshift HVO field hospital was established in the church in Nova Bila. On Apri125, HQ, OZCB, reported to UNPROFOR, ECMM, ICRC, and HQ, ABiH III Corps that mujahideen forces from Mehurici had entered the nearby Croat village of Miletici and taken away sixty to seventy people-mainly elderly people, children, and the sick-and maltreated the underage men, who were detained in the cellars of nearby Muslim houses.

Both the ABiH and HVO drew reinforcements from the Novi Travnik area for the fight around Vitez. At 8: 15 P.M. on April 16, HQ, OZCB, ordered the Tomasevic Brigade commander to take action to prevent the movement of Muslim forces from the Novi Travnik area toward Gornji Veceriska and Donja Veceriska. At 2:30 the following afternoon, the Viteska Brigade reported that information had been received regarding the movement of Muslim forces from the village of Opara south of Novi Travnik toward the village of Zaselje-the Croat inhabitants of which were evacuating in panic in the direction of Veceriska. At 8 P.M. on April 17, the Tomasevic Brigade commander was ordered to immediately dispatch a twenty-five- to thirty- man unit to the Vitez area to prevent any further advance toward Vitez by Muslim units coming from Krcevine. Earlier, on the evening of the sixteenth, the OZCB commander ordered the 4th Military Police Battalion unit in Travnik to move to Vitez no later than 10 P.M. to reinforce HVO elements that were heavily engaged in the town.

Despite the large number of heavily armed ABiH and HVO troops in the area, the high level of tension, and numerous incidents and provocations, the Travnik-Novi Travnik area remained relatively quiet even as the HVO forces in nearby Vitez, Busovaca, and Kiseljak fought desperately to blunt the Muslim offensive. For the most part, the situation remained as the Tomasevic Brigade headquarters reported on April 17: "The night was quiet on the territory of Novi Travnik municipality. We received no information on potential conflicts with the BH Army."

Zepce, Zavidovici, and Novi Seher

The HVO forces in the Zepce-Zavidovici-Novi Seher area were critical to the Bosnian defense against the Bosnian Serb Army in the northern salient. They also constituted a well-organized and well-armed force that was prepared to offer significant resistance to any ABiH attempt to overcome them. Although provocations and minor incidents multiplied during the month of April, Muslim-Croat tensions did not erupt into open fighting in the area despite the fact that the HVO forces had been isolated by ABiH forces cutting the Zenica-Zepce road. On April 16, Ivo Lozancic, commander of the 111xp Brigade in Zepce, reported: "the fundamentalists [Bosnian Muslims] are constantly advocating peace whilst trying to occupy the best possible positions for conducting war with the Croatian Defence Council. Their preparation for war with Croats continues to be visible. We are under siege, unable to communicate and receive ammunition and for us it would be difficult to start a conflict. The latest information confirms that the enemy (the greens) are well armed, well equipped and have enough ammunition and they are intent to fight against the Croats."

Nevertheless, Lozancic reported the following day that "relations with the BiH Army are on a satisfactory level," and two days later, April 19, he addressed another report to the HVO Main HQ in Mostar and HQ, OZCB, in Vitez in which he noted that "there have been no conflicts with the Muslims and their behaviour is odd." Lozancic went on to note that

"The town of Zepce has been deserted like a ghost town for two days. Inns owned by Muslim owners are empty. The Islamic troops that nave been returned from the checkpoint have left for Z. Polje. I am considering to issue an order on the withdrawal of our forces from the territory of the defence of the town of Maglaj, as a warning for the attacks they are conducting on our forces in Central Bosnia. I have been receiving some information on the mistreatment of Croats in Zenica, about the complete disarmament and search carried out in a village above Crkvica and the confiscation of weapons. We do not have complete information, nor has the truth about the sufferings of Croats been sufficiently represented in the Croatian media. ...We have learned that the Muslims are about to launch an attack on Zepce in five days. We are completely cut off from the world, but we have enough reserves to be able to fight to the annihilation of one or the other."
The ABiH attack on the Zepce enclave did come not in five days. The conflict in the Zepce area did not come until the end of June-after the ABiH had mounted a successful major attack against HVO forces in the Travnik-Novi Travnik area.

Sarajevo and Vares


The HVO brigade in the Sarajevo area, Slavko Zelic's Kralj Tvrtko Drugi Brigade, was nominally subordinate to the OZCB commander but generally operated autonomously. By virtue of its importance to the defense of the Bosnian capital no action was taken against the Tvrtko Brigade during the Muslims' April offensive. The same was generally true of the Bobovac Brigade in the Vares area. Although tensions increased and a number of brief fire fights took place in April Vares remained, as Zeko had predicted, "too tough a nut" for the ABiH to "crack"-at least for the moment. The ABiH units in the Vares area did increase their combat readiness, and they reported that the HVO had reinforced Vares from Kiseljak and provoked, Muslim forces in several incidents.

The Situation at the End of April, 1993


The ABiH seriously underestimated the ability and determination of HVO forces to resist their April offensive. As a consequence, what Muslim leaders had most probably envisaged as a quick and thorough defeat of the HVO military followed by cleansing the Vitez-Busovaca-Kiseljak-Zenica area for settlement by Muslim refugees turned out to be a significant battle. Moreover, the ABiH failed to achieve any of its major goals despite inflicting serious casualties on HVO military personnel and the Croat civilian population. The aggressive HVO active defense, including the selective use of preemptive and spoiling attacks, counterattacks, and clearing operations, stalled the Muslim advance around Vitez, Busovaca, and Kiseljak. The HVO's defensive operations-with the exception of Ahmici-inflicted serious, but not disproportionate, damage on Muslim property and persons. At the end of the month, the two antagonists still faced each other from lines north and south of the vital Travnik-Kiseljak road and several smaller Muslim enclaves in the Lasva Valley, but the SPS explosives factory in Vitez remained in HVO hands, the two Croat enclaves remained intact, and the people making up the core of the Croat community in central Bosnia continued to occupy their homes and operate their businesses. Further ABiH operations would be required if the Muslims were going to realize their ambitions in the area.

_______________________________

1 SIS (Zarko Petrovic, aide to the cheif of the SIS), no. 137/93, Busovaca, Apr. 14, 1993, subj: Report, B D262
2 HQ, 303d Slavna "Glorious" Mountain Brigade, no. 01/2524-1, Zenica, noon, Apr. 16, 1993, subj: Order for Attack, KC Z674. The III Corps order (HQ, ABiH III Corps, no. 02/33-867, Zenica, Apr. 16, 1993, subj: Order to Move out and Occupy Positions, KC Z673 and D190/1), also instructs the 303d Brigade commander to "be prepared to provide assistance to our forces in the village of Putis, Jelinak, Loncari, Nadioci and Ahmici. In the event of an attack launched by the enemy, forcefully repel it and embark on a counterattack along the Nadioci-Sivrino Selo axis."
3 The northernmost roadblock consisted of two trucks blocking the road and five TMA-5 mines. The allegations of black market activities and supplying the Muslim forces in the Vitez area by British UNPROFOR personnel have persisted. The same allegations were made to the author during a conversation with former HVO personnel in Vitez in August, 1999. When asked how the Muslim forces in Donja Veceriska were resupplied, the response was "By the British UNPROFOR, of course! They would provide anything to anyone for gold." The czar of British UNPROFOR black market operations was said to be a captain named Perry. He has since been identified, but no action has been taken against him.
4 The question of who started the fighting in the Kiseljak area in April, 1993, is moot. The ABiH attack, whether it was the opening of a planned offensive or simply a spoiling attack, apparently came just minutes before the planned HVO preemptive attack was to be launched.
5 Ibid. The report quotes what was apparently a report from the Fojnica batallion: "Everything is ready, they are asking for negotiations. At this moment UNPROFOR came to the commander."
6 Colonel Robert Stewart testified that, in his opinion, the Totic kidnapping "came as a severe shock to the HVO, and the HVO Brigade commander, the second one [Vinko Baresic, commander of the 2d Zenica Brigade], was extremely concerned," which led Stewart to conclude that the HVO authorities in the Zenica area were not prepared for a conflict (Blaskic trial testimony, June 18, 1999). Indeed, neither of the two HVO brigades was at anywhere near full strength, and both were physically isolated from HQ, OZCB. Moreover, the commander of the Francetic Brigade, Zivko Totic, was still being held captive by Muslim extremists.
7 Stewart diary, Sunday, Apr. 19 (should be 18), 1993, sec. 3, 39.

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