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The Muslim-Croat Civil War in Central Bosnia - Interview

Written 08.12.2009. 11:18
Alija Izetbegovic orchestrated the ethnic cleansing of Croats from Central Bosnia
(interview with the «Slobodna Dalmacija» newspaper on the 14/09/2003)

My book contains detailed evidence of plans to ethnically cleanse Croats from the Lasva Valley, using the timing of attacks, positioning and military plans of the Muslim forces as proof. After the fall of Jajce, the Muslim leadership launched a military campaign against the Croats of Central Bosnia.

The book “The Muslim-Croat Civil War in Central Bosnia”, by the author dr. Charles Reginald Shrader has generated a great deal of interest, primarily among the Croats of Central Bosnia. It aims to dispel the generally propagated “fact” about the Croat aggression against the Muslims, and it is the reason behind our interview with dr. Shrader.

SD: “In certain sections of your book there is clear disagreement with some of the thesis presented by the Blaškic defence team. You dispute some of the key arguments put forward by the prosecution team, such as the existence of a Croatian plan to ethnically cleanse the Lašva Valley of Muslims. How do you plan to help Blaškic’s case when his defence team has clearly gone down a different path?”

Shrader: “The aim of my book is not to clear anyone of any wrongdoing, whether that may be Blaškic or someone else. I have only tried to establish what really took place in the Lašva Valley from 1992 to 1994. Blaškic’s defence team had formulated a defence strategy at an earlier time, when much less was known about the events of the Muslim-Croat war.

The power of the Muslim propaganda machinery was quite substantial and it aimed to portray the Muslims as «completely innocent victims of Serbs as well as Croats». Nobody wanted to show the complete picture and to attempt to explain the underlying reasons behind some of the events. The journalists that wrote about this conflict followed the official Muslim propaganda line, and secondly they were not in the position to see the complete picture.»

The eager prosecutors

The prosecutors at the Hague ICTY have in a way accepted much of the official Muslim propaganda at face value, and despite a clear lack of logic pursued the path of least resistance. They are portraying the events of 1992-1994 as an attempt by the Croats to take control of Central Bosnia. International politics have also played a dark role in all this in terms of the appearance of some of the indictments at the Hague. I'm still not quite clear why the ICTY prosecutors are so eager and expeditive as far as indictments for Croats are concerned, when they continue to ignore Muslim war crimes and why they aren't showing great desire in speeding up the search and bringing to justice of the Serb war criminals.

Once we take all those circumstances into account, perhaps the strategy chosen by the defence team does not look so surprising. Had they understood the wider context of the conflict they could have chosen a different strategy of defence, based on the following premises:

Firstly, war crimes did take place, but occured in the context of defensive operations undertaken by the Bosnian Croat forces against the planned Muslim aggression. Secondly, Blaškic and his people acted reactively and in self-defence and not in-line with some mythical plan of Croat aggression. And thirdly, the reality of command and control in the Bosnian Croat Forces (HVO) and the Bosnian Muslim Army (ABiH), during that time meant that no officer, independent of their desire to do so, could prevent (and sometimes not even discipline after the event) the crimes of those they were in command of. Why and when did the Muslim leadership in Sarajevo decide to enter into conflict and cleanse the Lašva Valley of Croats? As I have outlined in my book, it is my belief that the Muslim leadership decided to do so after the fall of Jajce in October of 1992. In order to gauge the Croatian response and possible reactions from the UN, they executed a trial attack in January of 1993, followed by an all out attack in April of 1993. I think that the main reason why the Muslim leadership wanted to gain control over Central Bosnia was because of the great problem with the thousands of Muslim refugees from territories taken by Serbs and the confusion in dealing with such a great number of people.

The river of refugees

Because they were too weak to wrest territory away from the Serbs, they felt strong enough, especially after arming a large number of military age refugees, to attack the Croat enclaves in Central Bosnia and force them into retreating towards Hercegovina or Croatia. The newly captured territory would then be free for the Muslim refugees. My book contains detailed evidence of plans to ethnically cleanse Croats from the Lasva Valley, using the timing of attacks, positioning and military plans of the Muslim forces as proof.

SD: «Where did the Muslim leadership plan to resettle the Muslim refugees?»

Shrader: «The plan of the Muslim leadership was to colonise entire Central Bosnia, with particular emphasis on the regions around Kiseljak and the Lašva Valley.

SD: «Which military installations and munitions factories did the Muslims wish to put under their control and why?»

Shrader: «All military installations and factories on the periphery of the Lašva Valley (like the ones in Zenica, Konjic, Bugojno and elsewhere) by 1992 were already in Muslim hands. The factories in Travnik and Novi Travnik were also in Muslim hands, but they were not in control of the most important one – «Slobodan Princip Seljo» in Vitez. It was especially valuable and strategically important because it was the only source of military explosives, and the other factories in Muslim hands heavily depended on it for their production. That is why taking control of this explosives factory was one of the most important aims of the Muslim attack.

Dien Bien Phu

SD: «Your book makes a comparison between a well known Vietnam battle and what took place in the Lašva Valley?

Shrader: «Yes, I made a comparison between the Croats surrounded by Muslim forces in the Lašva Valley with the tactical situation faced by the French forces in the village of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, during the battle studied by all military historians and analysts, when they were surrounded by far more numerous Vietnamese troops that held all the surrounding hills. It is a good comparison for anyone not well acquanited with the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in order to understand the situation faced by the Croats in the Lašva Valley. Of course, there are two very important differences. Firstly, unlike the French, the Croats were defending their own homes, and secondly, the succeeded in doing so.

SD: «In your time spent studying this particular conflict, have you encountered any evidence of presence of the regular Croatian army in the Lašva Valley?

Shrader: «Throughout all of the time spent researching, I have not come across even a single verifiable fact which would suggest that the regular Croatian army was assisting the HVO in Central Bosnia. Despite many, obviously false, reports from that time, the officers of the British UNPROFOR stationed in the Lašva Valley all came to the same conclusion – there were no regular Croatian army forces in the Lašva Valley. Of course, it is understandable that Croatia assisted Bosnian Croats with finances, logistics, politically and that it even sent some units to Herzegovina. But Croatia never sent any of its troops, not even military advisers to the Lašva Valley, I can certainly say that.

SD: «How do you descrive the discrepancy between the «accepted truth» about the nature of the conflict between the Muslims and the Croats and what really took place?

Shrader: «As I tried to explain in my book, the leadership of Bosnia and Herzegovina under the control of the Muslims had several instruments at their disposal which were used as a fantastic propaganda machine which very rapidly convinced the world into believing the myth about the «innocent Muslims who were attacked by bloodthirsty Serbs and calculating Croats».
The journalists who were regularly visiting Bosnia and Herzegovina, were regularly being served their «full dose» of such propaganda, and since they were unable to personally observe events on the ground, they began to repeat that thesis and such myths. Even the UN and EU forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina often had an unclear picture of the overall situation and often came to the wrong conclusions which heavily relied on information supplied by the government in Sarajevo or information given by personal translators and guides who were mainly Muslim. It is clear that the actual and correct picture about the events that took place cannot be formed on propaganda stories and personal views of several journalists or observers, but it is necessary to analyse all available sources and materials. That is the only way to get an accurate assessment on what really took place.

SD: «Is the reason for such beliefs due to certain political interests or the lack of available information about this conflict?»

Shrader: «Both. Lack of information, or as is more often the case, the unwillingness to check all available information, when combined with certain political interests, heavily influence the view of the conflict, most often at the expense of the Bosnian Croats, who are at the end of the day, a small minority in Bosnia and Herzegovina and can thus easily be ignored by those in power interested in the «big picture» and the forcing of personal interests.

Secret services

SD: «How do you explain the fact that the ICTY has raised 15 indictments in total against the Croats for war crimes in the Lašva Valley, and that there have been no indictments against the Muslims for war crimes in the same area?»

Shrader: «Several key Muslim war criminals have finally been indicted, but the opinion expressed by your question is widely held. That is also one of the biggest mysteries for me, why there aren't more indictments for war crimes committed against the Croats in the Lašva Valley». I think the ICTY is in no hurry to pursue such indictments against the Muslims for their crimes committed in Central Bosnia from 1992 to 1994 because of certain political reasons. Some European countries, for example, have significant minority Muslim populations and it is possible they do not wish to pressure the ICTY in order not to create any problems back home.

Besides that, the UK and France have traditionally had, ever since WW1, very good relations with the Serbs. To me as an American it is extremely strange that «ancient history» can be a basis for political moves in the 21st century, but judging by everything, it still is. I think that Croatia has put in a lot of effort to become a successful and modern European country, but its efforts and successes have often been ignored and it has unjustly been allocated a larger than required share of blame for the conflicts in the 1990's.
My contacts with the ICTY have been brief, but I was terrified to discover the existence of «politically motivated» indictments, with procedural rules that favour the prosecution much more than the defence teams, and which wouldn't for a minute be tolerated in American courts and the trust placed by the prosecution in documents and claims provided by the Muslim secret services.

Interviewed by Zvonimir CILIC

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