by Amra Kebo
Enis Sijamija, former commander of the military police unit of the Bosnian army's 307th motorized brigade, could no longer remain silent. Over the past few weeks, he has spoken publicly about war crimes committed against Croat civilians in the central Bosnian town of Bugojno. In a series of newspaper interviews, he has implicated a number of senior local Bosniak leaders, as well as the Bugojno wartime strongman and post-war mayor Dževad Mlaco, in the disappearance of 26 members of the Croat Defence Council (HVO) nine years ago. ‘How can there ever be coexistence if I do not know what happened to my boy,’ said Marija Jezdić, one of the Bosnian Croat women still searching for their missing husbands and sons.
Bugojno town and its environs was where Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks fought bitterly during their 1993-4 war. Although Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks signed a truce in 1994 and fought jointly against Bosnian Serbs until the end of the war in 1995, ethnic relations in Bugojno remained strained.
Most Bosnian Croats directly blame Mlaco, as the ultimate military and civilian authority in the region, for the disappearance of the HVO soldiers and other war crimes. The Office of the High Representative in Bosnia sacked Mlaco from his post of Bugojno mayor on 12 February 1999 for blocking the peace process and preventing the return of refugees. However, according to different local and international sources, he remains a powerful figure in the town.
Many local Croats reacted with anger and frustration a month ago after The Hague said it would no longer pursue an investigation into charges filed in 1994 by the Bosnian Croat military authorities in the nearby town of Livno against 440 individuals allegedly responsible for war crimes against members of their community. The tribunal decided the charges contained insufficient evidence for initiating criminal proceedings against the accused. Although this does not mean that the Sarajevo authorities cannot investigate and file other charges against Mlaco and his wartime allies in future, Bosnian Croats were left enraged by the decision. However, very soon they felt at least somewhat vindicated, after Sijamija decided to talk and substantiated for the first time some of the previous accusations.
‘The arrest and liquidation of 26 Bugojno Croats was ordered by the then Bugojno war presidency chairman Dževad Mlaco, and the person directly responsible for the crimes was the then head of civilian police Enes Handžić,’ Sijamija told Slobodna Bosna. ‘I am ready to appear before any court and testify about the crime perpetrated against the HVO prisoners.’
According to Sijamija, the alleged war crime took place in July 1993, at a time when HVO members were surrendering to the Bosnian army and were imprisoned in collection centres, which at one point held 400 Croats. Twenty-six HVO members, held at the Iskra football stadium, were taken away on 12 October 1993 - and there has been no trace of them since. It is believed that they were subsequently killed.
Sijamija also revealed how the commander of another Bosnian army police unit Nihad Sabić was murdered because he opposed orders to execute the Croats. According to Sijamija, after the Croats were taken away they were interrogated by Handžić. During the war, Handžić served as the head of civilian police and military security, as well as being a member of the war presidency. Later, he was appointed police minister in the Central Bosnian Canton, and subsequently became an inspector in the federal force. The UN international police force, IPTF, suspended him from the latter post because of his alleged responsibility for the illegal detention of Croats and Serbs during the war. According to Sijamija, after interrogating the HVO prisoners Hadžić drove them away in his black Mercedes to the Rostov camp, which was then used by a paramilitary mujahedin unit, called the White Pigeons.
Tensions in Bugojno hit the roof over the past few weeks after federal public television, FTV, prepared and aired a special reportage about the incident. The report included war footage showing then Bosnian leader Alija Izetbegović, military commanders Sakib Mahmuljin and Mehmed Alagić, as well as Mlaco, visiting the White Pigeons unit in Rostov.
In the wake of his interviews and the associated media coverage, Sijamija said there have been three attempts on his life. The last on 3 October, when he said a bomb was planted under his car. But Sijamija will not be intimidated into silence. As a matter of fact, in an interview with local media, he blamed the assassination attempts on the ‘the mercenaries’ of Mlaco, Handžić, Senad Dautović, and Tahir Granić, former heads of civilian and military government in Bugojno. IWPR tried to contact Mlaco several times about Sijamija's allegations, but he refused to comment. Enes Handžić told IWPR that the claims were completely unfounded.
Amra Kebo is a commentator for the Sarajevo daily Oslobođenje and a regular IWPR contributor. This report appeared in IWPR'S Tribunal Update No. 289, 11-16 November 2002