SARIC: The Coordination Council was established with the goal of warning and informing the Croat population in the Zepce municipality, as well as elsewhere, about the seriousness of the situation and possible consequences that can realistically be caused by the initiation of this trial that is in our opinion a political and staged trial. We also want to warn representatives of the international community about looming danger in the implementation of the overall peace process in Bosnia-Hercegovina, which accomplished good results precisely in the Zepce municipality where immediately after the war almost all pre-war Bosniak population returned and where the full integration of the Zepce municipality in the system of the Zenica-Doboj canton is ongoing.
Hrvatska Rijec: The Coordination Council opposes the trial against 15 indicted Croats from Zepce in front of the Cantonal Court in Zenica and believes that it is a staged political trial motivated only by revenge?
As far as we are concerned, it is unacceptable that the process is initiated in Zenica as many as eight years after the end of the Croat-Bosniak conflict and in the place where the headquarters of the Third Corps of the Army of Bosnia-Hercegovina was based. The units of the Third Corps fought on the Zepce front and some of the judges of the Cantonal Court in Zenica participated in those clashes.
We believe that the Cantonal Court in Zenica is not at this point capable of providing a fair and unbiased trial regarding war crimes against both Croats and Bosniaks. Besides, on the territory of Zenica-Doboj canton there have been several war crimes against Croat population. For example, in Dusina, Cajdras, Kraljeva Sutjeska, Zepacki Kiseljak, Bukovik, Vozuca, Krsno Polje etc. The Hague Tribunal has expressed interest in those crimes, but the Cantonal Court in Zenica hasn't issued a single indictment for those crimes. On the other hand, now the court wants to try Croats from Zepce, even though the Hague investigators haven't showed particular interest in the wartime events in Zepce.
Representatives of the Cantonal Court in Zenica claim that the Hague has given its approval for the start of an investigation against the "Zepce group".
It is not true that the Hague Tribunal requested from the Cantonal Court in Zenica to open an investigation against the Croats from Zepce. If it wanted to do so the Hague Tribunal could have done that in the last eight years, but it probably had no reason to do so because, honestly, not a single mass grave has been found in the region around Zepce. Military prisons were regularly visited by representatives of the International Red Cross, which indicates that the Croat units in this area respected military customs and rules of the war as well as various international conventions. On the other hand, the units of the Army of Bosnia-Hercegovina that fought in this area against the 111 xp brigade included members of the infamous El Mujaheed company. Members of El Mujaheed committed several crimes against captured members of the Croatian Defense Council (HVO). Interestingly, the Cantonal Court in Zenica hasn't showed any interest in those crimes even though these days members of police and SFOR have been arresting Mujahedeen literally on the doorstep of the court building in Zenica.
It is obvious that revenge is the motive in this case and that the goal is to punish Croats from Zepce for their successful defense. This is supposed to be a sort of warning about what awaits us after the integration of the Zepce municipality in the system of Zenica-Doboj canton.
The Coordination Council for the Defense of Croats from Zepce has proposed that all war crimes trials be tried in front of an independent court that should be formed precisely for similar cases. Actually, you supported the proposal of the chief prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal, Carla del Ponte, and the conclusions of the BH Presidency, both of whom proposed the formation of such a separate court?
If it is necessary to open the Zepce file because of alleged war crimes then we propose that it be done in front of a separate court that would only consider war crimes charges and which would be ethnically balanced and capable of trying complex cases. We want the public to know that Croats from Zepce have never conducted separatist policy with the goal of splitting Bosnia-Hercegovina, because Zepce was never a part of different Croat entities, provinces or autonomous provinces, in any combination. We were simply forced to fight for survival and unfortunately, that struggle continues until today.
You've announced protests, as well as abandonment of the local institutions by all Croat officials. Is that how you intend to defend interests of Croats in Zepce?
We shall use all democratic means to protect unjustly indicted Croats from Zepce and prevent a judicial farce that could have fateful consequences for the whole peace process in Bosnia-Hercegovina. We call on the international community to prevent the Cantonal Court in Zenica from its intent to try Croats from Zepce; we demand from the Federation BH authorities to work diligently on the establishment of a separate court that would, if necessary, take over the Zepce case, as well as cases involving war crimes against Croats.