The new Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs, General Damir Krstičević, has cancelled participation in probably the first international meeting of his mandate. He should have travelled to Vienna first and the following day, Tuesday the eighth of November, to Sarajevo. Trip cancellation was suggested to him by representatives of the Croatian secret service. Apparently, the reason was the possibility of his detention or arrest while crossing the Bosnian Croatian border. At the beginning, it was not clear what that supposed to mean. Until the Croatian Minister of Justice Ante Šprlje gave more specific advice. He explained to his colleague minister Krstičević that, when crossing the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina, it could happen that an indictment for war crimes committed in the town of Mrkonjić Grad could be handed to him.
Just a few days later, we were could notice new news that, allegedly, hundreds of indictments against the officers and generals of the Croatian Army were created in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Therefore, that it was not just about proving the responsibility of individual commanding Croatian officers during the Yugoslav wars, but about something much bigger. About the review of the intentions of Croatian politics conducted in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the nineties, during the time of bloody wars.
Let us return to the relatively small town of Mrkonjić Grad. Actually, even before that, to the meeting where it all began. There we shall find the cause or the beginning of the current cancelation of the minister’s trip to Sarajevo.
On October 5, 1995, the then Croatian Minister of Defence Gojko Sušak hosted, in his Zagreb office, the Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Republic Croatia Zvonimir Červenko, the representative of the Croatian army in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as the Bosnian Foreign Minister Muhamed Šaćirbej, the Army General Rasim Delić and some other others.
On Sušak’s question of what was expected from the Croatian Army by the Bosnian Army, Delić answered that he expected joint military action with the aim to reach the shore of Sana, as well as to take Sanski Most, Bosanski Novi, Prijedor and Mrkonjic Grad.
From the decisions made at the meeting signed by the commanding generals of the B&H Army, Delić and the Chief of Staff of the Croatian Armed Forces, Červenko, it can be seen that the Croatian Army and Croatian units organized in Bosnia were tasked to take Mrkonjić Grad, Podrašničko Polje and strategically important hydroelectric power plant Bočac, which supplied electricity to Banja Luka.
All agreements signed at the meeting with the Croatian Minister of Defence were based on the Agreement on Military Cooperation signed at the end of July 1995 in Split by the presidents Franjo Tuđman and Alija Izetbegović. That was already a time of intensive preparations for the start of peace negotiations, which were later held in the US city of Dayton. Joint operations by Croatian and Bosnian Armed Forces should have made Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić as well as, of course, Slobodan Milošević, to sit down at the negotiating table without excessive territorial claims.
On 10 October, that is, just a few days after the meeting in Zagreb, Croatian army attacked Mrkonjić Grad. The armed units of Bosnian Serbs relatively quickly retreated towards Banja Luka and the majority of citizens of Serbian nationality with them. But not all of them.
Niko Marić was a little above seventy-years old that October. He was, says Ivan Lovrenović in his book “Bosnian Croats”, a prominent lawyer and judge. And he was Serb. Croatian army units caught him when entering the city. Marić kept personal diary. The last note was dated the tenth of October, 1995, and also had the time, 6.30 a.m. A few sentences were written below that. I cite. Shelling from yesterday continues. Bombs have been falling all night. Now is the worst. The diary ends with this.
In April next year, at the request of the international forces, the tomb in the city Orthodox cemetery in Bosnia and Herzegovina was opened. According to the Croatian army, soldiers of Bosnian Serb were, allegedly, buried in it. In the mass grave there were civilians, those who failed to withdraw from Mrkonjić Grad because of their age. They found eighty-one corpse. Among them, the remains of lawyer Marić as well. His wristwatch of brand “Seiko” stopped at 20 October 1995.
They assume that the members of the 4th Guards Brigade of the Croatian Army, commanded then by General Krstičević, were responsible for the murders.
Immediately afterwards, a new bloody campaign of Mladić’s troops followed and the murder of Croatians and Muslims in Donji Vakuf.
Croatian army stopped its offensive, for various reasons, only 20 kilometres from Banja Luka.
In late August 2002, as I have written in my notes, I listened to influential Belgrade radio B92. In one of the daily comments, I am citing according to the written, it was announced that the comprehensive material titled “Mrkonjić Grad” would be sent from the Banja Luka district court to the address of the International Tribunal for war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. It would, allegedly, contain testimonies and evidence about the crime against Serbs of Mrkonjić Grad. Even then, it was also stated that among the suspects was a retired general Krstičević, for command responsibility. As I understood it, the case should have been supposedly sent to the Hague court, which was to assess the importance of evidence and testimony and then assess whether the judicial proceedings before the Bosnian courts could continue.
Daily newspaper, Slobodna Dalmacija, published in Split, at the end of December 2013, the news that the Supreme Prosecutor of Bosnia and Herzegovina was conducting the proceedings “Mrkonjić Grad.” And that there were high-ranking officers of the Croatian army, including generals, among 27 suspects.
It could be concluded then that the investigation would apparently continue.
This is how I understood the special Protocol on Cooperation in Punishing War Criminals, prepared almost at the same time and signed by the Chief Public Prosecutor of Croatia Mladen Bajić and Chief Prosecutor of B&H, Goran Salihović. The Protocol included the right that two states exchange the necessary materials and evidence of war crimes, even for suspects who have dual citizenship or live in Croatia. It is a protocol very similar to the Protocol signed by Bajić with the Chief Prosecutor of Montenegro, Vesna Medenica, and the Chief Prosecutor of the Republic of Serbia, Vladimir Vukčević.
From the Croatian State Archives and the Memorial and Documentation Centre of the Homeland War, the Prosecution of Bosnia and Herzegovina obtained, on the basis of the signed protocol, thousands of pages of documentation material.
Therefore, the cancellation of the trip of the new Croatian Minister Damir Krstičević to Sarajevo is not just a personal problem of the minister. It is more than that.
It is an announcement of the beginning of a new review of the relations between the two neighbouring countries, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It will take a lot of statecraft to keep possible actions in the domain of justice and to prevent them from becoming again a key topic of political relations between the two countries.