Continuation of the ABiH Offensive in the Kiseljak Area

The Kiseljak area was cut off from the Croat enclave in the Lasva Valley (including Travnik, Novi Travnik, Vitez, and Busovaca) in late January, 1993, when the ABiH seized Kacuni. Thereafter, ground communication between the Vitez-Busovaca area and the Kiseljak area was very difficult, and HVO forces in the Kiseljak enclave operated almost independently. Until the summer of 1993, most of the Muslim-Croat fighting in the Kiseljak area occurred in the north, particularly in the Gomionica area in April. After an abortive attempt to force open a line of communication at the eastern end of the enclave from Han Ploca to Tarcin in the south, the ABiH started attacking HVO forces in the Kiseljak area from the south, driving toward Fojnica and Kresevo in the west and toward Han Ploca in the east.4 Had the ABiH offensives in the Kiseljak area succeeded, which they did in part, the Muslims would have linked the II, III, and VII Corps to the north with the I, IV, and VI Corps to the south, saving about a hundred kilometers over the Zenica-Novi Travnik-Gornji Vakuf route.

The village of Han Ploca controlled the upper end of the potential route south via Tulica-Zabrde-Toplica to connect with the road from Kresevo to Tarcin. It also controlled the eastern terminus of the Busovaca-Kiseljak-Sarajevo road and the rear of the HVO positions facing the Serbs surrounding Sarajevo. In August, 1992, checkpoints were set up, and some incidents occurred in the area of Han Ploca and the nearby village of Duhri. The HVO disarmed the Muslims in the Han Ploca-Duhri area but later returned their weapons (on the orders of Colonel Blaskic) so they could defend themselves against the Serbs. The Muslims in Duhri again surrendered their weapons to the HVO on April 22-23, 1993, following the fighting around Gomionica, but the Muslims in Han Ploca refused to do so. Fighting broke out at 10 a.m. on May 20, when the ABiH forces in the area tried to block the road. After a three-day battle, HVO forces succeeded in pushing the Muslims back to Koroska and Muresc toward Visoko. During the fighting around Han Ploca, the ABiH attempted to send reinforcements from Visoko, but they arrived too late. Most of the ABiH troops fled at the end of the battle, leaving behind those Muslim civilians who had refused to leave (or were ordered not to by the ABiH) earlier. The HVO lost four men KIA and ten WIA during the fighting, which pitted one HVO company against about two hundred well-armed ABiH troops. It should be noted that the battle did not start until the Muslims rejected the HVO forces' demand that they surrender their weapons and thus avoid a fight. Han Ploca was yet another instance in which the HVO purposefully left open an escape route for civilians.

Gomionica was the focal point of the Muslim-Croat fighting in the Kiseljak area in January and April, 1993. From May 23-25, HVO forces finally managed to clean out the Gomionica pocket and relieve the threat to the key Fojnica intersection. The Muslims subsequently evacuated the entire salient and HVO forces pushed them back toward Visoko, stopping only at the Kisel-jak opcina boundary. Even so, the ABiH returned to the area on July 5 and, under cover of other offensive operations in the Kiseljak area, made three assaults (at 4 a.m., between 8-9 a.m., and at 5 p.m.). The attacks were unsuccessful, but HVO casualties were high: thirteen KIA and fifty WIA.

At the end of May and beginning of June, the conflict in the Kiseljak region shifted to the south. It continued to rage there until the Washington agreements were signed in March, 1994. The ABiH formed a line against the HVO in the vicinity of Toplica north of Tarcin manned by elements of the ABiH 9th Mountain Brigade supported by four tanks. The objective was to secure a north-south line of communication from Han Ploca to Tarcin, west of the line against the BSA surrounding Sarajevo, and to cut the HVO off from the BSA. The village of Tulica (in the Kiseljak opcina) subsequently became a focal point of the ABiH offensive from the south.

Tulica sits in a narrow corridor astride the potential ABiH route from Tarcin to Han Ploca. On June 16, the ABiH attacked the Serbs surrounding Sarajevo from the west with some success, but the Serbs reinforced with tanks and pushed back, and the HVO moved into the former Muslim positions to the east of Tulica. By the early summer of 1993, Tulica had become a Muslim enclave immediately behind the HVO lines facing the BSA ringing Sarajevo, and for that reason constituted a significant military threat to the Croats, who were obliged to take the village in order to link their lines. In his testimony in the Blaskic case, Brigadier Ivica Zeko stated that the fighting in the lower Kiseljak area (around Tulica, for example) involved Muslims trying to cut the HVO off from doing business with the Serbs as well as trying to seize the important Kiseljak-Tarcin corridor.5 The HVO took Tulica on June 26 and subsequently repelled five major Muslim attacks on the position, losing twenty-five HVO soldiers KIA on the front by the time the Washington agreements were signed. It was a difficult position to defend, and the Muslims employed special operations forces (the "Black Swans" of the 17th Krajina Mountain Brigade) against the HVO position. Eight persons, apparently Muslims soldiers, appear to have been executed in Tulica after the HVO took the village. Their identity and the exact circumstances of their deaths are unknown. Two days after Tulica fell to the HVO, Muslims attacked the village of Bojakovic, killing three women, a fourteen-year-old girl, and a number of old people.

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