Events in the Vares Area

In October and November, 1993, the focus of the Muslim-Croat conflict shifted to the mining (chrome, iron, and zinc) and metal-processing town of Vares, which lies in a narrow valley some twenty miles north of Sarajevo on the main road from Breza to Tuzla and was then just to the west of the Serb lines. Both the Muslim and Croat residents of Vares maintained relatively good relations with the Serbs, and there was a heavy traffic in smuggled persons and goods across the opposing lines east of town. Until October, the Muslims and Croats had coexisted warily in Vares. However, large numbers of Muslim refugees fleeing the fighting in northern and eastern Bosnia flooded the town, and in early October, the HVO took control. On October 22, ABiH forces seized the village of Kopljari in order to form a link with three Muslim villages in the area and open a Muslim-controlled corridor into the pocket.18

Stupni Do

The small village of Stupni Do overlooked Vares and the road down the valley. In late October, 1993, it was defended by a Muslim Territorial Defense unit commanded by Avdo Zubaca and consisting of about fifty men with thirty rifles and a 60-mm mortar.19 When a two-hundred-man HVO unit from Kiseljak and Kakanj arrived in Vares on October 21, the local Muslim War Presidency ordered the evacuation of Stupni Do's civilian population, but most of the residents chose not to leave. The following day, a force of masked uniformed HVO troops, subsequently identified as the group recently arrived from Kiseljak and Kakanj, entered the village and assaulted the ABiH soldiers and Muslim civilians still there. Both UNPROFOR forces and ECMM monitors were unable to enter the village for three days to verify the claims of untoward events.20 On October 27, elements of the UNPROFOR Nordic Battalion (NORDBAT) finally obtained access to Stupni Do and found twenty bodies by the end of day. The ABiH subsequently claimed that the HVO attackers massacred eighty or more of Stupni Do's 260 Muslim inhabitants. Ivica Rajic, commander of the OZCB's 2d Operative Group, claimed responsibility for the attack, and Kresimir Bozic, the Bobovac Brigade commander, claimed there had been a total of forty dead for both sides, most of whom were soldiers.21 "UN sources" speculated that the attack was in retaliation for the Muslim capture of Kopljari, a nearby Croat village, the week before, but there appears to be another plausible explanation for the attack on Stupni Do.

The village indeed did have some tactical importance: it commanded the southern end of the road into Vares from higher ground. However, it was also the gateway to BSA-controlled territory to the east, which made it a lucrative center for smuggling and black-market activities by both Muslim and Croat entrepreneurs. In fact, a small clearing above the village was reputed to be a thriving marketplace at which all sorts of goods—from cigarettes to automobiles to weapons—could be obtained for a price on "market day." The former commander of Muslim Territorial Defense forces in Vares, Ekrem Mahmutovic, when asked why the Stupni Do massacre occurred, noted that the Muslim residents of Stupni Do had become quite well-to-do from their black-market dealings, although they had to pay a percentage to the HVO, and when the Croats demanded a substantially higher cut in early October, the Stupni Do residents refused.22 The subsequent attack on the village was not an "official" HVO action, but was instead mounted by HVO personnel like Ivica Rajic, who were deeply involved in black-market operations, and was intended to "teach the Muslims in Stupni Do a lesson." The attack thus was not a sanctioned HVO combat activity; was perpetrated by individuals for personal reasons under the cover of their official HVO positions and using HVO resources; and was essentially a gang fight among criminals. This explanation of the events at Stupni Do on October 22, 1993, was generally accepted at the time by most officials—who agreed that outsiders from Kiseljak and Kakanj were the perpetrators.23 Sir Martin Garrod, the head of the ECMM Regional Center Zenica, noted: "It is likely that the decision to mount the operation was taken at fairly low level, and it is possible that the massacre was triggered by the refusal of the Muslims in Stupni Do, so the story goes, to pay more to the local HVO from their profits from smuggling operations in the area."24

Garrod also noted that when he asked HVO political leader Dario Kordic about the Stupni Do matter, Kordic was surprised and had to call General Petkovic in Mostar to find out what had happened. According to Garrod, Petkovic told Kordic "nothing bad had happened," only that a lot of houses had been burned and a lot of soldiers "in and out of uniform" had been killed, while most of the civilians "had moved out and were now in Vares."25 Although "nothing bad had happened," the key players in the event were quickly replaced by HVO authorities in Mostar. Kresimir Bozic replaced Emil Harah as commander of the Bobovac Brigade on October 25, and

General Petkovic and Mate Boban removed Ivica Rajic from his position in mid-November.

Criminal Behavior

There is little doubt that Ivica Rajic was engaged in criminal activities, the pursuit of which fell far outside his functions as a military commander in the HVO. It is clear that he used HVO military resources, including troops under his command, to pursue his criminal activities, which were in no way a part of his official HVO duties. Rajic's involvement in the Stupni Do massacre raises a question about the Muslim-Croat conflict in central Bosnia that needs to be emphasized: to what degree did common criminals play a role in events? The whole Stupni Do episode reeks of being a dispute between black-marketeers. Moreover, many, if not most, of the convoy holdups on Route diamond between Gornji Vakuf and Novi Travnik seem to have been undertaken by renegade gangs (both Croat and Muslim) rather than masterminded by HVO officials, military or civilian, acting in their official capacity. Brigadier Ivica Zeko, the former OZCB intelligence officer, noted that the fighting in the lower Kiseljak area (for example, around Tulica) 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.26

On April 13, 1994, ECMM Team V3 met with Father Bozo, the Franciscan Caritas representative in Kiseljak, who talked about the influence of the Bosnian Croat gangs that had emerged as a dominant force in the Kiseljak area.27 The two major gangs were controlled by Ivica Rajic and were known as the "Apostles" and the "Maturice." The Apostles came to the Kiseljak area after the ABiH attack there in June, 1993. They were led by a man known as "Ljoljo," had about three hundred men in their ranks, and lived in private houses in Duri Topole. The Maturice were from the Travnik and Kiseljak areas and lived in Lepenica. These gangs were equipped as soldiers but were not employed on the front lines. Instead they were employed by Rajic to promote his criminal activities (such as in Stupni Do). Due to Rajic's influence and control over the HVO civil and military authorities in the Kiseljak area, the gangs were able to act as they wished.

Increases in criminal activity are a normal accompaniment of wartime conditions, and even well-disciplined armed forces, such as those of the United States, Great Britain, and other NATO nations, have great difficulty suppressing criminal activity, particularly black-marketeering, among their own troops. The HVO had far fewer reliable resources at its command for suppressing crime in the midst of a life-or-death struggle against the BSA and the ABiH. It thus is not surprising that independent criminal activity flourished in such isolated and autonomous areas as the Kiseljak enclave. Neither the HVO civilian authorities nor the HVO military authorities had the wherewithal to prevent such activity effectively, and it surpasses the bounds of both logic and fairness to indict them for not doing so.

The Fall of Vares

The Stupni Do affair provided the ABiH with an excuse to clean out the HVO pocket around Vares, although the Muslims scarcely needed an excuse and had been planning the operation for some time.28 On November 2, 1993, the ECMM Coordinating Center in Travnik reported that the streets of Vares were deserted, the ABiH II Corps had already begun its attack on Vares from the north, and "the VARES pocket is a military and humanitarian powder keg. The HVO soldiers appeared nervous to the point of near panic. ... At the moment, the BIH appear very much in control."29

On November 3, ECMM Team V4 reported that HVO forces had abandoned Vares and were moving in the direction of Dastansko, a village northeast of Vares and one kilometer west of the BSA's front line. All Muslim detainees had been released, and the Bobovac Brigade's headquarters set on fire. In the confusion caused by the ABiH advance, Croat soldiers and civilians fled south toward Kiseljak. Some five thousand refugees actually reached the Kiseljak municipality. The Muslim troops entering Vares, particularly those in the 7th Muslim Motorized Brigade, ran amok in an orgy of looting and wanton destruction. By November 4, the ABiH had full control of Vares and had achieved a major strategic goal by linking the ABiH II, III, IV, and VI Corps, giving it the ability to move by road from Tuzla to Gornji Vakuf without passing through any HVO pockets.30

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  • Kaleb
    Why was stupni do attacked?
    6 years ago

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