The ABiH Attack in the Zenica Area

The ABiH plan for its April, 1993, offensive appears to have included the elimination of HVO military forces in the Zenica area as well as the expulsion of the Croat community from Zenica and its surrounding villages. Although HVO forces and the Croat population in the Vitez, Busovaca, and Kiseljak areas came under heavy attack and suffered greatly, it was in the Zenica area that the Bosnian Croats received the most devastating blows. The two HVO brigades in Zenica were destroyed, most of the Croat population in Zenica was expelled and became refugees, and the Croat villages west and northwest of the city were attacked and "cleansed." In addition, the sole line of communication between the Croat enclaves in the Lasva Valley and those in the northern area around Zepce was severed.

Tensions in the Zenica area increased following the kidnapping of four

HVO soldiers from Novi Travnik on April 13 and the ambush and kidnapping of Zivko Totic in Zenica on the morning of April 15, but the HVO forces in Zenica appear not to have expected any major confrontation.61 The two HVO brigades in the Zenica area (the Jure Francetic and 2d Zenica Brigades) increased their level of readiness and blocked the roads under their control, notably the Zenica-Stranjani-Tetovo and Zenica-Raspotocje routes. Nevertheless, at 6 a.m. on April 16, the Jure Francetic Brigade's headquarters in Zenica reported that the preceding night had been quiet in the brigade zone, the town was under control, and HVO units were permitting unarmed civilians to pass through checkpoints on their way to work.62

The situation in Zenica changed dramatically in the early morning hours on April 17. Attacking from two directions, the ABiH began to take control of the Croat areas in the Zenica municipality and to encircle the two HVO brigades (Jure Francetic and 2d Zenica) and disarm them. Able-bodied men were taken to the detention center in Zenica, but elements of both brigades escaped via Nova Kar to the HVO lines near Novi Bila, and HVO elements outside the town took up defensive positions. Vinko Baresic, commander of the 2d Zenica Brigade, then still in the process of formation, reported at 5:30 a.m. that his headquarters had been attacked from all directions and was surrounded. In the same report, issued at 10:20 hours, Baresic urgently requested instructions and assistance from HQ, OZCB in Vitez, noting that HVO forces in the village of Stranjani were completely under siege and had been given an ultimatum by the ABiH to surrender their weapons; the Muslims were progressively surrounding the villages of Zmajevac and Cajdras; and many displaced Croats were seeking refuge in Cajdras.63 Baresic also informed HQ, OZCB, that he had issued orders for a breakout toward Janjac and Osojnica but that the morale of his forces was declining rapidly and he was unsure whether or not his orders would be obeyed. He himself was going to try to get to Cajdras.

At 1:15 a.m. on April 18, the OZCB commander appealed to the UNPROFOR battalion at Stari Bila and ECMM authorities in Zenica to take immediate action to protect the Croatian population in the Zenica municipality, particularly those in the village of Cajdras. Later that day, Colonel Blaskic telephoned Lieutenant Colonel Stewart and repeated his urgent request for the UNPROFOR forces to act to save the Croats in Cajdras.64 In his diary Lieutenant Colonel Stewart noted: "things got worse overnight; Zenica blown up with violence and Muslims having a go at Croats who live in/around Zenica; lots of Croat refugees in Croat-held area at Cajdras; 800 civilians ethnically cleansed from Podbrezje West of Zenica by Muslims; Muslim soldiers hostile and looting; HVO had been attacked and all HVO/HOS buildings in Zenica taken over by ABiH; Boban and Izetbegovic agreed to a cease-fire."65

Indeed, things had gotten very much worse for the Croats in the Zenica area. At 3:45 p.m. on April 18, Vinko Baresic reported from Cajdras that although some two hundred men of the 1st Battalion, Jure Francetic Brigade, continued to man the defensive perimeter around Cajdras (running from the Cajdras crossroads-Palijike-Serusa-Strbci-Jezero-Tromnice); the 3d Battalion, 2d Zenica Brigade, had already agreed to Muslim demands; and the brigade's 1st and 2d Battalions, as well as the 2d and 3d Battalions of the Francetic Brigade, were sure to follow soon. Baresic noted that the HVO troops in Zmajevac were abandoning their positions, leaving the Cajdras defenders in an even more perilous situation. He also noted that he and some other officers did not wish to surrender because "even if we were to surrender, I am sure that we would be executed."66 He went on to request instructions regarding Lieutenant Colonel Stewart's offer to evacuate HVO personnel from Cajdras to Vitez or Busovaca.

The destruction and "cleansing" of Croat villages in the Zenica area was widespread and thorough, despite Muslim assurances that Croat refugees could return home. On April 21, the ECMM Regional Center in Zenica forwarded a special report to ECMM headquarters in Zagreb dealing with the two hundred Croats the Muslims had imprisoned in the Zenica Prison's military section; the existence of detention centers at Bilimisce, the "Music School" in Zenica, and Nemila; and the destruction by Muslims of Croat villages in and around Zenica. Having visited and investigated the devastated Croat villages of Cajdras, Vjetrenice, Janjac, Kozarci, Osojnica, Stranjani, Zahalie, and Dobriljeno, the ECMM monitors in their usual fashion minimized the damage to Croat property and the deaths of Croat civilians caused by the Muslims and concluded that "except from Zalje the damages was [sic] less than expected."67

Having rid themselves of their erstwhile allies and a good part of the Croat civilian population in Zenica, blocked the road to Zepce, and "cleansed" the Croat villages in the Zenica area, the Muslims were free to concentrate on their offensive in the Vitez-Busovaca-Kiseljak area. Although the HVO forces and Croat civilians in the Lasva-Kozica-Lepenica area suffered significant destruction and casualties, Croat losses in the Zenica area were substantial, and the HVO presence and influence in the area definitively eliminated. Thenceforth, Zenica was a thoroughly Muslim stronghold. Nowhere else did the Muslims' April offensive achieve such decisive results.

The Alleged HVO Shelling of Zenica on April 19, 1993

Between 12:10 and 12:29 p.m. on April 19, six artillery shells fell in downtown Zenica, killing and wounding a number of civilians. After a hasty investigation, the ABiH authorities blamed the shelling on the HVO, claiming that it was intended as a warning to the Muslims. Numerous "experts" from the ABiH, UNPROFOR, and ECMM subsequently conducted additional analysis of the fuse and shell fragments and impact areas and concluded that the shells had been fired by HVO forces from a position near Puticevo.68 Faulty analytical methods and ignorance of the capabilities of the various types of artillery in use in the area reinforced the assumption that the HVO

had fired the six rounds. However, as Prof. Slobodan Jankovic—a bona fide ballistics expert and expert on the artillery weapons and ammunition in use at the time—has demonstrated, it was more likely that the six rounds were fired by Bosnian Serb artillery located on the Vlasic massif, just as the HVO authorities suggested at the time.69 The essence of Professor Jankovic's technical argument is that the six rounds which fell in downtown Zenica on April 19 could have been fired either by the HVO or by the Serbs. Both had guns (122-mm and 152-mm) within range that used the type of shells and fuses of which fragments were found after the shelling. However, Professor Jankovic points out that: (1) the ABiH/ECMM crater analysis was limited to only one crater, and the allowable standard deviation (as to the direction from which the shells were fired) argues for a Serb gun rather than an HVO gun; (2) the HVO had no meteorological capability and could not have achieved such a tight dispersion pattern without it; (3) the two HVO guns in the best position to have fired the six rounds were reported by ABiH observers not to have fired during the period in question; and (4) the missing factor needed to determine definitively who fired the six shells is the tube life of the guns involved (which affects initial velocity).

Although Professor Jankovic has declined to state definitively who fired the rounds, he leans toward two Serb guns located on the Vlasic massif firing three rounds each. He discounts the use of a forward observer who provided corrections, as well as the idea that the rounds might have been fired by one HVO gun that fired several rounds and then displaced. The HVO gunners simply were not well enough trained to have gone out of battery, moved, and relaid the gun within the time available. In general, HVO artillery fire was quite inaccurate due to the absolute lack of meteorological data; substandard, black market ammunition (inconsistent performance); lack of ammunition management (use of mixed lots); lack of records of tube life (which meant most guns likely were used after their recommended tube life); and lack of gun crew training. All of this means that, even when aiming at a military target, the HVO artillery probably could not have avoided hitting nearby civilian facilities.

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