The two principal objectives of the Muslim probing attacks launched from the villages of Merdani, Lasva, and Dusina in January, 1993, were the village of Kacuni on the important Busovaca-Kiseljak road and the town of Busovaca itself. The intent of the ABiH attackers was to seize Kacuni and thus sever the connection between Kiseljak and the rest of the Croat enclave in central Bosnia. Busovaca was a key Croat political center and controlled the road net west to Vitez and Travnik, east to the Bosna River and thence north to Zenica or south and east to Kakanj, Visoko, and Sarajevo, and southeast to Kiseljak. By taking Busovaca, the ABiH could ensure control of the principal lines of communication in the Lasva, Kozica, and Lep-enica Valleys. By definition, a probing attack is one, which, if it encounters only light resistance, can be pressed on to some major goal. In the case of the January, 1993, attack in the Busovaca-Kacuni area, the major goal was to lower Croat morale and divide the Croat enclave in central Bosnia into two segments. In fact, the latter objective was achieved.
The ABiH offensive operation in central Bosnia began on January 19 with the establishment of a checkpoint at Kacuni on the Busovaca-Kiseljak road by elements of the ABiH III Corps.9 This marked the first open clash between the ABiH and the HVO in the area, and, just as the attackers intended, interrupted communications between Busovaca and Kiseljak. Meanwhile, efforts were made to open a road across the Hum-Kula massif leading to the Busovaca-Kacuni area for the purpose of facilitating the movement of ABiH forces into the contested areas. Elements of ABiH Operations Group (OG) Lasva, under the command of Nehru Ganic, attacked and seized the villages of Lasva and Dusina, and the 333d Mountain Brigade established a line from Lasva through Dusina to Kacuni.10 In the course of taking control of Dusina, elements of the 2d Battalion, 7th Muslim Motorized Brigade—commanded by Col. Serif Patkovic—massacred a number of Croat soldiers and civilians in the village. They also executed the local Croat commander, Zvonko Rajic, and cut out his heart.11 On January 23-24, elements of the 301st Mechanized and the 303d, 314th, and 333d Mountain Brigades, supported by part of the 310th Mountain Brigade from the Fojnica area, a battalion of the 7th Muslim Brigade, units of the Mobile Detachment, and a company of military police from the ABiH III Corps, continued the attack from Kacuni toward the village of Bilalovac which was taken thereby linking the ABiH's OG Istok (East) with OG Zapad (West).12 The villages of Nezirovici, Oseliste, Gusti Grab, and Donje Polje were attacked on January 25-26, and their Croat populations "cleared up."13 An accidental result of the Muslim seizure of Kacuni was that the HVO OZCB commander, Col. Tihomir Blaskic, was cut off from his headquarters in Vitez. A native of the Kiseljak area, Blaskic was paying a Sunday visit to his parents when the Busovaca-Kiseljak road was cut at Kacuni. It was some time before he was able to return to his headquarters, so he had to direct operations from the Ban Jelacic Brigade's headquarters in Kiseljak.
Although Muslim-Croat tensions were high, the January attack came as something of a surprise to the HVO soldiers and authorities in the Busovaca area. In December, 1992, armed Muslim refugees from Jajce and the fighting in the Krajina had begun to move into the Busovaca area, and in January, 1993, they were augmented by Muslim troops who had left the front lines against the Serbs and were taking over a building at a time in Busovaca and other towns and villages in the Lasva, Kozica, and Lepenica Valleys.14 On January 6, the Intelligence Section of the HVO Nikola Subic Zrinski Brigade in Busovaca issued an estimate of Muslim capabilities and intentions that pin-pointed ABiH units and noted that they were in position to cut the Busovaca-Kiseljak road at Kacuni, the Busovaca-Vitez road at Ahmici, and the Busovaca-Zenica road at Grablje.15
There were numerous incidents in the Busovaca area in the days immediately preceding the Muslim attack, including the confiscation of weapons and the arrest of Croats by Busovaca Muslim authorities. The ABiH attempted to arrest Ignaz Kostroman, a local Bosnian Croat politician on January 22, and two HVO soldiers were killed and barricades were erected by Muslims in Busovaca two days later.16 A sudden exodus of Muslims from
Busovaca, many of whom headed to the hospital in Zenica, occurred immediately before the attack on January 25.
Operating from assembly areas in the Merdani-Lasva-Dusina area to the northeast, ABiH forces moved up along the east bank of the Kozica River and launched a probing attack—preceded by heavy and indiscriminate shelling by 82-mm and 120-mm mortars and "Lancers"—on Busovaca itself in the early morning hours of January 25.17 Some six hundred to seven hundred men from the Nikola Subic Zrinski Brigade's 1st and 2d Battalions defended the town. The Zrinski Brigade was still untried, having just been formed on December 19, 1992, but the HVO troops quickly occupied defensive positions around the town and forestalled a successful attack by the ABiH infantry.
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