The April 1993 Cease Fire

The temporary cease-fire in the Lasva Valley area brokered by Maj. Bryan Watters, second-in-command of the British UNPROFOR battalion at Stari Bila, on April 16 and agreed to by the HVO and ABiH commanders the following day, was a fragile reed and did little to stop the fighting in the area. However, pursuant to the military provisions of the Vance-Owen Peace Plan signed on March 3, 1993, RBiH president Alija Izetbegovic and Mate Boban, the leader of the Bosnian Croat community, signed an agreement in Zagreb on April 18 that called for an immediate cessation of all Muslim-Croat fighting; the exchange of prisoners and detainees; proper care of the wounded; the investigation of related crimes; and the reestablishment of communications between ABiH and HVO authorities. The Boban-Izetbegovic agreement also called for the return of all HVO and ABiH military and police forces to their "home" provinces; control over all forces in the proposed VOPP Provinces 1, 5, and 9 by the ABiH Main Staff and in the proposed VOPP Provinces 3, 8, and 10 by the HVO Main Staff; and the establishment of an ABiH-HVO joint command.2

At noon on April 21, the HVO and ABiH chiefs of staff (Milijov Petkovic and Sefer Halilovic, respectively) met at the ECMM office in Novi Bila to discuss the implementation of the Boban-Izetbegovic cease-fire agreement. European Community ambassador Jean-Pierre Thebault presided over the discussions. Although punctuated by bitter charges and countercharges by both sides regarding violations of the existing cease-fire arrangements, the meeting resulted in an agreement for an immediate cessation of combat activities; the separation of forces and insertion of UNPROFOR monitoring elements between them; unhindered patrolling by UNPROFOR units between Kiseljak and Travnik; full guarantees for the Muslims besieged in

Vitez and the Croats surrounded in Zenica; and a joint meeting of "coordination teams" at 10 a.m. on April 22. Lieutenant Colonel Bob Stewart noted in his diary, "everyone parted on good terms."3

Colonel Tihomir Blaskic, a participant in the meeting, subsequently recorded his own observations on the negotiations, noting that the ABiH delegation seemed preoccupied, cold, and worried about the many Croat civilian casualties caused by their offensive. Blaskic's prophetic assessment of the ABiH was that "they are either totally scatter-brained so they have agreed to everything, or they can no longer control their own actions, so now they accept everything in order to create space for a new attack, one they will not give up on." Despite his misgivings, on April 22, Blaskic ordered HVO forces in central Bosnia to implement the chiefs of staff's agreements.4 Subordinate commanders were once again enjoined to halt all combat activities against the ABiH and to not respond to Muslim provocations unless ordered to do so by higher headquarters. Nor were they to restrict the movements of UN and ECMM teams. Colonel Blaskic also ordered the withdrawal of HVO forces from the Sljivcic-Vrhovine-BM 808-Gavrine Kuce line and informed his subordinates that the area along the Vitez-Busovaca road—from the Vjetrenica-Zenica road on the left to the Kaonik intersection on the right—was to be a demilitarized zone occupied only by UNPROFOR elements.

The high emotional level of the troops on both sides and the lack of discipline and firm control that had always characterized both the ABiH and the HVO magnified the difficulties of implementing the cease-fire agreements. In the last week of April, Colonel Blaskic attempted to rectify that deficiency by issuing a series of orders relating to the proper conduct of HVO forces, observing the cease-fire and the laws of land warfare, and avoiding interference with the operations of the UNPROFOR, ECMM, ICRC, and other international organizations in the central Bosnia area. Arson and looting were strictly forbidden, and stiff sanctions were threatened against those found guilty of such crimes.5 Noting that the lack of military discipline evoked the condemnation of the media and the international community, Colonel Blaskic reminded his subordinates on April 23 that they were responsible for enforcing discipline among their troops and that they were to ensure that UN and ECMM patrols and teams were unhindered. He also forbade HVO forces to carry out offensive actions or to respond to isolated provocations by the ABiH, noting that they were permitted to "open fire only in case of direct attack by Muslim forces, but only after an order is issued by the superior commanders, about which the brigade commanders must inform me immediately."6 The proper treatment of the wounded, civilians, and prisoners was covered in an order issued April 24, and a general recapitulation of the earlier instructions on the proper conduct of HVO personnel was issued the same day. Measures to reduce the spread of rumors and to raise troop morale and defensive spirit were directed on April 28. The following day, Colonel Blaskic again reminded his subordinate com manders of their obligations with respect to the release of civilian detainees.7 Presumably, the ABiH III Corps commander issued similar admonitions to his troops, although no such orders have come to light thus far.

Following their April 21 meeting, the ABiH and HVO chiefs of staff frequently traveled to frontline areas with UNPROFOR representatives in order to stop the fighting and to personally encourage their troops to obey the cease-fire agreements. Generals Halilovic and Petkovic and their subordinate commanders also met weekly to resolve ongoing issues and work toward full implementation of the Boban-Izetbegovic cease-fire agreement. In view of the continued fighting and the fundamental distrust between Muslims and Croats, the meetings were usually full of recriminations and made little progress toward the ultimate goal. For example, on April 28, Halilovic and Petkovic met at the Spanish UNPROFOR battalion headquarters in Jablanica and discussed three special issues: the security and freedom of movement for ECMM and UNPROFOR elements; the evacuation of civilians from two Croat villages near Konjic by UNPROFOR personnel; and the establishment of a joint operational center in Mostar. From Jablanica the meeting participants traveled to Zenica by way of Tarcin and Kresevo, and then Generals Halilovic and Petkovic, accompanied by Colonels Hadzi-hasanovic and Blaskic, went to yet another meeting in Visoko. That meeting began "in a bad atmosphere" when General Petkovic complained about an ongoing ABiH attack against HVO positions and set "pre-conditions to any further cooperation."8 The meeting deteriorated further when it was interrupted by a British UNPROFOR battalion report that a forty-truck UNHCR convoy carrying food for Muslims in Zenica had been "highjacked" by HVO forces in the Busovaca area.9

The Joint Coordination Commission (JCC) headed by ABiH colonel Mehmed Alagic and HVO colonel Filip Filipovic was established to implement the earlier January, 1993, cease-fire arrangement. It continued to function in a desultory manner even after the beginning of the ABiH April offensive.10 However, the JCC became superfluous on April 22, when the ABiH and HVO commanders in central Bosnia took the first step toward forming the Joint Operational Center (JOC) called for in the Boban-Izetbegovic agreement by appointing their representatives: Dzemal Merdan and Vezirj Jusufspahic for the ABiH and Franjo Nakic and Zoran Pilicic for the HVO.11 The JOC began to function from a headquarters in Vitez a few days later. On April 25, the ECMM representative to the JOC noted that the new organization had gotten off to a slow start but that the presence of experienced members from the older JCC would no doubt ensure better performance in the next few days despite the many cease-fire violations.12

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