The May Respite

The fighting between Muslims and Croats in central Bosnia died down as both sides licked their wounds and prepared for the next round. Minor cease-fire violations and even small-scale engagements between ABiH and

HVO forces occurred, but for the most part the situation remained relatively calm. Typical incidents included the killing of an HVO soldier by a sniper near Pokrajcici on May 10, and small-scale fighting between units of the ABiH 306th Mountain Brigade and the HVO Frankopan Brigade on the morning of May 11, which resulted in one KIA and one WIA on each side.13 The continuing incidents were serious enough, however, to elicit several complaints by the OZCB commander to ECMM and UNPROFOR authorities. At the same time, Colonel Blaskic was obliged to once again remind his own forces of their obligations under the terms of the cease-fire agreement, particularly as related to the free passage throughout the central Bosnia region of UNPROFOR, UNHCR, and other international organizations.14

Meanwhile, the JOC sought to prevent incidents and coordinate the efforts of the two opponents to make the cease-fire work. The joint coordination concept was implemented at lower levels as well. On May 11, following talks between Mensud Kelestura, commander of the ABiH 325th Mountain Brigade, and Mario Cerkez, commander of the HVO Viteska Brigade, a joint commission was established to deal with problems surrounding the release of prisoners, care of the sick and wounded, handling of the dead, and essential infrastructure services (water, sewage, electricity, roads, and telephone and telegraph).15 The members of the joint commission included Borislav Jozic and Stipo Krizanac for the HVO, and Refik Haj-darevic and Nihad Rebihic for the ABiH. Each side was to provide two vehicles and four military policemen with equipment to accompany the commission members. It was anticipated that the commission's work would not extend beyond June 1.

In early May, Colonel Blaskic made a comprehensive assessment of the situation in the OZCB, which he forwarded to the highest authorities of the Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna and HVO Main HQ in Mostar. With respect to the ABiH's intentions, Colonel Blaskic characterized the situation as one of "overt hostile activity of the forces of the 7th Mechanized Brigade of the MOS [ABiH] and other extremist forces with the clear intention of settling scores with the Croats in the Lasva region" and noted that the Muslim forces "are waiting for matériel and significant logistics support and have for the time being intensified sniping, the torching of Croat houses, and provocations with the objective of making our forces respond vigorously and use up as much ammunition as possible."16

Blaskic went on to state that the ABiH "seriously expect 'the job to be finished' in Konjic and then regroup forces and attack Kiseljak, Kresevo and Busovaca via Fojnica." His assessment of the Muslim forces in the central Bosnia region was that they included parts of the ABiH I and II Corps as well as fifteen mountain brigades and assorted units such as the Green Legion, Patriotic League, and mujahideen under the command of the ABiH III Corps in Zenica. He characterized the opposing Muslim units as mainly poorly supplied and poorly equipped infantry forces with large numbers of snipers; frustrated by their lack of success in the Lasva region and thus highly motivated to press the offensive against the HVO; and supported by "extensive use of the media to project an image of themselves as victims." Blaskic believed the ABiH intended "To take full control of the Croatian area of the Lasva region, in particular of Kiseljak-Busovaca and Vitez with the taking of control of Busovaca being a priority. If MOS [Muslim forces in general] achieve these objectives then they would link up with the Konjic-Gornji Vakuf-Bugojno forces on the one side and those of Visoko-Kakanj and Zenica on the other side and thereby totally blockade the Croats of Kakanj, Vares and Zepce."17

In support of his estimate of ABiH intentions, Blaskic offered as evidence the pattern of deployment of the Muslim forces, the main body of whom— elements of some six brigades—were grouped to encircle Busovaca, "their principal task being the total blockade of this city and the cutting off of the Busovaca-Vitez road at Kaonik, to be followed by the total destruction of the city."18 He also noted the deployment of strong Muslim forces throughout central Bosnia, most of whom were not oriented toward the defense against the Bosnian Serb Army. The 301st Mechanized, 303d Mountain, 314th Mountain, and 7th Muslim Motorized Brigades, together with MOS, Patriotic League, and Green Legion forces were stationed in Zenica; the 304th Mountain Brigade at Breza; the 302d Motorized Brigade at Visoko; the 309th Mountain Brigade at Kakanj; the 305th Mountain Brigade at Bil-jesevo (rather than in Zenica as UNPROFOR had guaranteed); the 308th Mountain Brigade at Novi Travnik with some three hundred mujahideen at Ravno Rostovo; the 325th Mountain Brigade at Vitez; the 333d Mountain Brigade at Kacuni; and the 306th and 312th Mountain Brigades and 17th Krajina Mountain Brigade at Travnik.

Colonel Blaskic also listed the probable avenues of attack for Muslim forces against HVO positions in the Vitez, Busovaca, and Kiseljak area, and commented on ABiH electronic warfare and intelligence-gathering activities as well as the state of ABiH morale and logistical support. As to the state of his own forces, he noted that their combat readiness was at its highest level, but they were "utterly exhausted and fatigued" and lacked weapons—some fifteen hundred to two thousand guns as a minimum. He also remarked upon the physical separation of the various Croat enclaves and the length of the HVO defense line: thirty-seven kilometers in the Kiseljak area; thirty-eight kilometers in the Busovaca area; and twenty-eight kilometers in the Vitez area—not counting the portions facing the BSA.19

Blaskic's concern over a probable resumption of the ABiH offensive was sufficient to warrant a special message on May 15 to Lt. Col. Alistair Duncan, commander of the British UNPROFOR battalion at Stari Bila, and JeanPierre Thebault, the EC ambassador at Zenica, in which he stated: "we use this opportunity to inform you that ABiH forces are gathering and consolidating from the areas of KISELJAK, BUSOVACA and VITEZ. They plan to attack the areas in the above mentioned municipalities."20 Blaskic went on to request that UNPROFOR units immediately be sent to the agreed-upon separation lines (Kuber-Saracevici-Kula-Dusina, Kacuni, and Grablje as well as in the Han Bila-Guca Gora area) in order to forestall any Muslim offensive actions.

Colonel Blaskic's anxieties were well founded, and all of the efforts of the JOC, international organizations, the ABiH and HVO chiefs of staff, and particularly the commander of HVO forces in central Bosnia, to implement the Boban-Izetbegovic cease-fire agreement would prove largely in vain during the month of June.

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