According to the testimony of a former member of the assault detachment of the 9th Motorized Brigade, no one in the BH Army top echelon wanted the truth about the events in Grabovica on 8 and 9 September 1993 to become known

Sefer Halilovic in the courtroomSefer Halilovic in the courtroom

“The order was that we should not tell anyone about what happened in Grabovica”, a protected witness testified today at the trial of Sefer Halilovic. The witness was a member of the assault detachment of the BH Army 9th Motorized Brigade. As alleged in the indictment, members of this brigade killed 33 Croat civilians in the village of Grabovica in the Neretva valley on 8 and 9 September 1993 during a wider military operation commanded by Halilovic.

The witness was in Grabovica with the rest of his unit at the time of the crime. He claims to have witnessed the murder of Pero Maric, who was eighty-nine years old. He saw several other dead people in the village and he saw when all the dead bodies were loaded onto a truck and taken away.

In late October 1993, after his return from Operation Neretva ’93, the witness was arrested together with other members of the 9th Motorized Brigade, including the deputy commander Ramiz Delalic Celo. The arrests were part of the “Operation Trebevic”, conducted by the Sarajevo authorities with the aim of curbing the BH Army units that were “out of control.”

In the five months that he spent in detention in Sarajevo, the witness was asked only once by an investigator what had happened in Grabovica. After that, he and the other soldiers who had been in Grabovica were “ordered not to talk about it.” The witness described the interrogations that followed his arrest as: “F irst they would beat you, and then they would write things down.” As for all his previous statements, the witness claimed they were untrue as they had been given under threat of a death sentence or life imprisonment.

In his testimony today, the witness repeated several times that Sefer Halilovic had been in command of Operation Neretva ’93; the defense challenges this. The witness claims that Halilovic was in Grabovica when Vehbija Karic, member of the BH Army Main Staff inspection team and Halilovic’s subordinate there, told the soldiers that Croats who were not welcoming should be killed “summarily” and “thrown into the Neretva river.” According to the witness, Halilovic just “shook his head and asked: Are you out of your mind?” and Karic replied: “The same thing happened to us in Ahmici.” When asked by the prosecutor, the witness said that he had taken Karic's words “as a joke, because all those people – the villagers in Grabovica – were civilians, old people, women and children.”

The witness also stated that he had seen Salko Gusic escorting Halilovic and Karic in Grabovica on 8 September 1993. Gusic is the former commander of the 6th Motorized Brigade, who testified earlier in the trial as a prosecution witness. Halilovic’s defense accused Gusic of trying to shift the blame for the events in Grabovica and Uzdol away from himself by false testimony. The defense claims that his role in the events was far greater than he admitted.

In the indictment, Halilovic is charged with failing to prevent or punish the murders of civilians in Grabovica and Uzdol in September 1993, when he was the commander of Operation Neretva ’93.