Policy Of The Republic Of Croatia Towards Bosnia And Herzegovina 1992-95 (Part III) – Analysis

Croatian attempts to calm the Croat-Bosniak war

The representatives of Croatia tried to diplomatically stop the war with recent allies. Thus, on the night of April 24 to 25 in Zagreb, Izetbegović and Boban, in the presence of Tuđman and Owen, signed a joint statement that the body that will be in charge of implementing the Vance-Owen plan “as far as possible considering on the character of the provisions and current circumstances”.

However, this did not happen and on May 9, Muslim forces launched a powerful attack on Mostar. On that day, Sefer Halilović, in command of the 3rd Corps, announced a fierce attack on the Croats in central Bosnia: “The 3rd corps must strengthen its offensive and information operations in Travnik and Lašva valley, Busovača, Vitez, Novi Travnik. The 3rd corps will receive reinforcements when the UN designates demilitarized zones in Eastern Bosnia, then it will be the moment of the final showdown with the Ustasha on this ground and the way to Croatia or under the black earth.”

The next day, the Croatian president sent a letter to Izetbegović and Boban: “I am extremely disturbed and worried about the deepening of the conflict between Croats and Muslims in parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I strongly condemn armed conflicts between Croats and Muslims in BiH, regardless of who caused them. I invite you to do everything to stop these conflicts immediately, to ensure cooperation between the Muslim and Croatian armed forces in the joint fight against the Serbian aggressor… I also invite all Croats in BIH not to fall for provocations and to do everything to avoid this harmful conflict.”

On May 18, a meeting of Croatian and Muslim representatives took place in Medjugorje, which was the last attempt to prevent the development of a war between the two nations. Much was expected from the meeting. In addition to the Croatian and Bosnian presidents, co-chairman Owen and chairman of the EC Council of Ministers Niels Helveg Petersen were also present.

The composition of the Coordination Body for the implementation of the Vance-Owen Plan (Izetbegović, Ejup Ganić, Fikret Abdić, Mate Boban, Mile Akmadžić and Franjo Boras) was confirmed, the establishment of the Military Council was announced, and it was agreed that J. Prlić be the president of the joint government. It was agreed to establish provincial governments with seats in Mostar, Travnik and Zenica. In Mostar and Travnik, the governor was supposed to be a Croat, and the deputy a Bosniak, in Zenica it was the other way around. None of that was realized because, even though Prlić did something about that issue, Izetbegović protracted so that the ABIH would take as much territory as possible on the battlefield.

Croats for negotiations, Bosniaks for war

The Croatian side was in favor of a diplomatic solution. At the beginning of May, the HVO had a plan to join the remnants of the HVO in Klis near Konjic with the forces in Rama, which was not carried out due to a ban from the “highest place”, apparently referring to President Tuđman. At the meeting with the brigade commanders of the OZ Northwestern Herzegovina on June 5, Colonel Željko Šiljeg stated: “The plan we were preparing is stopping. During the armistice, the Muslims attacks Bokševica and conquer it. We clear Bokševica in order to ensure communication towards Kostajnica, then Tuđman comes and stop.”

Croatian president was not the initiator of the Croatian-Muslim war. That can be seen from the fact that, at the invitation of Chinese President Jiang Zemin, he traveled to the People’s Republic of China on June 6 for a multi-day visit. It is one of the most important bilateral visits of Tuđman, who already understood the future power of China in 1993. Right at that moment, the major offensive of the ABIH started on Travnik, in which that city was conquered and the Croatian population was expelled. Therefore, Tuđman was forced to cut short his visit and return on June 10 “due to the dramatic deterioration of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the parts inhabited by the Croatian population”. A politician who creates war sits in a bunker or an isolated place and doesn’t travel to another continent.

At the time of the Owen-Stoltenberg plan on organizing BIH as three national republics, on August 4, Izetbegović sent a letter to Tuđman in which he proposed that the territory that would belong to the Bosnian and Croatian republics in the Union of the Republics of BIH remain a single area with a parity government because it is impossible to divide it. It was an offer of alliance on the condition that the culprits on both sides leave. It is interesting that Izetbegović did not consider himself guilty of the conflicts.

In the letter, Tuđman replied that it was a matter for the representatives of the two nations within Bosnia and that Croatia welcomes the cooperation of Croats and Muslims. He agreed to the proposal on the condition that the attacks of the Muslim troops on the Croats stop immediately and unconditionally. It turned out to be Izetbegović’s diplomatic trick because at the meeting of the ABIH Main Staff in Zenica on August 21 and 22, the main enemy was declared the HVO, not the VRS, and the orientation towards war was emphasized. In Geneva, on September 14, Tuđman and Izetbegović signed a Joint Declaration according to which all conflicts between the Army of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the HVO were to end in four days.

Also, a secret agreement was signed on close relations between the Croatian and Bosnian republics within BIH with the aim of creating a common state that should enter into a confederation with Croatia. That it was a double game by Izetbegović can be seen from the fact that two days later he signed with Momčilo Krajišnik a Joint Declaration on a cease-fire and that within two years after the territorial demarcation, a referendum on the exit of Republika Srpska from the RBIH Union would be held.

Accusations of HV participation in the Croat-Bosniak war

Unfounded accusations about the huge participation of the Croatian army in the Croatian-Muslim war started from the outbreak of the first conflicts in October 1992 and continued later. There are a handful of examples. In a letter to Tuđman on April 21, 1993, Izetbegović wrote that “the world already knows that the HVO in its attempt to create a state within the state has the support of influential circles and individuals from Croatia”, and that he hesitates to disclose this and ask for help from the world.

“People in America, Germany, France, Muslim countries and elsewhere asked why don’t I present the truth and ask for their help. I refrained from doing so,” claimed Izetbegović, “having constant hope that reason will prevail, because I guess it’s obvious that a solid and stable BIH is equally in the Croatian state’s interest and that some short-sighted people will finally understand this unique truth. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen”.

At the meeting of the Bosnian government on May 13, 1993, one point was dedicated to the HV, which “supported” the HVO attacks: “According to reliable information, the following units of the regular Croatian Army are located on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina: the 113th Split Brigade and elements of a brigade from Metković in the region of Buna, Dubrava and Stolac, the 114th Split and 123rd Varaždin brigades in the Lašva region and one tank unit in the Čvrsnica region.” Defense Minister of the Republic of Croatia Gojko Šušak rejected these claims as untrue. After the war, the accusations continued, so today some Bosniak authors mention 4 to 13 HV brigades.

The truth about the participation of the Croatian Army (HV) in the Croat-Bosniak war

The truth is different. The number of HV members in the Croat-Bosniak war was mostly symbolic and of a psychological nature, to show that Croatia supports the HVO in defending the area where the Croats lived for centuries. The first HV unit that joined the Croat-Bosniak war was the Zrinski Battalion from Rakitje, a special unit of the Armed Forces of Croatia. Its composition consisted mainly of BiH Croats. It was partly involved in April 1993 due to the attack of the ABIH on the HVO in Konjic.

A more serious engagement started in July 1993, when the battalion of the 5th Guards Brigade of the HV was engaged on the Mostar battlefield. Later, a volunteer unit of the Military Police of two companies came. After that, members of the HV are directed to the critical Uskoplje-Rama front where the intensity of arrivals was the highest from August to November 1993. The most numerous were members of the 5th Guards Brigade (battalion), 7th Guards Brigade (company), 1st and 2nd Guards Brigade (incomplete companies). Volunteers from different units got involved. Other formations were composed of a platoon up to a reinforced platoon.

At the end of 1993, the 175th brigade of the HV was founded from conscripts and fugitives – Croats from Bosnia. De facto it was a brigade of the HVO. It was sent to the Uskoplje-Rama battlefield. E.g. on January 8, 1994, there were a total of 5,215 Croatian soldiers on the Uskoplje-Rama battlefield, of which 774 were members of the HV: 440 soldiers from the 175th brigade (de facto HVO), 175 guardsmen from the 7th brigade (Puma), 45 from the Matija battalion Vlačić, 38 from the 2nd Guards Brigade (Gromovi), 38 from the 114th Split Brigade and 38 soldiers from the 153rd Velika Gorica Brigade. 6% of the members of the HV if we exclude the members of the 175th brigade and 94% of the members of the HVO.

At the meeting of President Tuđman and international mediators David Owen and Thorvald Stoltenberg held on June 2, 1993, Tuđman proposed that UNPROFOR be deployed on the borders of BIH with Serbia and Montenegro and with Croatia in order to remove the accusations of Croatia’s aggression against Bosnia. Croatia could not officially send several HV brigades because the UN would impose international sanctions.

On the other hand, according to the international law of war, the army can enter 60 km into the territory of another country from which aggression is being waged or threats are being made to the home country. Operations of the ABIH, such as Neretva-93, are an unquestionable threat to Croatian territory, since one of the goals of that operation was conquest of the Port of Ploče. Thus, the HV had the right to enter the territory of Bosnia in an area of ​​60 km due to the long and narrow Croatian “pretzel”. The small number of soldiers from Croatia who participated in the war with the ABIH shows that their task was primarily defensive (enable the survival of the Croatian people). These forces could only be used for “patching the line of conflict”, not at all for aggression.

Admittedly, the knowledge and experience of the members of the HV was in some cases of great importance because they closed empty and weak lines and restored the lost positions of the HVO in Mostar in Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje. Croatian soldiers prevented the Muslim penetration on these critical routes. Their number didn’t exceed the strength of one Yugoslav Army (JNA) light infantry brigade with tanks and artillery: 1,400-1,800 soldiers. The last ones remained on the battlefield in Uskoplje until May 1994. Much more numerous were the mujahideen – Islamic volunteers from Muslim countries, who numbered several thousand.

November 1993 – the peace initiative of President Tuđman

At the beginning of November 1993, Tuđman directed the Peace Initiative for three hot spots of the conflict: 1. Proposal for the implementation of the peace plan in the area under the protection of the UN (UNPA zones) in Croatia; 2. Proposal for ending the war and establishing peace in BIH; 3. Proposal of measures for the permanent consolidation of peace. He sent the initiative to the co-chairs of the Peace Conference on the Former Yugoslavia, Owen and Stoltenberg, Austrian President Thomas Klestil, Czech President Vaclav Havel, French President Francois Mitterrand, Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, Hungarian President Arpad Göncz, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, US President Bill Clinton, Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, British Prime Minister John Major.

Regarding BIH, it is proposed to implement the previous Geneva agreements, unconditionally and immediately stop hostilities, sign a declaration on the acceptance of the Constitutional Agreement on the Union of the Republic of BIH under the auspices of France, Germany, Russia, USA, Turkey and Great Britain. An effective solution can be provided by those countries “by the use of NATO forces, including airstrikes, against anyone who violates the cessation of hostilities”.

In the initiative, Tuđman pointed out: “It is not enough that the world community only cares about one side of the problem at such crucial moments: humanitarian aid to the civilian population who are really suffering terrible hardships. One should ask whether the primary duty of the international community is to stop the horror of war, which continues and even worsens every day, both on the territory of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina… It seems that at the beginning of the crisis, the world was not aware of the complexity of the situation in Bosnia, the possible scale of human tragedies and unbearable suffering that happened… The problem of BIH is a mirror of all the problems that appeared in the former Yugoslavia. The most urgent and shortest summary is the following: if the former Yugoslavia could not be maintained except on the basis of the confederal organization of the community of its equal national states, then BIH, due to the existence of equal problems in a narrowed area, can only be maintained in the form of the Union of the Republics of BIH.”

Tuđman rejected Izetbegović’s offer for the annexation of Herzegovina to Croatia

The then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mate Granić, revealed that in January 1994, Izetbegović twice offered Tuđman to annex Herzegovina. “At the suggestion of President Izetbegović, and with the mediation of Ambassador Hidajet Biščević, on January 10, 1994 at 11 p.m. on the ground floor of the state residence in Bad Godesberg, Presidents Tuđman and Izetbegović, Silajdžić and I, and Biščević met.

Almost without any preamble, Izetbegović directly proposed to Tuđman: ‘President Tuđman, you give up central Bosnia and leave it to us Bosniaks, and in return we will give you everything south and west from Prozor to the Neretva valley. We will divide Mostar into the left and right banks.’ In this way, the Croats would get practically the whole of Herzegovina. Izetbegović said this calmly, concentrated and very cold. I was used to all kinds of things in war and negotiations, but Izetbegović’s proposal surprised me greatly. I was waiting for what Tuđman would say. The president thought very briefly, and then said: ‘I don’t agree! We cannot do this to Croats in central Bosnia.’ I was very satisfied with President Tuđman’s answer, and Izetbegović then acted as if nothing had happened. The meeting ended very quickly after that. Izetbegović’s second offer to divide BiH came in Geneva on January 19, 1994 at around 5 pm in the UN building. This time, Presidents Tuđman and Izetbegović, Silajdžić and I and Ambassador Miomir Žužul were at the meeting. Izetbegović repeated the previous offer to Tuđman.

He said: ‘Franjo, take everything from below Prozor to the Neretva, let’s divide Mostar into the left and right banks and finish the job!’ Tuđman again rejected his proposal. Silajdžić and I didn’t say a word this time either. The president was clear and decisive in rejecting Izetbegović’s proposal.”

“Tuđman gave up Greater Croatia under international pressure”

One of the most common manipulations of Tuđman’s critics is that he gave up on Greater Croatia only under international pressure at the end of February 1994. Such an interpretation isn’t correct. The Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia was not part of (Greater) Croatia, but a constitutive confederal unit according to the Owen-Stoltenberg plan of three republics and respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of BIH.

Admittedly, within that plan there was the possibility of calling a referendum on the separation of a republic from Bosnia if the other two republics gave permission, and if one republic filed an appeal, the decision would ultimately be made by the UN Security Council. Whether such referendums would really take place is questionable, but it is known that Herzeg-Bosnia didn’t go in the direction of secession. It is true that Tuđman gave up Herzeg-Bosnia and accepted the American idea of ​​the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but it is not true that he did so under the threat of UNSC sanctions.

In the presidential statement of February 3, 1994, the UN Security Council “strongly condemns the Republic of Croatia” for “deploying elements of the Croatian Army” in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and “demands that the Republic of Croatia immediately withdraw all elements of the Croatian Army (HV) together with military equipment and fully respects the territorial integrity of BIH”. The Secretary General of the UN, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, had to submit a report to the UN General Assembly within 14 days whether Croatia complied with the ultimatum or whether economic sanctions would be imposed on it.

According to Tuđman’s critics, such as Josip Manolić and American ambassador Peter Galbraith, that statement scared the Croatian president so much that he changed his policy by 180 degrees and agreed to the American Federation plan. However, on February 17, Boutros-Ghali reported, based on UNPROFOR data, that “there may still be 5,000 members of the Croatian Army in Bosnia and Herzegovina, although neither HV commands nor entire brigades of the Croatian Army have been identified. “After that report of the UN Secretary General, no sanctions were imposed on Croatia and the threat of sanctions was at least temporarily removed from the agenda. Admittedly, the report is not correct because the members of the HV were a maximum of two thousand, as already stated.

On the same day, February 17, a meeting between the special envoy of the US government, Charles Redman and Tuđman was held in the Presidential Palace in Zagreb. Redman came up with the proposal of the Muslim-Croat Federation reduced to 51% of the territory of Bosnia without Republika Srpska, which would have the right to a referendum on secession. In such a federal state of Bosnia, Croats would not have the right to territorial delimitation in relation to Bosniaks (cantons, provinces, republics) and the only guarantee of protection was the proposed confederation of the Federation with Croatia, including a customs and monetary union.

Tuđman rejected the idea of ​​such a Federation and advocated a solution of three republics with the aim of creating a stronger alliance between the Bosniak and Croat republics. Redman didn’t accept the concept of three republics because the American administration was afraid of the establishment of an independent Muslim state in Bosnia, which could become another anti-American outpost. In the following days, a reversal occurred, but not because Tuđman was afraid of sanctions, but because the Americans accepted Croatian proposals on demarcation within the Federation.

On February 18, at the Frankfurt airport, the Croatian delegation led by Granić held talks with Redman and representatives of Great Britain, France and Germany. The Croats insisted on the cantons and confederation of the Federation with Croatia, especially if the Serb Republic leaves Bosnia. On the same day, the Americans relented and Redman said that the idea of ​​a union of cantons in the Federation was acceptable to him and that the Croatian cantons “which do not have to be completely together, have some Croatian identity of their own and be linked by the Croatian Parliament”.

This was followed by conversations between Granić, Krešimir Zubak and Mile Akmadžić with Haris Silajdžić. On February 20, a meeting between Tuđman and the representatives of Herzeg-Bosnia was held in the Presidential Palace, who agreed to the Federation as a union of cantons that would be a protection against the majority of Bosniaks. The following day, at a meeting between Redman and Tuđman, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina was finally agreed upon on a cantonal basis. Apparently, Redman changed his mind when his boss Clinton realized that the Croatian representatives were right: the concept of the Federation was changed from a civil one to a binational Croat-Bosniak community. Further negotiations between the Croats and Bosniaks will result in the preliminary Agreement on the creation of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina on March 1, 1994, and finally the Washington Agreement on March 18, which ended the Croat-Bosniak war, although incidents continued.

9.12% of citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina were expelled or left the area of ​​Herzeg-Bosnia

During the war, 586,000 Bosniaks and Croats (47.7% of exiles) were expelled or escaped from the territory under the control of the Army of Republika Srpska. 529,000 Serbs and Croats (43.1% of exiles) fled from the territory under the control of the ABIH. 112,000 Serbs and Bosniaks (9.12%) fled or were expelled from the territory controlled by the HVO during the war.

Severe suffering of BiH Croats

The troops of the Army of BiH in central Bosnia exiled 153,000 Croats and killed 1,700 captured Croatian soldiers and civilians. During the war, the Bosniak-Muslim authorities established 331 camps and prisons, in which 14,444 Croats were imprisoned, of which 10,346 were civilians and 4,098 were soldiers. Of that number, 632 inmates and prisoners were killed, and 50 of them were cruelly executed in a ritualistic manner.

That the Muslim ABIH had the task of ethnically cleansing Croats from large parts of Bosnia is confirmed by the report of the Chief of General Staff of ABIH, Rasim Delić, sent to Izetbegović at the end of February 1994: “The HVO was eliminated from the areas of Jablanica, Konjic, Fojnica, Kakanj, Zenica, Travnik and Bugojno. So, one complete province according to the Vance-Owen plan with the headquarters in Travnik.” That statement made at the end of the Croat-Bosniak war reveals the motives and intentions of the creators of that war who were in Sarajevo.

How Croatia saved Bosnia in 1994 and 1995

After the Washington Agreement, Croatian aid to the Bosnia and Herzegovina intensified again, although it never stopped. Croatia continued to send large quantities of food, medicine, oil, gas, as well as weapons and military equipment to the ABIH from various organizations and countries. This aid greatly helped the defense of BIH in the last stage of the war and prevented the Serbs from occupying Sarajevo, Bihać and Maglaj, which were threatened by immediate danger, but also Tuzla, Zenica and other cities because the Serbian threat did not stop.

Despite this help, the VRS occupied the Bosniak enclaves of Srebrenica and Žepa in Operation Krivaja 95 from July 6 to 25. After the resulting genocide in Srebrenica, on July 22, 1995, Presidents Tuđman and Izetbegović signed the “Declaration on the revival of the Washington Agreement, joint defense against Serbian aggression and the achievement of a political solution in accordance with the efforts of the international community”. Only then did the Bosnian leader agree to a joint military alliance between Bosnia and Croatia so that the HV would help defeat the Serbs and force them to negotiate.

From the fall of 1994 to the fall of 1995, Croatian troops liberated about 6,000 square kilometers of BIH (Operations Cincar, Winter 94, Jump 1, Jump 2, Summer-95, Storm, Maestral, Southern Move, etc.) and saved Bihać which was under Serb siege for 1,200 days. New massacre of Bosniaks was prevented. At the end of the war, HVO and HV controlled 26% of the territory of BIH – 13,082 square kilometers. According to the Dayton Agreement, Croatian forces ceded to Serbs 5% of the territory in western Bosnia as part of the territory barter between FBIH and the RS.

Thanks to HVO and HV, that territory was mostly exchanged for Bosniak areas: the unblocking of Sarajevo and the corridor to Goražde, and was not used for the return of Croat areas in Bosnian Posavina. Mostly thanks to Croatia, BIH has survived as a state of two entities and an international protectorate whose status is still far from being resolved even today in 2024. Without Croatian aid from 1992 to 1995, most of BIH would have been part of (Greater) Serbia, and these are facts that are being forgotten.

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