Croatian Defence Minister Damir Krstičević has cancelled his trip to Sarajevo, where he was scheduled to attend a meeting of defence ministers of Central European countries on Tuesday and meet with Bosnian Defence Minister Marina Pendeš, reports Jutarnji List on November 7, 2016.
He will be replaced at the meetings by Assistant Minister for Defence Policy Nikola Brzica. According to unofficial information, Krstičević should on Monday attend a meeting in Vienna, together with fellow ministers from Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia. On Tuesday, they were all supposed to go together from Vienna to Sarajevo.
The visit has been cancelled just a week after the arrest of ten former HVO members in Orašje in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and reports that the Prosecutor’s Office of Bosnia and Herzegovina has opened an investigation against Krstičević for allegedly committing war crimes during military operations in Mrkonjić Grad in 1995. The cancellation of the visit can be interpreted as a political message by Croatian government to authorities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but also as a precaution measure.
However, the Defence Minister said there was nothing alarming in his decision. “At this time, we are discussing the next year’s budget. I will go to Sarajevo and I am not afraid of going to Bosnia and Herzegovina. But, at the moment, my priority is defence budget for next year, and therefore Assistant Minister Brzica will go to Sarajevo now”, said Krstičević.
According to unofficial information, at the beginning of last week Krstičević was planning to go to both Vienna and Sarajevo, but then he received a recommendation by intelligence services. “Based on the arrests in Orašje and information about investigation procedure which BiH authorities have launched against Krstičević, the Military Security and Intelligence Agency and the Security Intelligence Agency have given a recommendation to the Minister to cancel his trip to Sarajevo because his security could not be guaranteed”, said a high-ranking source in the government. Prime Minister Andrej Plenković also reportedly urged Krstičević not to go to Sarajevo. However, Krstičević said that “there is no information about potential security recommendation not to go to Sarajevo”.
Although the general assessment is that BiH authorities would not take any steps against Krstičević if he came to Sarajevo, after the events in Orašje Croatian services do not want to take any chances. “A potential arrest of Krstičević by the BiH authorities would be a huge diplomatic incident and I doubt they would decide to make such a risky move”, said a source.
The BiH Prosecutor’s Office confirmed in 2011 that it had opened an investigation into possible war crimes committed in the municipality of Mrkonjić Grad in 1995. The investigation covered Krstičević, who was commander of the 4th Guards Brigade at the time, whose members after Operation Storm in Croatia entered BiH territory and conducted military operations in the area. The case was considered by the International Court in The Hague, but was rejected.
However, after the arrest of ten former HVO members for allegedly committing war crimes in the Bosanska Posavina region, there is speculation that this is only the beginning of the activation of investigations against high-ranking officers of the Croatian Army. Names of former Defence Minister Ante Kotromanović, General Ante Gotovina, Tihomir Blaškić and Damir Krstičević have been mentioned.
Sources claim that the situation is very awkward for the Croatian government, because it is impossible to predict if and when the BiH Prosecutor’s Office will activate the Krstičević case. Therefore, it is quite understandable that Croatian services are cautious and that they have recommended to Krstičević now to go to Sarajevo at this moment./IBNA