Published in Nacional number 585, 2007-01-30

Autor: Eduard Šoštarić, Plamenko Cvitić


Susak handed over the Posavina region

A report by the Commission of the Defence Council, based on the discussions of three generals with dozens of witnesses proves that the fall of the Bosanska Posavina region in October 1992 was prepared by people loyal to Minister Gojko Susak

Gojko Susak and Franjo Tudjman – the report gives the impression that the Defence Minister stood behind the fall of Posavina, while interviewed witnesses did not implicate the presidentGojko Susak and Franjo Tudjman – the report gives the impression that the Defence Minister stood behind the fall of Posavina, while interviewed witnesses did not implicate the presidentFifteen years after the fact, Nacional has gained insight into a carefully protected confidential document that brings the greatest secret of the Homeland War, the fall of Bosanska Posavina, to light. A 16-page report by the Commission of the National Defence Council and a hundred page annex of transcripts of interviews with officers from the Slavonian battlefields and with the highest political officials of that area on the circumstances and reasons behind the fall of Bosanska Posavina was compiled at the end of October 1992. The Commission consisted of Chairman, General Ivan Cermak, and members, General Franjo Feldi, General Josip Lucic and Deputy Interior Minister Zeljko Tomljenovic, and the report was compiled at the request of President Franjo Tudjman. General Slobodan Praljak was also supposed to be a member of the Commission, but due to other obligations, he was not.

This is the first official report on the fall of Bosanska Posavina, written only one month after the fall of Bosanski Brod and the retreat of all Croatian units from that region. The report reveals that the loss of Bosanska Posavina was a turning point for Croatian policy. The circumstances in which Bosanska Posavina was lost marked the moment in which the officials from Herzegovina fully took over running Croatian policy, i.e. those loyal to Defence Minister Gojko Susak. Only one year later, HDZ was faced with its most serious internal rift due to such policy towards Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Stipe Mesic and Josip Manolic left the party.

The Commission was established in October 1992 based on a decision by then President, Franjo Tudjman. From 12 to 30 October 1992, the Commission members spoke with 12 HV officers and government authorities in Bosanski Brod and Slavonski Brod in order to establish all the circumstances and causes for the complete retreat of Croatian military units from Posavina, today thought to be the greatest defeat of HV in the Homeland War.

The Commission presented its report to the 14-member National Defence Council in November 1992. The report, handed out to members of the Council, was immediately taken back from each member at the end of the meeting, which in itself reveals the fear the administration had of public reaction to the report, particularly since the report suggest the main persons responsible for the fall of Bosanska Posavina. The report clearly indicates that Defence Minister Gojko Susak and his men in the field were most responsible. These included Iko Stanic, local HDZ president from Derventa who was supposed to bring all the municipalities of Bosanska Posavina together into a joint defence system and who instead spent most of his time abroad and in Zagreb and Ivan Brizic, member of the 101st HVO brigade who, prior to the fall of Bosanska Posavina, spread lies of the sale of Bosanski Brod to the RS Army and Colonel Slavko Lisica. He was arrested by the Military Police at the intervention of Minister Susak, but released before giving a statement. Also part of the same team were Ivan Culjak, who worked closely with Iko Stanic. Culjak, like Brizic, was also responsible for spreading false information and spreading defeatism among the Croatian units, claiming that regardless of whether they fought or not, that everything had already been arranged between Boban and Karadzic. With respect to meetings of the local administration with the Herzegovinian line on the establishment of a joint Council, the participation of Ivic Pasalic was mentioned.

The report and witness testimonies also shows that there was strong pressure on the elected Croatian leadership in Posavina to replace the HVO Council and people from Herzegovina, saying that certain municipalities should transfer into the “Croatian Community of Herceg Bosna”, promising them aid that was never given. This was the time that the conflict with the Bosniacs began in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which then negatively reflected on the participation of Bosniac soldiers in the battle for Posavina.

Ivan Cermak led the questioning in Zagreb at the end of October 1992Ivan Cermak led the questioning in Zagreb at the end of October 1992The Commission Report also mentions the unclear role of General Praljak, at that time Susak’s assistant, who came to Posavina to lead units without any knowledge of higher command. Witnesses claim that, when Praljak appeared in the field, problems constantly arose and the loss of territory increased. Furthermore, it is clear that the counterintelligence agencies completely failed to discover the defeatists, or did not want to discover them, nor did they make any efforts to explain the objectives of the battle in Posavina to the soldiers. According to the report, the result was an evident scattering of soldiers and the refusal of entire units to head onto into the battlefield. It is interesting that both these intelligence agencies were under the jurisdiction of Defence Minsiter Gojko Susak.

Bosanska Posavina covered an area of 2650 square kilometres and included nine municipalities: Bosanski Brod, Derventa, Doboj (Komarica), Odžak, Bosanski Šamac, Modriča, Orašje, Brčko i Gradačac (Tramošnica). These municipalities covered the area along the right bank of the Sava River, from Dubočec to Brčko, where the population was predominantly Croat. As an area within the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bosanska Posavina was a cultural, political and economic entity of the Croatian peoples. According to the 1991 census, 51% or 131,542 of 260,793 were Croat, 32,796 or 12% were Bosniac, 77.723 or 29% were Serb and 18.726 or 7% were of some other ethnicity.

During the war, the road corridors of Bosanska Posavina were of strategic life importance to the Serbs in western BiH or “Republika Srpska”, and particularly for the Serbs in the occupied “Krajina” region in Croatia. The road through Bosanska Posavina was the only road to link the Serbs in BiH and “Krajina” with Serbia, from which they received arms, ammunition and all other assistance. Even back in April 1992, the Croatian units had liberated a large area of Bosanska Posavina and forced the Serbian units back towards the west and interior of BiH. They completed blocked the aid to Serbian forces that was arriving from Serbia, as the corridor was closed off. At that time, the Serbian forces called up reinforcements from all areas of BiH, including “Krajina”, in order to win back the corridor and force the Croatian units back across the Sava River.

The offensive lasted from mid July to early October 1992, when the Serbian forces finally took Bosanski Brod. In order to determine the facts on the fall of Bosanska Posavina, the Commission spoke with: Colonel Stanislav Soric, commander of the 108th HV brigade; Colonel Stjepan Oreskovic, Chief of Staff of the 108th HV brigade; Major Zdravko Simunovic, commander of the 4th company of the 108th HV brigade; Major Branko Kovac from the battle group of the 135th HV brigade; Major Ivan Grcic, commander of the battle group of the 109th HV brigade; Darko Zovko, commander of the reconnaissance unit of the anti-armour group of the 123rd HV brigade; Captain Dragutin Barisic, commander of the 27th Engineering Company; Dragan Dikanovic, commander of the 3rd company of the 3rd National Guard Brigade; Zlatko Hrkac, commander of the 101st HVO brigade; Zdravko Sockovic, Vice President of the Slavonski Brod Municipal Assembly; Ilija Kljajic, Chief of the Crisis Staff of Bosanski Brod; Vinko Begic, president of the HV Bosanska Posavina Council; Franjo Stokovic, head of the 157th HV Engineering Brigade; Brigadier Vinko Stefanek, commander of the Eastern Posavina Operative Group; Colonel Pavo Sockovic, logistics assistance of the Eastern Posavina Operative Group and Jozo Meter, then President of the Slavonski Brod Municipal Assembly.

A thorough analysis of the report and all the available transcripts clearly shows that the fall of Bosanska Posavina is, to a great extent, due to parallel policies and military lines managed by Minister Susak and his field crew. This is stressed several times in the report. The chain of command, Command Slavonia battlefield, Command Eastern Posavina, Command Tactics and Battle Groups, as outlined in the report, did not function in the field due to the meddling and various communications with the Defence Ministry and elsewhere.

Hrvoje Sarinic, then Premier and member of the National Defence Council commented for Nacional that he does not recall the 1992 report, but that he knew that President Tudjman admired the people and the soldiersHrvoje Sarinic, then Premier and member of the National Defence Council commented for Nacional that he does not recall the 1992 report, but that he knew that President Tudjman admired the people and the soldiersIt occurred that lower level commanders, of companies and battalions, received direct instructions, with some commands going straight from Minister Susak to General Praljak without the knowledge of high command. This introduced a rift in the chain of command and created the impression of disobedience or self-will. The report reads, “The situation in Bosanska Posavina, particularly in Derventa, Bosanski Brod, Modrica and Odzak, and the relations between HVO and the Muslim population were not at a level that allowed for mutual trust, cooperation and joint activities. Iko Stanic, president of the HDZ Derventa branch, who had the task of bringing together all the municipalities in Bosanska Posavina, but who instead went to Zagreb and abroad, did not appear in the region for five months. Instead, he spread news of an agreement between Karadzic, Boban, Praljak and Mladic, as did Culjak, Brizic and others…”

Considering that Iko Stanic was a personal friend of Minister Susak, such a statement in the report directly blames Susak for the problems in Posavina. This is clear in several other places in the report, such as “…the factions in the political leadership of Bosanski Brod, personal conflicts and accusations have resulted in distrust in the leadership and the appearance of rumours among soldiers in the 101st HV brigade that the leaders of Slavonski Brod have ‘sold’ Bosanski Brod, thereby introducing suspicions among the soldiers and commanders that they have been betrayed and lied to. Ivan Brizic passed on such news to the 101st HV brigade ten days before the fall of Bosanski Brod, and later on the day of the fall, 7 October, which could have resulted in serious conflict and bloodshed. Attempts to question the said period and reveal the real reason for such action was prevented by a personal intervention by the Defence Minister 40 minutes after the arrest,” reads the report. It is difficult to explain why a defence minister would not allow the questioning of a soldier, unless he has a personal interest.

When Jozo Meter, then Chief of the Crisis Staff of Slavonski Brod, was asked by General Cermak about Ivan Brizic and his disinformation to the soldiers, Meter responded, “That is a story that has a background and which we are not willing to fully bring to light, as Brizic is an intellectual, he graduated from veterinary medicine and such a man could not come up with such an accusation, such a terrible accusation, that the leadership of Slavonski Brod spoke with Colonel Lisica of the RS Army in Dragalic on surrendering or selling Bosanski Brod. It cannot be that simple, and I believe that this was not his fabrication, but that he was obviously working in a certain group… from our secret service, we learned that this story did not arise after the fall of Bosanski Brod but ten days prior and that it was systematically spread throughout the military… at the time the police brought him into custody, to investigate where he received such information, an order was received from the Military Police in Zagreb, after not even 45 minutes. And after we called the military police in Zagreb and asked who had issued the command that he be released, we were told Minister Gojko Susak… the Defence Minister had never been in Slavonski Brod… he was once, because of Iko Stanic, but not someone from Slavonski Brod.”

The relationships between the political leaders and political structures greatly contributed to the military defeat in Bosanska Posavina. “From the first multi-party elections in BiH to today, there have constantly been various conflicts and confrontations between individuals, groups and clans (Kljajic, Bilic and Lepan on the one hand and Iko Stanic, Brizic, Culjak and Pohara on the other). They accuse one another of plundering, smuggling and getting right, when in fact this was a battle for power between the local and Herzegovina factions,” the report reads.

The rapid fall of Bosanski Brod was also due largely to the meeting held on 5 October 1992 between the leaders of Bosanski Brod and Slavonski Brod, which resulted in a definite rift after Ilija Kljajic and Vinko Begic were replaced and Iko Stanic brought in, returning to the area after being absent for months.

National Defence Council – the report on Bosanska Posavina was taken from the members of the body that preceded the VONS immediately upon its completionNational Defence Council – the report on Bosanska Posavina was taken from the members of the body that preceded the VONS immediately upon its completionPerhaps the harshest statement was given by Frano Piplovic, then Chairman of the Slavonski Brod Executive Council. He said, “The Croatian Community of Bosanska Posavina was formed and held a few meetings. However, the only figure to emerge from the organization was Iko Stanic, who acted as Chair of the CC Bosanska Posavina, there were no quality meetings with the people and no one worked with the people. There were a few meetings, then Iko gradually disappeared, appearing at one conference and then disappearing from the area. However, later, we had our success in May and the Chetniks were forced out of the Bosanski Brod area. Then once, Iko Stanic appeared together with Minister Susak and then they tried to smooth out the problems that had allegedly arisen between Begic and Stanic at that meeting. It was clear that Susak and Stanic were working together. I think that the formation of the 157th brigade was formed by order of the Minister and that this was some form of Herzegovinian cooperation. I mean, I don’t have anything against the Herzegovinians, but Andrija Skoko was here, Velimir Lovric, Ivo Petric and Minister Susak. Fine, Praljak also came here, I don’t know what his role was. Whenever he showed up, there were problems on the battlefield. There were people in the 157th brigade who did nothing, they gave them guns and they sat in the bar all day, did some thievery in BiH and when they crossed the line, then they’d flee.”

Chief of the Bosanski Brod Crisis Staff Ilija Kljajic was removed from his post by Ivan Brizic and Ivan Culjak only four days before the town was occupied. They insisted that a HVO Council be formed instead and the list submitted to Mate Boban, which Kljajic refused to do. His statement was as follows, “‘You know, Ilija, it would be good if you would just propose names and I will confirm them,’ said Boban. I couldn’t accept that, I had to discuss it with the party. However, Brizic participated in removing me, even though he had been gone for three months. He shows up with Petar Mrkalj, who worked in the shadows of the 101st brigade and neither were ever in battle. I personally can confirm here. About 20 days before Brod fell, Zvonko Jurisic, who worked in SIS in the army, approached me and told me, not just me but told several of us present, that Culjak had been approaching soldiers in Derventa and told them that they didn’t have to fight anymore because whether they fought or not, we would win Derventa and another 6 km behind Derventa, because that was the deal between Boban and Karadzic. Iko Stanic and this Duspar never again appeared in Bosanska Posavina. Mate Boban was the alpha and omega of all of this, and he was very good with Susak… I once called Gojko Susak, when Derventa and the villages surrounding it fell. I couldn’t get a hold of him, but his wife told me to contact a general with a strange last name, Praljak, yes.”

Vinko Begic, then mayor of Derventa, had serious allegations against Iko Stanic and the Herzegovinian line for all that happened prior to the fall of Bosanska Posavina. “All of a sudden, there was this story that a single community of the Croatian people would be formed in BiH. I have a list that I sent to Mr. Boban because of international policy, because of the formation of a single staff… but what happened then. People were told to do the following, to form municipal branches of HVO and that there would be no crisis staffs. People were simply bought out, they went to the municipalities and said ‘You have to form a municipal HVO branch’. This was the Herzegovinian line, orchestrated by Stanic and the others. For example, if people were legally appointed and were legitimately in the crisis staff, then some Pavo Zivkovic appears in Orasje and says, ‘I was sent from Herzegovina, you are no longer in charge here.’

“He’s got a seal. He went among the soldiers and the result is polarization. His story in the army was like this. If you go down there, you’ll get a salary, you’ll get this, you’ll get that, milk and honey. This caused a lot of problems, because then four municipalities wanted to go down there. Again, I say, on 19 September 1992, we joined into the single community of Croats in BiH. After this, nothing that was supposed to happen happened. Come on, help us, where is your help now, nothing, everything stands still. Once I visited the 103rd brigade and informed them that they had to establish a Posavina operative group and transfer the men there. But Culjak came and said no, you’re not going anywhere, we’re going to form a Staff of Croatian Herceg Bosna and you’re not going anywhere. Ivan Culjak was Chief of the Crisis Staff in Derventa, but now he was acting as Chairman of the municipal HVO. I said, Ivan, this is a command of the Operative Zone, don’t cause problems in the army…” were among the many things Vinko Begic told the Commission.

The Commission Report states that throughout the duration of combat activity in the area, no one ever took the time to inform the leadership of the official policy; meanwhile, the work of local organs and commanders was being influenced from various lines. “All the events in Croatia and Bosanska Posavina (disinformation and lies) proves that two key mechanisms that the entire military formation depends on were not functioning – the ideological direction of HV towards its objecting and victory and the work of counterintelligence.”

The Report discussed the conditions in which the combat activities in Bosanska Posavina took place in during September and October, stating that right up until September 1992, enemy forces did not have great success in their attack activities, while during September, 96 Croatian soldiers were killed and 650 were wounded. A large number of various HV components from throughout Croatia – from Sinj and Rijeka to Zagreb and Osijek – were active in the Bosanska Posavina battlefield, for the most part six tactical groups of 400 to 800 soldiers each, 11 battle groups with 40 to 60 soldiers and of the HV brigades, only the 108th brigade from Slavonski Brod was active in late September, while the 157th brigade was active throughout.

Of the HVO units, the 101st brigade from Bosanski Brod and the 103rd HVO brigade from Derventa were constantly active. The refusal of a number of units from the Osijek Operative Zone to go into battle, lateness in replacing units, leaving position without permission (six HV units and eight HVO units left their positions in the western sector from 15 July to 6 October) and not taking disciplinary measures and criminal responsibility negatively impacted the remaining soldiers and commanders, seriously eroded the Croatian morale and led neighbouring units into danger of being encircled and imprisoned (on 30 September, the unannounced retreat of the 101st HVO brigade led to the imprisonment of 19 soldiers of the 2nd battalion of the 108th brigade).

One of the controversies surrounded the bombing of the bridge across the Sava River that connect Slavonski Brod and Bosanski Brod. In discussions with witnesses, the Commission failed to establish who had given the order to bomb the bridge. The Report states that in the afternoon hours of 6 October 1992, the commander of the Slavonia battlefield personally commanded the commander of the Osijek Operative Zone and the Eastern Posavina Operative Zone to ensure defence of the bridge and to prevent its destruction.

The order was given to prepare defence of the bridge, to properly block it off with fortification barriers and to lay a small number of anti-armour mines along the road. Considering that no single HV unit wanted to cross over to the right bank of the Sava River to directly defend the bridge, special forces police from Slavonski Brod were sent there with four M-84 tanks that could defend the bridge at night and with two T-12 cannons. The engineering unit of the 37th battalion was given the order to block off the bridge, to inspect it entirely and remove any remaining explosives. The only person who could have approved the possible destruction of the bridge was the commander of the Slavonian battlefield, with prior consultation with the HV General Staff and the Supreme Commander. To this day, it is still now known who blew up the bridge and on whose orders.

After a series of transcripts were released from the office of President Tudjman, which some claim to be unauthentic, one such transcript relating to Bosanska Posavina reached the public eye in recent days. According to this transcript, in a conversation with Gojko Susak and Mate Boban about the possibilities of having one man from Posavina in the Herceg Bosna administration, Tudjman said, “Just between us, such a man would have to be so sensible that ultimately, he might realize that regardless of how much Bosanska Posavina might mean to us politically and economically, but for the sake of a solution, if we take the borders Novi Travnik, Busovaca, Bihac, this, and if we get a cleaned Baranja for that, that we can back away from the majority of Posavina.” This conversation was held on 28 November 1993, more than a year after the Croatian forces, HVO and HV units that had been sent as reinforcements, were withdrawn from Bosanska Posavina.

Various explanations for the fall of Posavina have since surfaced. The majority boil down to the idea that this territory was handed over to the Serbs as part of a larger agreement. Indeed, there were others who claimed that this territory could not be defended and that the establishment of a defensive line on the Sava River improved Croatia’s overall military position…

At the 2nd HDZ General Assembly held on 16 and 17 October 1993, only forty days before the above conversation which was later published in the Feral Tribune, President Tudjman said that there will still outstanding issues regarding the fall of Bosanski Brod and it was yet to be seen who had approved the retreat. “It turned out that I ordered the retreat, while my order was that they stay and defend.” On one other occasion, at a press conference prior to the close of negotiations on the Dayton Accord, Tudjman said that he had literally ordered “Bosanski Brod must not be abandoned at any cost.”

The public was unaware until today with the release of the Bosanska Posavina Report as to whether or not an investigation was ever carried out after Tudjman’s comments and what its results were. In the military sense, Bosanska Posavina could have been defended. However, even back in 1991, there were indications that military actions would not be allowed in that area due to political plans. Retired General Karl Gorinsek who was commander of the defense of Slavonia at the time of the fall of Bosanska Posavina, gave his view of the situation several years ago. At that time, he said that he knew from personal experience that the Croatian administration did not show any interest for the defence of Posavina. He recalled that he constantly received orders not to take any measures to defend the territory and that it was clear that the people of Posavina would have to realize on their own that they would have to move to Croatia, i.e to Baranja, Kordun and Banovina.

General Gorinsek commented that in 1992, two military battalions were sent from Slavonski Brod to Posavina, but were withdrawn after only 24 hours. This frustrated the military commanders, as they were subjected to pressures by the people of Posavina that everything could be resolved with weapons while, on the other hand, every initiative of that kind was stopped from Zagreb. In Posavina, the people organized themselves into several brigades. Gorinsek said, “We in Slavonia were in very intensive contact with them, as they were constantly seeking help in terms of men and weapons. It was clear that Bosanska Posavina would fall unless we helped them. But despite all our efforts, it soon became clear that we were working in vain, as Tudjman and Susak had other plans…” Gorinsek noted that their goal was obviously an ethnically clean territory, and therefore, Bosanska Posavina had to be sacrificed. Nacional tried to contact several members of the National Defence Council who had been informed about the Bosanska Posavina Report. However, in general, most seem to be suffering from amnesia, while others promised to call back, but never did.

According to the Dayton Accord, the largest part of Bosanska Posavina belonged to the Serbian ethnic group. Within the BiH Federation, the only municipalities to remain were Orasje, the only one that succeeded in its defence during the war, and Odzak, which was taken by Serbian forces in 1992 but given back to the Federation after the signing of the Dayton Accord. Bosanski Brod, Bosanski Samac, Derventa and Modriča were all put under Republika Srpska, while in the area of the pre-war municipality of Brcko, a district was formed under direct administration by the central state institutions. Some of the participants in the negotiations later claimed that this “solution” for Bosanska Posavina was previously agreed to between Tudjman and Milosevic before the Dayton negotiations.

The establishment of such a situation in Bosanska Posavina could have only satisfied the Serbian representatives, who received a corridor between the eastern and western part of Repulika Srpska, and the co-ordinator of the Dayton negotiations Richard Holbrooke. Kresimir Zubak, at that time president of the BiH Federation, threatened to leave the negotiations if Posavina was given to the Serbs. Later, when this happened, he refused to sign the agreement.

Richard Holbrook mentions Zubak’s announcement that he would leave the negotiations if Bosanska Posavina was resolved unfavourably for the Croats in his book “To End the War”. He says, “My first instinct was to let him go. Zubak brought nothing but trouble to Dayton.” However, few contemplated the troubles that Dayton brought after its signing, particularly for those Croats and Bosnians forced to flee Bosanska Posavina who then learned that their homes and belongings had remained in Republiska Srpska.