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Thursday, 19 March, 1998, 23:52 GMT
Bosnia 'carve-up planned over dinner'
Ashdown at The Hague
Paddy Ashdown: "I was of the firm view that he was talking about dividing up Bosnia"
Paddy Ashdown has told the Bosnia War Crimes Tribunal that Croatian President Franjo Tudjman allegedly showed how he intended to "carve up" the war-torn area between Croatia and Serbia.

Mr Ashdown, the leader of the UK's Liberal Democrats and the first politician to testify at the tribunal in The Hague, said Mr Tudjman sketched a map on the back of a menu card during a banquet in London's Guildhall on May 6, 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of VE Day.

The rough map allegedly showed how the Croatian President and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic intended to effectively wipe Bosnia off the map.

VE Day Celebration banquet
Mr Ashdown: "I believe Mr Tudjman enjoyed himself"
Mr Ashdown was giving evidence for the prosecution in the trial of General Tihomir Blaskic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

Mr Blaskic is charged with crimes against humanity in central Bosnia between 1992 and 1994, when he was the local commander of the Bosnian Croat armed forces, known as the HVO.

In an open session of the court, Mr Ashdown told how he was sitting next to Mr Tudjman and Croatian diplomats during the banquet.

"I asked him fairly early in the conversation how he believed ex-Yugoslavia might look in 10 years' time.

"I drew for him on the back of the menu some brief lines, asking him to fill in the rest of the map as he believed it would look."

Mr Ashdown produced the original menu card for the judges, saying he believed it was an "historical document".

The map allegedly showed how President Tudjman had divided Bosnia in half, between Croatia and Serbia.

Mr Ashdown said: "I asked him what about the Muslim areas. He said: 'There will be no Muslim areas except as a small part of a Croatian state.'

"I found this an extraordinary conversation. When I got home that night I dictated my notes to my diary and told my wife about it."

Bet a bottle of wine on military strikes

A former Royal Marine, Mr Ashdown made 10 trips to war-torn Yugoslavia during the conflict and often briefed the then Conservative government about events in the bitter civil war.

Franjo Tudjman
Mr Tudjman: defence counsel suggested he was "intoxicated"
He painted a vivid picture of the celebratory banquet on May 6, at which he said both he and Mr Tudjman had enjoyed several glasses of wine. But he denied in cross-examination that Mr Tudjman had been drunk.

The two men even made a bet on the Croatian President's prospects in one of his planned military strikes against the Serbs, who were then holding parts of Croatia.

Mr Ashdown told the court that he bet a bottle of Croatian white wine that Mr Tudjman would not be able to recapture the Krajina area of Croatia with minimum loss of life, as he claimed.

Mr Tudjman, who Mr Ashdown described as "not a very pleasant man", also allegedly displayed his intense dislike of Bosnian president Alija Izetbegovic.

However, on the subject of President Milosevic, superficially an enemy of Croatia, Mr Ashdown said Mr Tudjman was far more complimentary.

This reinforced Mr Ashdown's view that the two men had come to an agreement to carve up Bosnia between them.

Mr Ashdown said: "Mr Tudjman said that he could do business with Mr Milosevic."

Accused of ethnic cleansing

General Blaskic is accused of leading ethnic cleansing campaigns against the Muslims in the Lasva Valley region of Bosnia, leaving hundreds of civilians dead.

He is the highest ranking person to go on trial before the tribunal. His trial began last summer and is expected to end later this year.

If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for crimes against humanity.

The Liberal Democrat leader was also questioned about the manner in which he informed the media of the conversation.

He admitted giving "several" interviews about his concerns over Bosnia, but said: "I do not make a habit of leaking stories to the press, but I believed this was in the interests of the international community."

Asked whether his concerns had been relayed to the government, he said that he had briefed the foreign secretary at the time on the conversation.

Mr Ashdown kept secret the details of his conversation with the Croatian President until August 1995 when Croatia launched the military attack on Serbian-held territory that Mr Tudjman had told Mr Ashdown he would implement.

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