My meeting with the man accused of plotting the assassination of Evo Morales
Eduardo Rozsa Flores was one of three members of an alleged assassination plot against Bolivia's left-wing president Evo Morales who were gunned down in a police raid on their hotel last week. Philip Sherwell met him in Croatia in 1991.
Eduardo Rozsa Flores: My meeting with the man accused of plotting the assassination of Evo Morales
I encountered Eduardo Rozsa Flores in the killing fields of eastern Croatia on a bleak day just after Christmas 1991. The flamboyant part-Bolivian, part-Hungarian polyglot journalist-turned-fighter was one of those characters that flourished in the anarchy of that brutal war.
Flores had founded the Croatian army's grandly-named First International Platoon, a motley collection of nationalities, including a handful of Britons, fighting for the independence of the breakaway from the old Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.
He was fast assuming the reputation of the Kurtz in Conrad's Heart of Darkness - except his fiefdom was the plains of the Balkans rather than the jungles of the Congo.
Different motives brought the volunteers here - love of adventure, obsession with killing, romantic attachment to an underdog, hatred of the Serbs, loathing of communism. Flores, a former Leftist journalist who swapped his keyboard for a rifle and Marxism for the far-Right after covering the early days of the conflict, seemed to be driven by them all.
Nearly two decades later, Flores was one of three members of an alleged assassination plot against Bolivia's left-wing president Evo Morales who were gunned down in their underwear in a police raid on their hotel rooms in the South American country on Thursday.
Also mown down in the barrage of bullets was Michael Dwyer, a gun and martial weapons enthusiast from Co Tipperary. Gruesome pictures of their bloody bullet-ridden bodies - apparently the result of a distinctly one-sided exchange - have been shown on Bolivian television.
Back on that late December day in 1991, it had not been difficult to spot the headquarters of the PIV (the platoon was universally known by its Croatian initials). The Union flag fluttered beside the colours of five other nations outside the last building in a small near-deserted village just outside Osijek, the eastern Croatian capital which daily shelling had turned into a ghost town.
This truly was the frontline. Across the fields were the Serbs and conversations in a babble of languages were conducted against a crackle of automatic rifle fire and explosions. Flores greeted us but he was busy in his commander duties and left it to others to talk to us.
There was a sinister air to the place, however, and his subordinate seemed subdued or intimidated. Flores was already building quite a reputation - a hero among many Croats for his platoon's audacious operations behind enemy lines; but feared by others for his rants and ruthlessness.
There was also plenty of talk that the PIV was linked to the neo-fascist elements within the Croatian independence movement that proudly traced their roots to the Nazi puppet Ustashe regime of World War II. Flores, I later learned, had take the codename Franco, after the Spanish fascist dictator.
I spent most of my time that day with a Swiss man called Christian Wurtemberg who had signed up for the PIV a month earlier. It was his 27th birthday and he was awaiting the delivery of a bottle of vodka to celebrate.
He was disdainful of the boastful soldiers of fortune who liked to brag about their battlefield bravado from the bars of Zagreb. "They are just posturing for the television cameras and their motives usually stink," he told me. "Here is where the fighting is for real."
His motivation was not some straightforward belief in the justice of the Croatian cause, he explained, but a desire to understand why war happens by participating in it. His was an intelligent and articulate voice amid the mayhem. So a chill went down my spine when I heard a few days later that he had been killed.
More chilling was the subsequent news that he had been dispatched by strangling - an unusual end in a conflict that claimed tens of thousands of lives. Various witnesses have since come forward to say that he was tortured and garroted on Flores' orders as a suspected spy, although the commander claimed he was killed in an ambush.
Two weeks later, Paul Jenks, a freelance British photographer, was shot dead in the same fields that I had stared out at during my visit to Flores' headquarters. A single sniper's bullet to the back of his neck felled him. The initial report was that the shot had been fired from Serb positions, even though they were some 1,000 yards away.
That would have been quite a hit in its own right. But the story got much murkier - for at the time of his death, according to another photographer with him, he was facing Serb lines. The back of his head was exposed to the closer positions of Flores' forces. And Jenks had reportedly been investigating Wurtemberg's death when he met his own.
The young Briton had written about the dangers of covering the conflict for The Daily Telegraph in Sept 1991. "The risks involved are not often commensurate with the rewards," he observed.
Suddenly, the PIV was getting all sorts of unwanted scrutiny just when the Croatians were craving international respectability. The international brigade had had its day and Flores retreated to Budapest.
I had thought little of that 1991 encounter until news broke of the grisly demise of Flores, Dwyer and Magyarosi Arpak, variously described as a Hungarian or Romanian sniper, and references to a shadowy paramilitary unit with roots in the Balkans.
Flores was killed in Santa Cruz, the same Bolivian city where he was born in 1960 to a Hungarian father and Spanish mother. The family moved to Chile in 1972 to be part of Salvador Allende's Marxist revolution and then on to Sweden and Hungary.
After his Croatian exploits, where he had dubbed himself a "conservative, anarchist world revolutionary" and earned the rank of major from President Franjo Tudjman, he returned to Budapest where he wrote books, poems and established close ties with the country's far-Right.
Yet at some stage, he had also converted to Islam and in 2003 emerged as a spokesman for an Iraqi splinter group calling itself the Iraqi Independent Government and also became deputy-president of the Hungarian Islamic Community.
Zoltan Brady, editor-in-chief of Hungarian literary magazine Kapu, which had employed Flores and published several of his books, told the Budapest Times that he was convinced that the dead men had not been involved in a plot of any kind.
He said Flores had gone to Bolivia in May 2008 "to fight against its communist government" and for the independence of the province of Santa Cruz. "Eduardo lived in the jungle and was involved in regular fights...he was a soldier, a partisan, fighting together with thousands of others in the jungle." He added that he believed Flores and the others had been executed rather than killed in a fire fight.
Flores' YouTube channel profile read: "The international war correspondent-turned-platoon-leader in the defense of a mixed-population village in Croatia...Presently, Eduardo works as a multi-lingual freelance journalist, columnist, TV commentator, film actor and editor of literary monthly KAPU, in Budapest, Hungary. He has a loving dog named Tito, a book-stuffed countryside house with a well-equipped kitchen . . ."
His life was ended as he lived so much of it - by the sword.
[Source: By Philip Sherwell, The Telegraph, London, 20Apr09]
DDHH en Bolivia
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