NATO has joined a growing chorus in Europe and called for Croatia to turnover fugitive general Ante Gotovina to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague for trial. The move came out of a meeting at NATO headquarters with the Croatian President.
NATO Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, praised Croatia for already handing over a number of former security force members to the Hague tribunal, but said this work should be completed.
"The final thing should also be done,” he said. “And you know the final thing or the final person is general Gotovina. He should be arrested and he should go to the Hague to face the tribunal."
Croatia has repeatedly said it is doing all it can to find the fugitive general, and has suggested that he may not be in Croatia. President Stjepan Mesic, repeated this position. He was heard through an interpreter.
"If Gotovina were in Croatia, he would be considered there as a fugitive before the Croatian law and the Croatian institutions,” he said. “And if he was there, he would be arrested. On the other hand, if Gotovina is not in Croatia, we would like to ask for cooperation from the other institutions and from other countries to provide their assistance."
He did not name any other countries.
The chief prosecutor of the Hague tribunal, Carla Del Ponte, says that general Gotovina is likely hiding in Croatia and that some people in government may be sheltering him.
The general disappeared in July 2001 when he was indicted for killing Serbian civilians during an offensive against Serbian rebels in 1995. But many Croatians see him as a hero of the 1991-1995 independence war.
The European Union has threatened to delay the start of Croatia's membership talks, set for March 17, unless the general is turned over to the war crimes tribunal in the Hague.
Recently the Croatian government has made public appeals for the general's arrest, a step up from its previous practice of calling for suspects indicted by the tribunal to surrender.
General Gotovina, through his lawyer in January, offered to surrender if he could be tried by a Croatian court.
Croatian President Mesic was re-elected by an overwhelming vote this year and has pledged to work on making his country a member of NATO and the European Union.