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EU to Delay Start of Membership Talks with Croatia

The European Union late last year decided to start entry talks with Croatia on March 17. However, chief U.N. prosecutor Carla del Ponte says Croatia is not doing enough to track down accused war criminal, General Ante Gotovina, and now most of the 25 EU countries want the negotiations to be delayed.

The Croatians have repeatedly said they are doing all in their power to cooperate with the Hague. However, Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader says the general is no longer in Croatia, so the government cannot extradite him.

General Gotovina disappeared in July of 2001 when he was indicted for killing Serbian civilians during an offensive against Serbian rebels in 1995. However, he is seen by many Croatians as a hero of their independence war.

Michael Emerson, European security specialist for the Center for European Policy Studies in Brussels, says the general is a key figure.

"I think Gotovina is, in the Croatian context, Mr. Big," he said. "He was a general in the Croatian army and he was responsible for operations in an important part of the region in southeast Croatia where much of the most terrible fighting and war crimes were committed."

Mr. Emerson says the hand-over of the general is important to the EU because it is seen as a test of Croatia's commitment to political and human rights values. In addition, he says, the handling of Croatia sends a signal to the rest of the strategically important Balkans region.

Luxembourg, which holds the EU presidency, has said Croatia will be assured that EU entry talks will open as soon as possible, once the condition of full cooperation with the war crimes tribunal, is met.