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Croatia Accused of Not Cooperating on Handover of War Crimes Fugitive

Croatia has again been accused of not doing enough to hand over suspected war criminal General Ante Gotovina to the war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague. However, the tribunal chief prosecutor says she hopes he will be in custody by June. The issue came up at the European Union foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg Tuesday.

The EU in March delayed entry negotiations with Croatia because it was not doing enough to hand over the fugitive general. It formed a task force to follow the issue, and Carla del Ponte, the war crimes tribunal chief prosecutor, briefed the group.

"I explained this afternoon to the task force why the Croatian authorities are not fully cooperating with the Tribunal, and with the office of the prosecutor," she said. "And I gave all the details about the networks which are protecting within the state institutions. I told them that there will be full cooperation when Croatian authorities have brought Gotovina to the Hague or they have indicted the whereabouts of Gotovina."

Posters with photo of fugitive General Ante Gotovina and word 'Croat', seen at entrance of Union of Croatian Veterans of homeland war office in Zagreb
The chief prosecutor refused to say more about the networks protecting the fugitive general. However, she said Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader may not be receiving full information on the matter. She also said unidentified people in Croatia are leaking information to the media and this must be stopped. Ms. del Ponte said she has a team tracking General Gotovina, and she also receives information from intelligence services.

"All our information that we receive is that he is still in Croatia, and moving from time-to-time to Bosnia Herzegovina in the Croatian part," she said. "So Gotovina is in the reach of Croatian authorities. And we hope really that Gotovina will be very soon, very soon, in the Hague."

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, for his part, again said that General Gotovina is not in Croatia. He also revealed that he presented a six-point plan to the EU task force to deal with the dispute, but he would not give any details. He also would not speculate on when the EU accession talks might start, but said he is hopeful things will be worked out.

"I am sure that in the coming months we can show, not only our readiness but also our firm determination to resolve this last remaining issue," he said.

General Gotovina disappeared in July 2001 when he was indicted for killing Serbian civilians during an offensive against Serbian rebels in 1995. At the same time, he is seen by many Croatians as a hero of their 1991 to 1995 independence war. Croatian leaders have repeatedly said they are doing their best to find him and that he is not in Croatia.

Ms. del Ponte says she hopes General Gotovina is in custody before June, when she has to make her next report to the Security Council.