Croatia Reluctant to Pursue Gotovina

The government is making no effort to capture Ante Gotovina, as it would then face the deeply unpopular business of having to extradite him.

Croatia Reluctant to Pursue Gotovina

The government is making no effort to capture Ante Gotovina, as it would then face the deeply unpopular business of having to extradite him.

Tuesday, 6 September, 2005

Croatia's left-of-centre government is making no attempt to find the Hague fugitive General Ante Gotovina, as it would then have to hand him over to The Hague.

Government officials have confirmed off the record that the war crimes suspect went into hiding with government complicity. The respected weekly Globus has confirmed these reports, citing high-ranking intelligence sources.

Globus said intelligence service personnel had been given no orders to locate the general's whereabouts, or arrest him, thus confirming the rumours in the corridors of Zagreb in recent months.

A source in the Social Democratic party of Prime Minister Ivica Racan said the present impasse suited Racan. "What would happen if the government knew Gotovina's whereabouts and had to arrest him?" he said. "Their excuse is that they don't know where he is, just as in Serbia they don't know where [indicted Bosnian Serb commander Ratko] Mladic is."

On her recent to Zagreb at the end of October, the tribunal chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte told Racan The Hague possessed information that Gotovina was visiting Croatia. Days later, President Stjepan Mesic said he believed Gotovina was actually in the country, because if he was somewhere else he would have been arrested and extradited to Zagreb. Mesic did not reveal whether this was intelligence information, or his own assumption.

The government was informed that Gotovina was occasionally visiting Croatia long before Del Ponte pointed this out. International SFOR peacekeepers in Bosnia-Hercegovina say they recently saw him at a petrol station in Bosansko Grahovo, some 15km from the Croatian border, but did not arrest him as they were not authorised to.

The Hague prosecution also presented the Croatian government with photographs of Gotovina taken in Croatia to support its claims that Gotovina was visiting the country.

The general disappeared after the indictment against him was publicised last summer. This accused him of war crimes in the 1995 Operation Oluja (Storm) against the break-away Krajina Serbs, including crimes against humanity and violation of laws or customs of war.

Some media reports suggested he sought refuge in a Franciscan monastery in the ethnic Croat region of western Hercegovina. The open border between Croatia and Hercegovina would not pose an obstacle to anyone wanting to cross it, as most checkpoints are virtually unmanned.

Other reports said he was hiding in one of the African countries he previously visited as a member of the French Foreign Legion. Last December, the daily papers Slobodna Dalmacija and Vjesnik published more detailed reports, suggesting he was in the Canadian town of Norwall, home to many former Croatian political emigrants, including the late defence minister, Gojko Susak.

However, these reports are not given much credibility. With an Interpol warrant for his arrest, any attempt to cross international borders would have been hugely risky.

As an experienced ex-legionnaire, Gotovina is likely to have chosen a safe hideout close to Croatia and his family. Hercegovina, which is part of neighbouring Bosnia-Hercegovina and a bastion of right-wing Croats, is an ideal location.

If Gotovina is visiting Croatia, as Del Ponte claims, or hiding in it, as President Mesic says, he can only be acting with the tacit consent of the Racan government. It is almost unthinkable that the intelligence services could not penetrate Gotovina's circles, track their movements and telephone communications and establish if the general was visiting Croatia or hiding there.

Goran Granic, deputy prime minister and Racan's right-hand man over cooperation with the tribunal, unconvincingly rebutted newspaper reports that the government was doing nothing to arrest Gotovina.

Granic said it was untrue that the police and secret services "were not doing their job". He said the police was checking all the reports they had received on Gotovina but had found no leads among hundreds of items of information.

Gotovina's "disappearance" is politically convenient for Racan, saving him the embarrassment of having to extradite the general to The Hague. The latest extradition saga involving the 83-year-old General Janko Bobetko, accused over war crimes in the Medak pocket in 1993, showed the strength of popular resistance to tribunal demands.

One government official pointed out that right-wing popular opinion had mobilised strongly behind Bobetko, in spite of his anti-fascist and pro-communist history. "You can imagine what would happen if Racan had to arrest Gotovina, who truly belongs to the Croatian right and is one of their main ideologists," he said.

The official said the best situation would be for Gotovina to remain a fugitive forever, and for Bobetko to be placed in a hospital, where his poor health would excuse the need for him to stand trial.

Drago Hedl is an IWPR contributor and Feral Tribune journalist.

Support our journalists