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Croatian Minister Quits After Hunt Controversy

Premier insists, however, his government has not lost credibility over official’s breach of tribunal rules.
By IWPR ICTY
The Croatian interior minister, Ivica Kirin, resigned last week after photographs of him hunting with a war crimes suspect under house arrest were leaked to the press.



Suspect General Mladen Markac was arrested after officials from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, heard about the unauthorised excursion, which broke the terms of his provisional release.



The suspect is accused by ICTY prosecutors, along with generals Ivan Cermak and Ante Gotovina, of seeking to expel Croatia's ethnic Serb population from eastern Croatia during a Croatian military offensive in 1995, Operation Storm.



Markac, who voluntarily surrendered to the ICTY in 2004, was given permission by judges to await trial under house arrest.



However, a local official sent photographs to the media of the suspect and Kirin taking part in a hunt together last month, causing major embarrassment for the government.



Kirin submitted his resignation on December 29, a week after the trip. He not only went hunting with Markac, whose house arrest he was supposed to be monitoring, but also failed to notify the Hague tribunal that Markac had violated the terms of his parole.



“I express greatest regret and apologise to everyone who was in any way hurt or damaged because of it,” said Kirin in a letter to President Stjepan Mesic, as quoted in an interior ministry statement.



“I thank you, Mr President, for your trust and cooperation and wish you success in the further running of the Croatian cabinet.”



The ICTY issued a warrant for Markac's arrest on December 28, saying in a statement that it had received information that Markac left his home and participated in a hunt at Bilogora six days earlier.



It said the Croatian authorities had not notified the tribunal themselves about Markac violating the terms of his provisional release, nor had they detained him as they are obliged to do if the defendant violates a condition of his house arrest.



Markac was arrested at his home in Zagreb on December 29, and transferred to The Hague the following day.



President Mesic told reporters Croatia had lost credibility because of the scandal and should apologise to the tribunal.



However, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader disagreed. “What I can definitely say is that the Croatian government has not lost credibility,” he said on January 2, after 11 days of silence over the affair.



“The government has proved that it respects Croatian laws, above all the constitutional law on cooperation with the Hague tribunal, and its international obligations in accordance with Security Council resolutions.”



The same day, Virovitica mayor Zvonko Koznjak, organiser of the ill-fated hunting trip, also made his first public appearance since the incident.



He apologised to Markac and to his family for their troubles, saying his spokesman had sent the photographs to the media without his knowledge.



The scandal was a case of déjà vu for followers of the war crimes tribunal.



Last winter, Markac’s co-defendant General Ivan Cermak was accused of having violated the terms of his parole by celebrating a birthday in a restaurant, marking New Year's Eve in a hotel and going skiing.



Cermak, however, was allowed to remain at liberty, perhaps because the parole violations did not involve a top state official.



Goran Jungwirth is an IWPR journalist in Zagreb.