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Croatian Operation Puma 'Targeted ICTY Investigators' In Bosnia

Tribunal Update 156: Last Week in The Hague (13-18 December 1999)

"The Prosecutor, Madame Carla Del Ponte, is not surprised by SFOR's announcement today that the Bosnian Croats have been attempting to carry out surveillance of Tribunal staff operating in Bosnia," said a press statement from the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) on Friday afternoon.

Under the name 'Operation Westar', SFOR peacekeepers supported by the International Police Task Force searched four houses in the western (Croatian) part of Mostar, where the secret service of the Bosnian Croats (SNA) and the local branch of the intelligence service of the Republic of Croatia (HIS) were operating.

They came away with evidence, according to a statement of 'preliminary results' released Friday in Sarajevo, of "significant anti-Dayton activities conducted by a secret intelligence service in BiH.

"These activities were clearly directed against citizens of B-H, against SFOR, and against International Organisations here. SFOR's analysis is based on an examination of the documents, computer files, communications equipment, and other material confiscated during the operation."

SFOR seized 42 computers during the operation containing over 200 gigabytes of information (approximately 500,000 pages of text). SFOR also confiscated numerous data bases protected by sophisticated encryption software and over 10,000 documents. Many documents contain signatures verified as authentic by Western intelligence experts.

In addition, SFOR confiscated several CD writing machines, credit card readers, and the equipment needed to counterfeit telephone and credit cards for use in virtually any country in the world.

SFOR said that the Croatian intelligence operation - dubbed 'Operation Puma' - had targeted 30 ICTY investigators in Livno as they carried out inquiries into alleged war crimes there.

The Puma goals were, said SFOR, to "install technical equipment for following and observing (the ICTY), following and observing the arrival and assignments of the Hague Investigative Team, following and observing the radius of movement of the team, verify information of the individuals who work as interpreters for the Hague Investigative Team, and attempt to get the same individuals to work with us."

Some of the surveillance operations involved tapping of phone lines and monitoring of radio signals. Apart from the ICTY, a Croatian operation dubbed 'Operation GROM - Recruit Operatives' also tried to recruit staff working for international agencies in Bosnia, including those working for the UN, the officer of the High Representative, the Red Cross and International Crisis Group, as well as SFOR itself.

In The Hague the OTP statement said: "it is clear that the Tribunal has been targeted for espionage for some time and it appears that this espionage has been officially sanctioned." This activity, according to the OTP, "demonstrates the lengths to which political and government leaders throughout the former Yugoslavia are prepared to go to avoid investigation by this Tribunal." However the Prosecutor was satisfied that her investigations were not compromised in any way.

Her statement condemned "this outrageous behaviour which represents a blatant contempt of the Tribunal's work and its jurisdiction, as well as being in breach of the UN Charter and the UN Convention on Privileges and Immunities. All parties in Bosnia must work with the Tribunal in bringing perpetrators of war crimes to justice, otherwise achieving true and long term reconciliation will remain only a dream."

The issue is not likely to be left to lie. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Friday that his government had long suspected elements of the Croatian government were not committed to normalising relations with Bosnia.

"The material released today leaves us in no doubt that there has been organised resistance to the Dayton Agreement at the highest levels in Zagreb," he said. And he added that the international community could not afford to let it pass. "We will," he said, "pursue these charges vigorously, including referring the attack on the ICTY to the United Nations Security Council."

Referring to an earlier dispute between Croatia and the OTP, it has been announced that the Prosecutor has written to the Croatian government in response to a letter from Croatian justice minister Zvonimir Separovic. In his letter the minister accused deputy prosecutor Graham Blewitt of making "morbid" statements about the then dying Croatian President Franjo Tudjman.

Blewitt did not think it was appropriate for him to comment on the content of the Prosecutor's letter before the other party has received it. He nevertheless admitted he was "surprised" at Separovic's original communication.

"What I said was misinterpreted," said Blewitt. "The minister's comments seem to have been made before checking what was actually said." He noted he could only repeat what he had said on the previous occasion: "If there is a change in the government, we hope it represents a better cooperation on the part of Croatia."

He added that using every available opportunity to attack the Tribunal in public is not a sign of a government wishing to cooperate. Asked once again if the Tribunal had or had considered investigating Tudjman's role or indicting him, Blewitt repeated that the OTP did not disclose the names of persons under investigation.

"Everyone has the entitlement to the presumption of innocence and naming people to be under investigation is inconsistent with that presumption of innocence, particularly if they are never indicted."

He also repeated that "there is no sealed indictment in respect to President Tudjman."

Generally speaking, he said that the purpose of keeping indictments sealed is to enhance arrests. Therefore he did not see the reason why a sealed indictment would not be made public after an indicted person dies. But "we have not confronted that situation" yet, he added.