Croatia's Long Hot Summer

A succession of foreign visitors have being turning up the heat on Zagreb over war crimes. And things look set to get hotter still.

Croatia's Long Hot Summer

A succession of foreign visitors have being turning up the heat on Zagreb over war crimes. And things look set to get hotter still.

Wednesday, 16 November, 2005

Just when Croatia's leaders would like to be taking it easy on the coast, they are finding themselves under increasing pressure over war crimes investigations.

In the past month, Ambassador David Scheffer, US special envoy for war crimes, CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour, and most recently Louise Arbour, Chief Prosecutor of The Hague Tribunal, stopped by with his or her own unwelcome message on war crimes.

Sheffer criticsed Croatia for "being late with extraditions to The Hague" of two Bosnian Croats - Mladen Naletelic-Tuta and Vinko Martinovic-Stela. Amanpour made a TV special on Dinko Sakic, commander of the Jasenovac concentration camp during the Second World War, and his recent trial for war crimes. And then Arbour, showed up in Dubrovnik on a whistle-stop Balkan tour, following visits to Albania, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

After what were clearly uncomfortable talks with the Tribunal's Chief Prosecutor, Croatian Justice Minister Zvonimir Separovic announced that it was not in the "current national interest" for Tuta and Stela to be sent to The Hague.

Moreover, the surrender of sensitive documents surrounding Operation Storm in the Krajina in the summer of 1995, as well as the Pakracka poljana (Pakrac Meadow) and Medacki dzep (Medak Pocket) operations, that the Tribunal has been requesting for years, has been avoided once again.

In response, Arbour has accused the Croatian authorities of behaving like Yugoslavia.

"What's the difference between Zagreb which refuses to extradite two individuals suspected of war crimes in the Bosniak-Croat war in Bosnia and Belgrade, which does not want to send those most responsible for the massacre of Croats in Vukovar in 1991 to The Hague?" she wondered aloud.

Before her departure, a disappointed Arbour announced that she would document Croatia's obstructionism to Tribunal President Gabrielle Kirk MacDonald who would then report to the UN Security Council which could respond with appropriate measures.

The Croatian authorities may soon be confronted with more unpleasant news from The Hague, given huge media speculation that four, as yet unnamed, Croatian generals are under investigation for war crimes committed during Operation Storm and other military actions.

The weekly newspaper Nacional has published a confidential government document - apparently genuine - which expresses Zagreb's concern that The Hague may not be satisfied simply dealing with "small fry" like Stela and Tuta, but will also investigate higher up the chain of command.

Moreover, it appears from this document that the Croatian government has already put together a strategy to deal with The Hague Tribunal, for which it has appointed US lawyer David Rivkin.

Zagreb, it seems, is aware that four Croatian generals might soon be 'invited' to The Hague, but has been alarmed by the indictment of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic - the clearest indication to date that The Hague Tribunal is determined to establish responsibility at the highest possible level.

In response, it is rumoured here that Tudjman has personally ordered Croatian diplomats in the West to keep a eye out for any information that could link him personally to any war crimes investigation. Rivkin meanwhile has come up with what appears to be a high-risk defence strategy.

Firstly, Rivkin is seeking to have operation Storm - in which Knin was cleansed of 180,000 Serbs who fled Croatia - defined as an "unarmed action" which does not fall under the jurisdiction of The Hague Tribunal.

Secondly, Croatia has charged rump Yugosalvia with genocide at the International Court of Justice which is also based at The Hague. From the documents published, Rivkin's thinking appears to be that Croatia might use this both to buy time and as a pretext for avoiding the extradition process.

This approach is problematic, however, because of a May ruling from The Hague Tribunal's Appeals Court which appears to have radically changed the accepted interpretation of the Bosniak-Serb war in Bosnia. The latest decision found that the Bosnian Serb Army fought in Bosnia for the interests of Yugoslavia with the full support of that state.

Since units of the HVO (Croatian Defence Council) and the entire structure of the Croat statelet Herceg-Bosna had almost identical support from Croatia as the Bosnian Serb Army and Republika Srpska had from Yugoslavia, the ramifications of this ruling could prove unpleasant for Zagreb.

As pressure builds and as leaks continue, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman has intervened to reappoint his son Miroslav head of the country's security services - a post he had previously held from 1993 to May 1998.

This move may temporarily ease the current crisis within Croatia. However, it can only be a short-term remedy, since Tudjman cannot himself replace Louise Arbour, nor can he appoint one of his family to her job.

Drago Hedl is home affairs editor of Rijeka's independent daily Novi List.

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