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Regional Report: Croatia: Hague Cooperation Boost

New extradition plus provision of key documents signals increased willingness to work with Hague.
By Drago Hedl

In a move that illustrates a new readiness to cooperate with the tribunal, a Croatian court gave the go-ahead on April 30 for the extradition of key war crimes suspect Ivica Rajic to The Hague.


Rajic, 45, was a commander in the Bosnian Croat militia and is accused of ordering an attack on the village of Stupni Do in which at least 16 Muslim civilians were killed. The tribunal has sought his extradition since 1995, when he was first indicted.


The decision to transfer Rajic to The Hague comes less than two weeks after the Croatian government provided the tribunal with access to the so-called Susak archive, which consists of about a thousand pages of documents signed by former defence minister Gojko Susak.


Government officials declassified the archive on April 17, a day after the tribunal’s chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte requested the documents during a visit to Zagreb.


Susak, who died in 1998, was in charge of Croatia’s military forces throughout the break-up of Yugoslavia. He was one of the late Croatian president Franjo Tudjan’s closest allies.


The Hague has been asking for access to the archive since mid-2000, but the Croatian government always refused the request, claiming the documents were classified to protect national security.


The Croatian government has always insisted that it was fighting a defensive war agianst Serbian aggression. However, the newly-released archive is expected to show that Zagreb was far more involved in the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina than it claimed to be.


Among the long-time allegations expected to be confirmed by the archive is that Zagreb funded the Bosnian Croat entity known as Herceg-Bosna with the aim of annexing it to Croatia.


“The documents will show that more than 20 billion kunas (about 3 billion US dollars) went to Herceg-Bosna from Zagreb,” said former defence minister Jozo Rados, who held the post from 2000 to 2003.


The archive is expected to confirm that Zagreb funded Bosnian Croat leader Mate Boban’s efforts to build a para-state, comprising elements such as the Croatian Defence Council, HVO, the Bosnian Croat Army, the civil service as well as Mostar’s hospital, university and television station.


The documents are also expected to detail the corrupt practices of the Bosnian Croat statelet. By some estimates, at least one-third of the money Zagreb sent to Herceg-Bosna wound up lining the pockets of Boban and his cronies. Other examples include Bosnian Croat customs officers being paid both by the Croatian Defence Council and by the Croatian army, and politicians receiving military salaries.


The archive’s revelations have enraged many in Croatia, who are furious that their tax money was used to fund Herceg-Bosna.


Croatian prime minister Ivica Racan vowed that parliament would investigate and issue a special report on the Susak archive this summer.


Some suspect that Racan’s enthusiasm to investigate the contents of the archive is motivated more by politics than by a desire to expose the truth about Croatia’s role in creating the Herceg-Bosna statelet. The country is holding parliamentary elections either at the end of this year or the beginning of next.


A senior official from Racan’s Social Democratic Party, SDP, said the prime minister could use the archive to discredit the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, which was in power when the funds were diverted.


“Once a debate is launched on where the Croatian taxpayers’ money went to and what was financed with it, and especially on the embezzlement and all the illegal transactions that were made, the public could turn against HDZ because all this happened while it was in power,” the official told IWPR.


“People live a very difficult life in Croatia, the country’s foreign debt amounts to 16 billion dollars and the people will not approve of the fact that three billion dollars of their money had been spent this way.”


By calling for the Susak archives to be debated in parliament, Racan can both expose how his political rivals squandered billions of kunas during the war and divert attention from the country’s current grave economic situation.


The Croatian court’s decision to extradite Rajic may also help the prime minister by relieving international pressure on Zagreb to cooperate and aid its bid for admission into the European Union by 2007.


Drago Hedl is an IWPR contributor in Zagreb.


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