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Zagreb Defends Tribunal Cooperation

After initial spat, Croatia’s leaders unite to urge country’s judiciary to complete task of assisting Hague court.
By Goran Jungvirth
Croatian president Stjepan Mesic and Prime Minister Ivo Sanader defended the country’s cooperation with the Hague war crimes tribunal this week, after its chief prosecutor criticised the country for failing to hand over key documents.

In an address to the United Nations Security Council on June 4, Serge Brammertz said a “remaining outstanding issue” in Croatia's cooperation was that it had failed to provide a number of military documents requested by his office.

The missing files are said to relate to artillery operations carried out during 1995 Operation Storm – a Croatian offensive against rebel Serbs which Hague prosecutors say resulted in war crimes.

Prosecutors want to use these artillery logs in the Hague trial of Croatian generals Gotovina, Mladen Markac and Ivan Cermak.

The three are accused of responsibility for the murder and expulsion of ethnic Serb civilians from the breakaway self-declared Republic of Serbian Krajina after Croatian forces regained the territory in August 1995, effectively ending the 1991-95 war.

Many Croats – including members of Sanader’s conservative Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, party – are against the trial of men they see as national heroes standing up against Serbian aggression and for an independent Croatia.

According to Brammertz this week, Hague prosecutors had to refer the matter of the documents to judges, after their requests made “over a considerable period of time” to Croatia failed to yield any results.

Croatian officials have said that while they are cooperating with the tribunal, they are unable to surrender the documents because they don't have them.

The failure of the country to produce the files prompted the Hague court to order the state to conduct an investigation into their whereabouts, said Brammertz this week.

However, he went on to say that the “progress in the lengthy investigation has been limited” and that “to date, the large majority of the military documents [requested] have not been submitted to the tribunal”.

He added that he had raised with Croatia the court's concerns “about the focus, manner and methodology” of this investigation and would “remain in close contact with the authorities in the hope to achieve further progress in the near future”.

Brammertz’s report provoked mixed reactions at the United Nations Security Council, which is likely to have caused worries in Zagreb about further delays to Croatia's European Union accession negotiations – the progress of which is dependent on its coopertion with the Hague court.

According to a statement posted on the UN website, while United States deputy permanent representative Rosemary DiCarlo said that Washington recognised the efforts made by Croatia to cooperate with the tribunal, Philip Parham, the British representative, said London was disappointed with Croatia's failure to deliver documents crucial to the prosecution.

He called on Croatia to continue searching for the missing documents and added that although the country was cooperating well in other fields, this was an area which required further work.

Addressing the Security Council in New York on June 6, Sanader expressed satisfaction with Brammertz’s assessment of the generally good cooperation between Croatia and the tribunal.

But he added that Croatia had a different position to that of the prosecutor when it came to the so-called missing files – namely that no such documents are in the possession of the Croatian state.

He stressed that Croatia would continue to work with Brammertz and actively support the tribunal.

But in Zagreb, Mesic appeared to criticise Sanader when he suggested that the government was not cooperating with the Hague court.

On June 9, however, the two appeared together in Zagreb and agreed that Croatian judiciary must complete its job of full cooperation with the tribunal – to either find the missing documents or find out what happened to them.

A joint appearance is a relative rarity for the two men who have clashed repeatedly over key issues such as foreign policy and the economy, and whose personal relations can be described as frosty at best.

In a conciliatory move, Mesic clarified that what he meant in his earlier statement was not that the government is not cooperating with the tribunal, but that some state institutions could do a better job.

Sanader, for his part, said that any misunderstandings had now been eliminated.

He added that he agreed that certain institutions, “primarily the judiciary, should have done their job, but this doesn't mean that Croatia isn't fully cooperating with the Hague tribunal”.

Goran Jungvirth is an IWPR-trained reporter in Zagreb.