EU Warns Croatia Over Bobetko Case

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EU Warns Croatia Over Bobetko Case

Already on the receiving end of new indictments
from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia
(ICTY), the Croatian government is now facing serious warnings from
the European Union as well.

On 5 November, the Croatian government received
a request from the Hague tribunal’s prosecution for interviews with
three more suspects. One of them is retired Admiral Davor Domazet,
while the two other names were not released. Prime Minister Ivica
Racan only revealed that they were lower-ranking officers.

Domazet, while saying that he was “surprised” by
the request, indicated that he would comply. Called for questioning
in regard to his service as the head of the Croatian army’s
intelligence service between 1991 and 1997, he said that
intelligence officers from other countries such as the United
States and Great Britain are exempted by law from testifying before
the court in The Hague.

Croatian President Stjepan Mesic said that
Domazet “is conducting himself honorably” by being willing to talk
with ICTY prosecutors. “This proves that he fought for the Croatian
state and is implementing Croatian laws as a Croatian citizen,”
Mesic said.

While Domazet’s case is clearly less divisive
than that of retired Croatian Army Chief of Staff General Janko
Bobetko, lingering issues with that unfulfilled indictment are
causing additional problems.

The European Commission ambassador in Zagreb,
Jacques Wunnenburger, warned Croatian authorities that now is not a
good time for Croatia to apply for full EU candidacy. Zagreb had
planned to submit its application next spring, but now Brussels is
advising Croatia to freeze its candidacy. Wunnenburger did not hide
the reason: He said that the Bobetko case is damaging Croatia’s
attempts to join the EU.

In September, the Croatian government received
an indictment against the 83-year-old retired general. However,
Bobetko is refusing to honor the summons or go to the hospital,
even though he claims to be seriously ill. The Croatian government
has appealed the indictment and is now awaiting a ruling.

Bobetko–who served in the partisan resistance
between 1941 and 1945–is considered by many Croats to be a symbol
of the country’s war of independence from Yugoslavia. According to
polls taken shortly after the indictment, 84 percent of Croatian
citizens believed that the general should not be extradited to The
Hague, and 71 percent said that he should not be extradited even in
the face of potential political and economic sanctions against
Croatia. More recent polls indicate that those reactions have
changed: Now those asked are split almost evenly about whether the
general should be extradited.

On 7 November, the European Parliament adopted a
resolution on the European Commission’s annual report on the
Stabilization and Association Process (SAP) in Southeast Europe
calling on Croatia to fully cooperate with the ICTY. Besides
warning Croatia to normalize relationships with neighboring
countries and to legally protect minorities, the European
Parliament recommended that the Council of Ministers and the
European Commission refrain from moving to the next stage of the
SAP and deny further financial assistance to any of the five Balkan
countries found to be in noncompliance with the following three
political conditions: full cooperation with the ICTY, efficient
implementation of refugee return policies, and active policies
against organized crime, corruption, and arms and human

The Croatian government at the end of October
announced that it would respect the ICTY Appeals Chambers’ ruling,
but cooperating with the Hague tribunal only under duress is
raising fears in Brussels that Croatia has not adopted European
standards. According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, 32 percent
of EU citizens support Cr oatia’s admission to the EU, and 45
percent are against it.

Racan dismissed the EU ambassador’s assertions
and added that the government has been cooperating with the ICTY
voluntarily for three years. He also said that Croatia is already
experiencing troubles because of the perception that it is not
cooperating with the ICTY: Croatia’s credit rating is worse now
than it was a month ago, and there will be stricter conditions for
new ventures and loans.

However, the prime minister’s biggest problem is
still the right-wing opposition. After meeting with opposition
leaders last week, Racan reaffirmed that the government would
comply with the ruling of the Hague tribunal’s Appeals Chamber, a
statement that infuriated those opposed to Bobetko’s

In the meantime, Racan is trying to convince
opposition leaders to advise Bobetko to go to the hospital so that
ICTY doctors can determine whether he is too ill to travel to The
Hague. The opposition forces have said they cannot influence
Bobetko in that matter.

Racan also dismissed accusations from the
opposition parties that the government was exaggerating the danger
of sanctions.

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