Wartime files found by Croatian police

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A police operation aimed at locating documentation needed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was a success, the Croatian Police Directorate announced yesterday (10 December). If confirmed, the findings may greatly help Croatia’s EU accession bid, experts said.

A large-scale police operation aimed at locating the so-called ‘artillery files’ and other missing military documents sought by the ICTY concluded with the seizure of more than 10,000 pages of documents, some of which were classified as state secrets or military secrets, and 15 military maps designated as military secrets, the Croat agency HINA reported.

At the end of November, Austrian Socialist MEP Hannes Swoboda, vice-chairman of the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament, stressed that Croatia must do everything possible to locate the documents sought by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, or must prove that they never existed or have been destroyed (EURACTIV 26/11/09).

Twenty-five people were questioned during the two-day operation (9-10 December). The police also found 200 grams of explosives, two hand grenades, a pen gun and several hundred bullets. They confiscated several computers, as well as video and audio material, during 20 searches of flats, houses and cars.

The police said they would continue to look for documents wanted by the Hague tribunal and said they were now analysing the confiscated documents, videos and audio materials.

The police did not say whose homes and cars had been searched, but it is widely known that they visited retired general Rahim Ademi and Zagreb lawyer Marin Ivanovic, who was arrested by police in Split yesterday (10 December) and transferred to Zagreb for questioning.

Ivanovic is defending General Ante Gotovina, one of three Croatian generals standing trial at the Hague tribunal for war crimes committed in 1995’s ‘Operation Storm’ (see ‘Background’). He maintains that he is not guilty and that the purpose of his trial is to exert pressure on Gotovina’s defence.

Asked whether any of the wanted documents had been found in police raids of several houses, Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor said that she was neither the police chief nor the interior minister.

“The institutions are doing their job in line with the basic programme of this government, which is to learn the truth about those documents, whether they existed and if they did, where they are,” Kosor said. 

Croatia is poised to become the first country to join the EU since the accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007. The country is expected to complete its accession negotiations in 2010 and to join in 2012 (EURACTIV 06/11/09).

However, considerable challenges remain in Croatia's accession process regarding access by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to important documents on the use of artillery by Croatian forces during the Balkan war in the 1990s.

These are needed in relation to the trial of General Ante Gotovina, indicted by the ICTY for war crimes while expelling Krajna Serbs from Croatia in 1995 during 'Operation Storm'. 350 innocent victims perished during the ethnic cleansing, which caused around 200,000 Serbs to flee the former Yugoslav Republic at the end of the 1991-1995 war.

Gotovina spent several years in hiding before he was caught in Tenerife in 2005. Many Croats still consider him a national hero. 

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