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Thursday, 22 February, 2001, 11:22 GMT
Hero or war crimes suspect?
Serbo-Croatian war
Serbo-Croatian war: 'A glorious struggle'
The former Croatian General Mirko Norac is a man who divides opinions in the country.

He has handed himself in to the police after receiving guarantees that he would not be extradited to the United Nations war crimes tribunal at The Hague.

Mirko Norac
General Norac was hailed as a hero
The 33-year-old retired general is accused of connection with the killing of about 40 ethnic Serb civilians at the outbreak of Croatia's war of independence from Yugoslavaia 10 years ago.

Nationalist rule

General Norac is accused of organising the killings and personally shooting some of the civilians in the town of Gospic in October 1991.

Despite this, many Croats consider him a war hero for defending the town from rebel Serb attacks.

He commanded a small platoon that repulsed an onslaught from the Yugoslav army and local Serbs.

Franjo Tudjman
Under Tudjman, very few war crimes involving Croats were prosecuted
Following this success, General Norac took over defence of the whole region, became the youngest army colonel in 1993 and a general shortly afterwards.

General Norac has long cultivated the hero-warrior image, being photographed on horseback wearing traditional fighting costume embroidered with gold and a tall black hat made of sheep skin.

Independence

This image taps into the region's long tradition of fighting for one's own people stretching back to the Ottoman times.

General Norac is particularly feted in his native village of Otoka, near Sinj in the Dalmation hinterland.

But this is more for what he did than the type of person he is. He is said to be shy and a poor speaker.

The whole issue of investigating war crimes suspects has led to major demonstrations in Croatia in recent weeks.

Under regime of late President, Franjo Tudjman, the prosecution of any but the most minor cases of war crimes involving Croats, was unheard of.

Instead, Croatia's war against the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army in 1991 - and its subsequent campaign against rebel Serbs in 1995 - were described in official parlance as part of the country's glorious struggle for independence.

The UN war tribunal in The Hague says it will leave the general's prosecution to the Croatian authorities.

The Croatian Government appears ready to persevere in its course on such crimes, despite its unpopularity.

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See also:

11 Feb 01 | Media reports
Croatians rally to war crimes suspect
15 Feb 01 | Europe
Turnout low at new Norac demo
11 Feb 01 | Europe
Mass rally for war crimes suspect
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