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Friday, 23 February, 2001, 13:42 GMT
Analysis: Croatia and war crimes
Police car takes General Norac to court
Mighty fall: General Norac is driven to court in Rijeka
By Dumeethra Luthra in Zagreb

He is a war hero to some but a war crimes suspect to others - and he is now being tried for possible involvement in the killing of Serbian civilians in the town of Gospic in late 1991.

The case of General Mirko Norac has divided a nation that is still unclear on how to deal with the events of the war of independence from the former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995.

Mirko Norac
Norac glimpsed through a courthouse window
Under the late nationalist President Franjo Tudjman, the population was taught to believe that no Croats could possibly have committed any war crimes.

They were in a war in which they saw Serbs as aggressors and Croats the victims.

National hero

Now the reformist government of Ivica Racan is forcing people to re-examine the whole issue.

Thirty-three-year-old General Norac refused to give himself up until he had received a guarantee that he would not be extradited to the International War Crimes Tribunal (ICTY) in The Hague, which some Croats claim is trying to criminalise their war of independence.

It now appears that he has received those assurances - a development that other war crimes suspects may regard with envy.

Ivica Racan
Prime Minister Racan is forcing Croats to re-think the war of independence
The tribunal insists it never issued an indictment against Mirko Norac, and will not do so in the future, not only for the current case in Gospic but for any war crimes he may be suspected of committing between 1991 and 1995.

The news of his surrender came just hours after the tribunal's position was made public.

The tribunal has handed a victory to Prime Minister Racan and his coalition government, which had earlier won international praise for its policy of co-operating with The Hague.

Demonstrations

The case of Mirko Norac had provoked country-wide protests in support of the general. War veterans organised road blocks and demonstrations.

General Norac
Norac has a massive following
The international community was watching the Norac case closely to see whether the government would cave in to right-wing pressure.

The government's repeated commitment not to intervene on what it called a judicial matter has won further international approval.

Domestically, the government can claim to have won a concession from the ICTY.

It can also say the international community has shown confidence in Croatia being able to prosecute its own war crimes.

It is now up to the Croatian court to show that it can try General Norac fairly in such a highly charged atmosphere.

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See also:

22 Feb 01 | Europe
Hero or war crimes suspect?
10 Feb 01 | Latest News
Croatian support for war crimes suspect
12 Feb 01 | Europe
Croatian protesters lift blockade
11 Feb 01 | Media reports
Croatians rally to war crimes suspect
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