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Monday, 23 September, 2002, 23:50 GMT 00:50 UK
Croatia defiant over arrest warrant
Bobetko (r) with former Croatian leader Franjo Tudjman, in 1995
Bobetko (r) ran the army for much of the Croatian war
A Croatian general indicted on war crimes charges will not be arrested and handed over to the UN tribunal in The Hague, the Croatian Government has announced.

Prime Minister Ivica Racan said he would not move against General Janko Bobetko, the former head of the army, despite an arrest warrant issued by the tribunal.

General Bobetko, 83, is wanted to answer charges of crimes against humanity, and violations of the laws and customs of war.

He is the oldest and most senior Croatian official yet indicted by the tribunal. He denies the charges.


We will not budge from this position and we will pursue all means at our disposal - legal, political and diplomatic

Ivica Racan
Croatian PM
Mr Racan said he did not wish to spark international sanctions, but would not hand the general over.

"The way things are now, we are not going to hand over General Bobetko, but we are seeking advice from relevant institutions," Mr Racan said.

"We will not budge from this position and we will pursue all means at our disposal - legal, political and diplomatic.

"This is not going to be a fast and easy battle and we cannot foresee the consequences, but I hope we shall not plunge into international conflict, isolation and sanctions," he said.

Bobetko at veterans' parade
Bobetko is seen as a hero by many nationalists

The general, who ran the army for much of the 1991-1995 war, is seen as a national hero by Croatian nationalists, and it is thought that any moves against him could spark street protests.

Mr Racan insisted that the military operation for which General Bobetko was indicted had been a legimate military operation to drive rebels from an occupied area.

"The fight against the aggressor and for (territorial) integrity cannot be criminalised by anybody, including the court in The Hague," Mr Racan said.

The military action which has led to the charges against General Bobetko was staged in 1993, when Croatian forces moved into a Serb-held area, known as the Medak pocket, in central Croatia.

His supporters say he was acting legitimately to destroy Serb weapons, but human rights groups believe troops killed civilians and burned houses.


The Croatian Government has the obligation to carry out the arrest warrant

Florence Hartmann
Tribunal spokeswoman
War crimes prosecutors claim that General Bobetko knew his troops were killing Serbs but failed to punish them.

Officials at the tribunal have made clear they expect the Croatian authorities to speedily to carry out the arrest warrant.

"No government can oppose an indictment," said prosecution spokeswoman Florence Hartmann. "The Croatian Government has the obligation to carry out the arrest warrant."

Confrontation course

Failure to do so could result in Croatia being reported to the UN Security Council, possibly setting it on a course of international confrontation.

Croatia's constitutional court is to examine the warrant, and a parliamentary debate is also due to be held in the coming days.

An opinion survey carried out on behalf of Croatian TV found that 84% of those polled did not support the general's extradition, and 87% thought his war contribution was positive or mostly positive.


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