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Last Updated: Monday, 6 October, 2003, 15:29 GMT 16:29 UK
Del Ponte seeks Croatian suspect
Ante Gotovina
Gotovina: Accused of the murder and disappearance of hundreds of Serbs
Chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte has urged a key Croatian war crimes suspect to surrender.

Mr Gotovina is the Hague tribunal's third most wanted man, accused of atrocities during the 1991-95 war.

Ms del Ponte said he was damaging his country by hiding.

Croatia's chances of joining the European Union could depend on its willingness to hunt for Mr Gotovina and hand him over.

If the accused Gotovina is really close to his nation, to his country, to Croatia, he would voluntarily surrender
Carla del Ponte
Some EU member states say they will support Zagreb's application only when it is deemed to have fully co-operated with the tribunal.

Prosecutors' report

After meeting Ms Del Ponte, Prime Minister Ivica Racan said Croatia would not hesitate to hand over the suspect if he could be found.

"I hope that the meeting was successful in terms of co-operation between the Croatian Government and the Hague tribunal," Mr Racan said.

"I hope this will be reflected in a more positive assessment of this co-operation in the prosecution's report, unlike some media reports."

Ms Del Ponte says the fugitive general is shuttling between Croatia and ethnic Croat areas of Bosnia.

Carla del Ponte
Del Ponte will present her report to the UN in a few days
"If the accused Gotovina is really close to his nation, to his country, to Croatia, he would voluntarily surrender," she said.

The BBC's Matthew Price says the issue is fuelling political tension in the country.

The government knows Mr Gotovina's arrest would be deeply unpopular with many Croats, who regard him as a hero.

Mr Gotovina is alleged to have arranged the killing of at least 150 Serb civilians and the expulsion of 150,000 others following a government operation in 1995 to recapture territory held by rebels.

The chief prosecutor is due to submit a report on the former Yugoslavia to the UN Security Council in a few days.

The EU has said it will attach great significance to the report.

Croatian precedent

Croatia applied for membership of the union in February and hoping to join in 2007.

The United Kingdom and the Netherlands have already said they will not ratify the first stage of the process until Mr Gotovina is handed over.

Our correspondent says other Balkan countries are watching the developments carefully.

It is generally felt that, if Croatia can complete the lengthy process of joining the EU, this will help other former Yugoslav countries in similar bids.

Conversely, if Croatia fails, countries such as Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia-Hercegovina stand no chance.




SEE ALSO:
Croatia moves to join EU
21 Feb 03  |  Europe
Croatia's war crimes legacy
16 Jul 01  |  Europe
Eating in two countries at once
27 Jun 03  |  Europe
Timeline: Croatia
30 Apr 03  |  Country profiles
Country profile: Croatia
13 Jul 03  |  Country profiles


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