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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 September 2005, 16:10 GMT 17:10 UK
War crimes chief accuses Vatican
Billboard in support of Gen Ante Gotovina, Croatia
Many in Croatia regard Gen Gotovina as a national hero
The Vatican is helping Croatia's most wanted war crimes suspect evade capture, a top UN prosecutor alleges.

Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, has said she believes Gen Ante Gotovina is hiding in a monastery in Croatia.

Ms del Ponte's spokeswoman told the BBC News website that the Vatican had refused to help in the search for him, despite being in a position to do so.

A spokesman for the Croatian Catholic Church rejected the charges.

In a statement later the Vatican said that Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, responsible for the city-state's foreign relations, had asked Ms del Ponte for further details of her assertions.

Chief spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said Ms del Ponte had not yet responded to requests for further information.

Divided opinions

Gen Gotovina has been charged with the deaths of 150 Serb civilians in 1995.

Earlier this year, the European Union cited Zagreb's failure to arrest him as the reason behind delaying talks on Croatia's entry into the bloc.

Forces under Gen Gotovina's command are accused of killing scores of Serbs and expelling up to 200,000 from the Krajina region, now part of Croatia.

Many in Croatia regard him as a national hero.

Carla del Ponte
Ms del Ponte wants the authorities to act against war criminals
Croatian authorities have insisted they are doing everything in their power to deliver Gen Gotovina to the UN's war crimes tribunal in the Hague.

The Croatian Bishops' Conference, which heads the Croatian Roman Catholic Church, dismissed Ms del Ponte's allegations.

Its spokesman Antun Suljic said the conference "has no knowledge or indications of the whereabouts" of Gen Gotovina.

Vatican 'refusal'

Ms del Ponte wrote to Pope Benedict XVI in July this year in an effort to secure the Vatican's co-operation, her spokeswoman told the BBC News website.

The Pope has yet to reply to the prosecutor's request for a meeting, the spokeswoman said.

Ms del Ponte earlier told British newspaper The Daily Telegraph she believed Gen Gotovina was "hiding in a Franciscan monastery and so the Catholic Church is protecting him".

"I have taken this up with the Vatican and the Vatican totally refuses to co-operate with us," she said.

Archbishop Lajolo told Ms del Ponte the Vatican did not know of Gen Gotovina's whereabouts and was not obliged to help her, she was quoted as saying.

Her spokeswoman, Florence Hartmann, told the BBC News website that "the law applies to everyone, including the Vatican".

She said UN prosecutors faced similar difficulties in tracking down the Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic, who is thought to have sought refuge among Orthodox Christian monks in Montenegro.

"We're fully ecumenical," she said.

Sydney Morning HeraldVatican denies shielding accused war criminal - 6 hrs ago
New York Times Church Denies Hiding War Crimes Suspect - 35 hrs ago
Washington PostU.N. Prosecutor Faults Vatican in Fugitive Hunt - 35 hrs ago
Independent UN prosecutor sparks fury with claim Vatican is hiding alleged war criminal - 39 hrs ago
ABC Online Vatican accused of shielding war crimes suspect - 39 hrs ago
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