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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 March, 2005, 16:04 GMT
EU postpones Croatia entry talks
Croatian Gen Ante Gotovina
Gen Ante Gotovina is accused of war crimes against ethnic Serbs
European Union foreign ministers have postponed imminent talks on Croatia's EU entry because of Zagreb's failure to arrest a war crimes suspect.

Ministers want Croatia to co-operate fully with The Hague tribunal by handing over Gen Ante Gotovina.

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht said an EU climbdown on Croatia would have weakened its power to make Serbia surrender key suspects.

No new date has been set for the talks, which would have begun on Thursday.

But ministers said talks could start "as soon as the Council has established that Croatia is co-operating fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia".

Olli Rehn, the EU commissioner for enlargement, made it clear that Croatian membership was still very much a possibility.

The EU is ready, once Croatia is ready to start the negotiations and meets the criteria
Olli Rehn,
EU enlargement commissioner

"I want to underline that Croatia's future is in the European family, Croatia is a candidate country, nothing has changed in that regard," he said.

"Croatia has also made plenty of progress, lots of progress, and I hope that the last stumbling block could be cleared soon. For its part, the European Union has today in the council adopted the negotiation framework. "

Gen Gotovina is accused of murdering Serb civilians during an operation to expel Serb forces from the Krajina region of Croatia in 1995.

Before the ministers' meeting, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Croatia's failure to co-operate fully with prosecutors meant Zagreb could not start EU accession talks.

Moment of truth

Only Austria, Hungary, Slovenia and Slovakia have supported starting talks as planned, arguing that Zagreb has made the necessary economic and political reforms to qualify for membership talks.

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader expressed his disappointment at the ministers' decision.

"I cannot but express my dissatisfaction with this conclusion. Croatia deserves negotiations as soon as possible," he told the European Parliament.

Earlier, he insisted it was not in his country's power to deliver Gen Gotovina and said Croatia had fully co-operated with the tribunal.

"According to all our information, [Gen Gotovina] is not in Croatia. This is the only and full truth," he said.

Krajina campaign

The UN's chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte had said Croatia must do more to pursue Gen Gotovina.

Ms Del Ponte's spokeswoman said: "There is no change in our assessment of co-operation. The authorities are not demonstrating the will to arrest Gotovina."

The tribunal's chief prosecutor has accused Zagreb of shielding Gen Gotovina.

He is accused of crimes against humanity during a 1995 campaign to recapture land seized by Serb rebels after the break-up of Yugoslavia.

He faces charges of killing 150 Serbs and expelling 150,000 others from the Krajina region.

He is still revered as a hero by some Croats.



SEE ALSO:
EU warns Croatia about fugitive
31 Jan 05 |  Europe
EU hardens accession conditions
05 Oct 04 |  Europe
Country profile: Croatia
29 Sep 04 |  Country profiles


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