[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Languages
Last Updated: Thursday, 8 December 2005, 14:13 GMT
Long road from Krajina to captivity
By Gabriel Partos
BBC south-east Europe analyst

Gen Ante Gotovina
Gotovina was captured in Spain
General Ante Gotovina was indicted by the Hague tribunal in 2001 for alleged crimes committed by Croatian forces during Operation Storm - the offensive that, in effect, put an end to the rebel Serbs' self-proclaimed republic of Krajina within Croatia.

At the time of the alleged offences - just weeks before his 40th birthday - Gen Gotovina was in charge of the southern area of the Krajina region.

His rise through the ranks of the newly-formed Croatian army had been meteoric. A former French Foreign Legionnaire with the rank of a chief corporal, he had returned to Croatia at the start of the war in 1991.

By the time of Operation Storm, when he moved his headquarters to the rebel Serbs' captured capital, Knin, he was one of his country's most prominent military commanders.

Operation Storm was a turning point during the wars in the former Yugoslavia. In the course of less than a week in August 1995, it ended more than four years of Serb control in an area that accounted for about a quarter of Croatia's territory.

Serb separatist forces - helped by the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army - had taken that territory in 1991 when they opposed Croatia's proclamation of independence from Yugoslavia.

And the ceasefire mediated by the United Nations after a six-month war had frozen that situation until Croatian forces went on the offensive in 1995.

Although Operation Storm was a considerable military success, it was accompanied by the exodus of nearly 200,000 Serbs. Hundreds of Serb civilians were killed - mostly elderly people who stayed on after their families had left.

'Undisciplined individuals'

Successive Croatian governments have maintained that the flight of the Serb population was part of an organised evacuation on the part of the Serb authorities.

According to Zagreb, whatever atrocities may have been committed were isolated incidents carried out by undisciplined individuals.

Following his indictment, Gen Gotovina was tipped off - apparently by sympathisers within the Croatian security services - and he has been a fugitive from justice since the summer of 2001.

The lack of enthusiasm for tracking down the fugitive had much to do with the widespread perception at the time among Croats of the general as a national hero, not an indicted war crimes suspect.

Stalled EU talks

Gen Gotovina's escape and the subsequent half-hearted attempts of the Croatian authorities to locate him led to serious tensions between Croatia and the European Union which Zagreb is seeking to join.

The matter came to a head in March this year when the EU postponed the launch of Croatia's accession talks on the eve of their starting date because it judged that Zagreb was still failing to do enough to track down the fugitive general.

Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic
Pressure is likely to increase for the capture of Mladic and Karadzic
The postponement of membership talks led to a change of heart in Zagreb. During the summer, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader's centre-right government began to take substantive measures to deal with those suspected of providing a support network for Gen Gotovina.

However, Croatia continued to insist that the fugitive general was not on its territory, in spite of reports that he was apparently being sheltered in a Franciscan monastery either in Croatia or in Croatian-inhabited areas of Bosnia-Hercegovina.

The fact that Gen Gotovina has now been apprehended - and that his arrest took place in Spain, not in Croatia - is a huge relief for Zagreb.

Although Croatia did finally begin its accession talks with the EU in October, after it was judged to be doing its best to find Gen Gotovina, continued co-operation in this case has remained a precondition for successfully pressing on with the negotiations.

Now with Gen Gotovina behind bars, Zagreb is hoping that its goal of joining the EU by 2010 has come a step closer.

Meanwhile, there is likely to be increased international pressure on Serbia and the Bosnian Serb authorities to apprehend the two most prominent war crimes suspects still at large, the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leader, Radovan Karadzic, and his military commander, Gen Ratko Mladic.




SEE ALSO:
EU launches Croatia discussions
04 Oct 05 |  Europe
MI6 and the Croatian general
30 Apr 05 |  From Our Own Correspondent


RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific