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Tuesday, 21 March, 2000, 20:19 GMT
Profile: Mladen Naletilic

By South-east Europe analyst Gabriel Partos

Croatia's new pro-Western government has taken the first concrete step towards improving relations with the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague by extraditing a prominent Bosnian Croat war crimes suspect, Mladen Naletilic, also known as Tuta.

Previously Mr Naletilic's extradition had been held up by his poor health - he had twice undergone heart surgery.

Mr Naletilic is best known as the commander during the Bosnian war of the notorious Convicts' Battalion - a Bosnian Croat paramilitary force with strong links to organised crime. Now aged 53, he left the former Yugoslavia as a young man to work in Australia and then in Germany, where he owned a casino restaurant.

Police guard
Under guard, Mr Naletilic leaves Croatia
Mr Naletilic became involved with emigre Croatian nationalists but returned to his native Herzegovina region of Bosnia in 1990 shortly before the outbreak of the war. By some accounts, the hard-line Croatian nationalist's return home was made possible after he had offered to co-operate with the Serb-dominated communist secret police.

Paramilitary force

Whatever the deal he struck, the break-up of Yugoslavia - first with the war in Croatia in 1991 and then in Bosnia in 1992 - transformed the situation.

In 1991 Tuta organised a paramilitary force, the Convicts' Battalion, whose members were also known as "Tuta's Men". His unit, which included many criminals, initially fought against the Serbs alongside more regular Bosnian Croat troops, the Croatian army and the mainly-Muslim Bosnia army.

Mostar during the war
Tuta's forces were notorious during the fighting in Mostar
However, as the Bosnian Croats turned against the Muslims to carve out their own mini-state in Herzegovina in 1993, Tuta's force - according to the indictment of The Hague tribunal - became one of the most vicious units in the campaign to expel Muslims from the municiaplities of Mostar and Jablanica and elsewhere.

The charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity levelled against Tuta include the specific offences of murder, torture and the use of captured Muslims as human shields in fighting.

Crime allegations

Tuta was arrested in 1997 by the Croatian authorities who had lost their patience with him as he carried on with his alleged criminal activities, including smuggling, drug-dealing and extortion. He had also been involved in some violent incidents with Bosnian Croat officials.

While Tuta was in custody in Zagreb, The Hague Tribunal issued its indictment against him at the end of 1998.

Croat fighting in Bosnia
Tuta's men fought alongside Croatian soldiers
There followed a lengthy legal dispute about his extradition during which Croatia's previous nationalist administration under the late president Franjo Tudjman appeared to be dragging its feet. The delays may have been motivated by concern that Tuta might incriminate Croatian officials before the tribunal.

Last year the Croatian judiciary ruled that Mr Naletilic should be extradited - but until now his surrender was held up by his serious heart condition. Tuta's medical team argued his health would be endangered by a transfer to The Hague - but doctors sent by the tribunal to carry out tests on him claimed he could cope with extradition.

The new Western-oriented government in Zagreb has now decided to give proof of its commitment to forging better links with the tribunal by extraditing Tuta. Now in the custody of the Tribunal, Tuta is joining one of his lieutenants, Vinko Martinovic, otherwise known as Stela.

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21 Mar 00 | Europe
Bosnia warlord faces trial
04 Jan 00 | Europe
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