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Last Updated: Saturday, 30 April 2005, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
MI6 and the Croatian general
BBC's Nick Thorpe
By Nick Thorpe
BBC News, Zagreb

European intelligence services have joined forces in the search for Croatian General Ante Gotovina, indicted by the war crimes tribunal in The Hague for alleged war crimes against Serbs in 1995. But as Nick Thorpe finds out, tracking him down is proving a difficult task.

Croatian General Ante Gotovina (Photo: Hrvoje Polan/AFP/Getty Images)
Croatian General Ante Gotovina was indicted for war crimes in 2001
Franjo Turek suggests we meet in the Dubrovnik café in central Zagreb.

He is sitting in the corner by the window when I arrive, looking younger, but more haunted than I had expected.

Nine years as a secret policeman, then four as director of the Croatian Counter Intelligence Agency, the POA, have left their mark on him.

The café is pleasantly full, but a man in glasses and a striped shirt finds a table right next to ours.

It comes as a shock, but not necessarily a surprise, to see that he has a small microphone pointed straight at us.

"One of yours?" asks Turek, nodding towards the man.

"No-one works for me", I protest. "Is he not one of yours?"

Turek looks the man up and down.

"I used to have a staff of 700", he jokes. "I did not meet all of them."

After a while, stripy shirt leaves and another man takes his place, at another table nearby.

War crimes

Franjo Turek ran the POA from February 2000 to March 2004.

Since he retired, articles have appeared in the Croatian and foreign press, accusing him of helping General Gotovina's network, rather than uncovering it.

Gotovina was in charge of the troops who carried out a blitzkrieg operation to liberate the Krajina region from Serb control in August 1995.

In 2001, he was indicted by The Hague Tribunal for war crimes allegedly carried out by Croatian forces, the burning and looting of Serb homes, and the death of at least 150, mostly elderly and defenceless Serb civilians.

Tipped off about his indictment, he disappeared.

In a 2003 interview from his hideaway, published in Croatia, Gotovina denied responsibility for any crimes and said he would gladly give evidence to the Hague tribunal.

But as a free man, not a suspected criminal.

EU accession

War crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte
The chief prosecutor of the tribunal, Carla del Ponte, who has her own investigators in the Balkans claims he is still in Croatia or Bosnia
In the last 16 months, eight Croats have surrendered voluntarily to The Hague.

Documents, mostly those gathered by the POA, and many relating to the Gotovina case, have been handed over.

"We have contact with the tribunal prosecutors office almost every day" says an exasperated Minister of Justice, Vesna Skare Ozbolt.

But despite this, influential EU states led by Britain, still oppose the start of Croatia's accession talks with the European Union.

The authorities in Zagreb say they know how Gotovina left the country.

They know something about the foreign support network which keeps him going.

They have re-shuffled the secret services, and sacked at least one senior police officer.

But the bird, they say, has definitely flown.

But the chief prosecutor of the tribunal, Carla del Ponte, who has her own investigators in the Balkans claims he is still in Croatia or Bosnia.

'Bugging operation'

Turek believes his trouble started when he rejected advances from the British counter-intelligence agency, MI6, for suspected Gotovina supporters to be bugged.

To get permission from the Supreme Court to tap phones, he told them, he needed some proof.

But MI6, either because they did not have the evidence, or because they were afraid it would be leaked, did not provide it. So the operation only went ahead after Turek's retirement.

Under his successor at the POA, the bugging operation was launched, from three dark blue Bedford vans, but failed to find Gotovina before a deadline set by the Croatian prime minister in June last year.

Since the fall of Communism, MI6 has been deeply involved in revamping many intelligence agencies across East and Central Europe
A catalogue of disasters unfolded for the British, including the probable sabotage of one of their vans full of surveillance equipment, and the exposure in the Croatian press of the names of some of their senior agents in the Balkans.

They appear to blame Turek, unfairly, he told me. "I think your service is listening to the wrong sources" he says.

A document purporting to be the latest memo from MI6 to the POA, was immediately leaked to the press.

It allegedly calls for Turek's arrest, unless he spills the beans about Gotovina.

But he says there are no beans to spill.

"I am not an opponent of the British, of the EU, or of the Hague Tribunal" he says, wearily.

And he speaks fondly of his first years at the helm of the POA, and the joint actions with the British to stop Croatian arms smuggling to the Real IRA.

New start

Since the fall of Communism, MI6 has been deeply involved in revamping many intelligence agencies across East and Central Europe.

When a country like Hungary joined Nato, one of the reasons the organisation had little fear of the ex-Communist agents who still comprise around one third of its spies, was that the Hungarian secret service had been thoroughly re-organised and retrained with MI6 help.

And that help was also extended to the Croatian agencies, after the death of President Franjo Tudjman, in 1999.

Today, Franjo Turek just wants to put his career as a spy chief behind him, and start something new. "I pray to God to finish that Gotovina issue" he says, in conclusion.

Many in Croatia, in the European Union, and in the British government, would certainly agree with him.

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 30 April, 2005 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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