Croatia to help war tribunal, pursue EU bid
( 2003-10-14 22:49) (Agencies)
Croatia will try hard in the next few months to resolve its differences with the UN War Crimes Tribunal and convince EU member states it deserves to start accession talks next year, a top state official said on Tuesday.
Reforms and legal and technical changes required for EU membership are largely on track, European Integration Minister Neven Mimica told Reuters in an interview.
But a problem has arisen over the former Yugoslav republic's failure to hand over fugitive General Ante Gotovina to the Hague-based UN tribunal.
"What is making the outcome uncertain are some political criteria -- the return of (Serb war) refugees and most of all cooperation with the tribunal, or more specifically the Gotovina case," he said.
Gotovina, the court's third most wanted fugitive, was indicted in July 2001 for killings and looting during and after the government's 1995 offensive against rebel Serbs.
He disappeared the day before the indictment was made public and has not been seen since. The United States last week offered $5 million for information about him.
The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, told the UN Security Council last week that Croatia's cooperation was patchy. On Monday she told EU foreign ministers that Gotovina had been in Croatia all along -- despite Zagreb's claims that his whereabouts were unknown -- and asked the bloc to put pressure on Croatia to hand him over.
The Netherlands and Britain have said they will not ratify a previous accord giving Croatia associate membership of the bloc until Croatia is deemed in full compliance with the tribunal, leading local media to say Zagreb's EU membership bid appears doomed.
But Mimica said all was not lost.
"I think we still have a few more months to show our unquestionable readiness to implement the tribunal's orders. If that happens by April, there are no other reasons against our candidacy and I remain optimistic, awaiting a positive avis (opinion formed by the Commission)," Mimica said.
He said Zagreb had "enough room, time and valid points to talk with the Netherlands and London" about its efforts to track down Gotovina.
"Either we will get undisputable and exact information that he is in Croatia and act in accordance with the arrest warrant, or we will prove that we have searched everywhere and done everything in our power, but that he is outside the country and we cannot apprehend him."
Croatia applied for EU membership in February in what was seen as a positive move for the region, torn apart by the ethnic wars of the 1990s that marked the breakup of Yugoslavia.
The bloc's executive Commission is expected to announce its position on Zagreb's eligibility for membership next April. Croatia hopes to start accession talks in late 2004 and join in 2007 or 2008, together with Bulgaria and Romania.
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