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Croatia: Government Cracks Down On War Crimes Suspects

  • Jolyon Naegele



Croatian security forces this week launched an unprecedented series of detentions of Croats suspected of war crimes as well as of involvement in the recent killing of a witness who has testified at The Hague war crimes tribunal. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele reports.

Prague 13 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Croatia's new government has taken a further step to distance itself from the previous regime of Franjo Tudjman by keeping to its campaign pledge to crack down on war criminals.

Croatian news media report that Interior Ministry police and military police so far have detained 12 people in the round-up of war-crime suspects. But Zagreb police spokesman Goran Volarevic today declined to say how many people have been detained or whether the detentions are linked to the recent murder of Milan Levar, a witness at the UN war-crime tribunal in The Hague. He says Interior Minister Sime Lucin has placed an information embargo on yesterday's police action.

But at a reception in Zagreb last night Croatia's President Stipe Mesic and other leaders told reporters criminals would no longer be able to roam freely in Croatia.

"I expect that Croatia's state institutions will function to the end and that all those who were involved, who were guilty, who broke Croatian laws and until now have not been held accountable, will be dealt with either by the courts or through disciplinary measures. At any rate, all of those who knew [what was happening] and should have intervened, but did not intervene, must answer for this."

Prime Minister Ivica Racan commented in a similar vein: "Either Croatia brings these criminals to justice or else it is not a state of law." He added that war criminals can no longer live freely in Croatia.

Among those detained are two Croatian generals who fought in the Croatian Army (HV) and the Bosnian Croatian Army (HVO). Croatian authorities yesterday seized generals Ivan Andabak in Karlovac and Ignac Kostroman in Knin.

While in Bosnia in 1993 and 1994, Andabak was second in command to Mladen Naletilic, known as "Tuta," who is currently on trial in The Hague for war crimes in and around Mostar. Andabak's HVO unit, known as the "Convicts' Brigade," is suspected of having committed atrocities against Bosnian Muslims. Andabak is currently a general in the Croatian Army.

Kostroman is suspected of involvement in the 1993 massacre of more than 100 Muslims in the central Bosnian village of Ahmici. He was a senior member of the Bosnian Croat Army's information and propaganda unit.

Hague tribunal spokesman Paul Risley said today there are no war crimes indictments against either Andabak or Kostroman. He added that they had only been detained for questioning.

Their detentions come only days after two other Croats implicated in the Ahmici killings, Ante Sliskovic, and Tomislav Vlajic, were apprehended in the Croatian coastal town of Zadar.

Meanwhile, two Hague tribunal investigators arrived in Zadar today to conduct interviews with local residents in connection war crimes Serb forces committed against Croatian villagers in the nearby villages of Skabrnja and Nadin in late 1991.

Among those detained yesterday was Tihomir Oreskovic, whom RFE/RL's correspondent in Zagreb says was seized by special police and taken to Gospic in the former Serb breakaway Krajina for interrogation. Oreskovic was sought in connection with the recent murder of tribunal witness Milan Levar as well as atrocities against Serbs in Gospic, including the destruction of Serb-owned homes in 1991.

Oreskovic and four other detainees appeared before an investigating judge in Gospic today in connection with wartime atrocities as well as the recent murder of tribunal witness Levar. Judge Pavao Rukavina says an investigation has not been launched, but questioning of the suspects in connection with war crimes against civilians is underway.

On Monday, one day before the Croatian round-up, Bosnian federal police in the southwestern town of Posusje arrested Zoran Basic, another former HVO officer who had been in "Tuta's" paramilitary punitive unit. Basic is suspected, among other things, of involvement in last year's murder of Bosnian Croat Deputy Interior Minister Jozo Leutar.

The main Bosnian Croat party, the Bosnian Croat Democratic Union condemned Basic's arrest as anti-constitutional and unlawful and aimed at threatening and provoking Croats in Bosnia. The party alleges that only Muslim police -- not Croats -- were involved in the arrest. A group of Bosnian disabled veterans in Mostar responded to the arrest by blocking traffic.

The UN spokesman in Sarajevo, Douglas Coffman, says Basic's arrest is a welcome development and was legal and professional.
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