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Croatia: General Ademi Surrenders To The Hague

Croatian General Rahim Ademi, indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, arrived in the Netherlands on a regular flight today, as he had earlier promised. RFE/RL correspondent Alexandra Poolos examines what this means for war crimes prosecution in the region.

Prague, 25 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Dressed in uniform and accompanied by his wife Anita and a lawyer, General Ademi boarded a Croatian Airlines flight this morning bound for the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Because Ademi surrendered voluntarily after being indicted by the tribunal, he was allowed to board the flight without handcuffs or a police guard. He says he will plead not guilty in his first appearance at the tribunal.

The indictment against Ademi is sealed, but charges against him are believed to stem from a 1993 government offensive in southwestern Croatia aimed at regaining territory seized by Serb rebels during the 1991 independence war. Croatian troops soon withdrew from the recaptured territories, but it is believed that retreating forces killed about 70 Serb civilians.

Ademi, a Croatian citizen of Kosovar Albanian origin, was in command of the operation. But he told reporters today that he is going to The Hague with a clear conscience, because he did nothing wrong in the war.

Ademi was indicted along with another high-ranking officer, Ante Gotovina. The war crimes tribunal demanded that both be handed over for trial. The Croatian government agreed to comply, but its decision triggered fierce protests by war veterans and nationalists.

Richard Dicker of Human Rights Watch says despite the protests, Ademi's surrender shows the increasing influence of The Hague-based tribunal:

"It reflects growing momentum or the growing legitimacy and authority of international justice, particularly represented by The Hague war crimes tribunal in the wake of the surrender of Slobodan Milosevic. Clearly there's a connection between this development and the Milosevic surrender earlier this month."

Dicker says Milosevic's extradition demonstrates that the tribunal is being even-handed in its indictments.

"[The Milosevic extradition] really makes it harder for those in Croatia who have opposed cooperation with the war crimes tribunal to say, 'This is unfair. This is focused improperly at Croats.'"

Dicker says Ademi's transfer may also mean more extraditions to come. In particular, he says, the increased legitimacy of the tribunal will tighten the noose on wanted Bosnian Serb war criminals Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. Dicker says his sources tell him that the landscape in Bosnia is shifting and that the two wartime leaders may not elude authorities for much longer.