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Croatia: Mesic Warns EU Aid At Stake Over Bobetko

Zagreb, 22 October 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Croatian President Stipe Mesic has warned that his country risks losing EU aid because of its refusal to hand over former army chief General Janko Bobetko (pictured) to the UN war crimes tribunal at The Hague. The EU today launched a $23 million program to help Croatia cope with the return of refugees who fled during the 1991-95 war.

But Mesic says that program and other EU aid could be put in question if "we finally, seriously and responsibly, do not understand what Europe is telling us."

The Hague tribunal has indicted Bobetko for his alleged involvement in war crimes that were committed during a wartime operation in Croatia's Medak region. Croatian authorities have cited Bobetko's poor health and what they term his patriotic defense of the country as reasons for refusing to hand him over so far.

The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, is due in Zagreb tomorrow to seek Bobetko's extradition.

In related news, Del Ponte said today that she is having difficulties bringing ethnic Albanian suspects in Kosovo to justice because witnesses are afraid to testify against them in court.

She said investigations into crimes committed during Kosovo's 1998-99 war are being complicated by the hesitation of some witnesses to confirm their original testimony against suspects. Del Ponte said others were reluctant to appear in court as witnesses.

No ethnic Albanians have been indicted for their activities during the Kosovo conflict. Del Ponte said she expects the war crimes court to issue the first such indictment before the end of this year.

Del Ponte is on a tour of Balkan countries aimed at pressing the governments there to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.