September 9, 2005

U.N. war crimes chief hopes to okay Croatia this month

ZAGREB (Reuters) - U.N.'s chief war crimes prosecutor hopes
to give Croatia the go-ahead for EU membership by the end of
the month, according to an interview published on Friday.

Carla del Ponte, whose criticism effectively put Zagreb's
EU membership bid on hold this year, told the EUobserver
website she was confident of progress on its cooperation in
locating leading war crimes suspect Ante Gotovina "maybe next

And for the first time she said she could settle for less
than the actual handover of Gotovina.

"The transfer of Gotovina is not the condition that the EU
put on Croatia, it is full cooperation with us...I am speaking
only about full cooperation," the former Swiss prosecutor said.

The EU postponed the start of Zagreb's membership talks in
March, but said it would open them as soon as they were
satisfied of Zagreb's full cooperation with the U.N. tribunal.

Del Ponte's remarks came after EU leaders welcomed the news
that runaway Croatian businessman Hrvoje Petrac, suspected of
helping Gotovina evade his war crimes indictment since 2001,
had been arrested in Greece.

The Greek coast guard seized Petrac, wanted in Croatia on
kidnapping charges, last week on a ship bound for Italy.

He has been in custody and Croatia, indicating it
cooperated with Greece in the arrest, has asked for his

Petrac is one of five Croats the EU banned from entering
the Union because of their suspected links with Gotovina, a
former member of the French Foreign Legion who went into hiding
in July 2001.

The tribunal indicted Gotovina for war crimes in a Zagreb
offensive against the rebel Serbs in Croatia in 1995.

Del Ponte said Zagreb should immediately move to question
Petrac for any clues about Gotovina's whereabouts.

"That is what I am asking from Croatia - to do immediately
what must be done. I'm confident that maybe next week something
will happen on this ground," Del Ponte said.

A Zagreb police official told Reuters Croatia had no legal
grounds to interrogate Petrac while he was in Greece and had to
wait for his extradition.

But a government official said "Petrac has already been
questioned by Greek agents, who sent us a report. All relevant
ministries and agencies are intensely cooperating with Greek
authorities," said the official, who asked not to be named.

Del Ponte said she would report on Croatia's cooperation
with the tribunal "before the end of September and I would be
really very happy if I had the possibility to assess

The EU is set to start talks in October on associate
membership with Serbia and Montenegro -- which Del Ponte has
accused of sheltering two top Bosnian Serb war crimes fugitives
- and some analysts believe the bloc may allow Zagreb to start
accession talks around the same time.