The Age
Croatia may not co-operate with ICTY

Saturday March 4 2000

A 45-year prison sentence imposed on a Bosnian Croat general for atrocities committed by his soldiers could hamper efforts by Croatia's new government to fully co-operate with the court.

Yesterday, the United Nations war crimes tribunal found General Tihomir Blaskic, who commanded Bosnian Croat militia during the 1992-95 war, guilty of ordering an 'ethnic cleansing' campaign against Muslim villages in central Bosnia, which left hundreds dead and sent thousands more fleeing.

Many members of Croatia's newly elected, pro-Western government criticised the verdict as too harsh for a man who did not directly commit any crimes.

The verdict is 'a really severe punishment which I believe will have to be reviewed through the appeals procedure,' said Premier Ivica Racan.

The ruling came at a sensitive time in Croatia's co-operation with the tribunal, based in The Hague, Netherlands, with the new government promising to end years of stonewalling on extradition requests and grant investigators access to war crimes sites.

While Croatia's new leaders did not dismiss the ruling simply as 'anti-Croat', as was the habit of the former government of the late President Franjo Tudjman, many have seen Blaskic as a scapegoat who was judged unfairly.

Blaskic, who surrendered voluntarily to The Hague, 'ended up as ... a pawn in the play where others pulled strings', said Zlatko Kramaric, the leader of the Liberal Party, part of the new coalition government.

While Racan insisted his Cabinet would still live up to its promises of full co-operation with the tribunal, his ruling coalition's partner, Drazen Budisa, said the sentence would have 'an unfavourable effect' on the two sides' relations.

Zdravko Tomac, deputy speaker of Parliament, said the case represented 'a crisis situation' for the new government.

The Blaskic ruling could also turn Croats against the tribunal, making it harder for the government to get public support for its new campaign of co-operation.

"The Hague thought that with the new government in charge, we wouldn't care for Bosnian Croats at all," said a 24-year-old student, who only identified himself as Marin. "Blaskic is a different case."

The ruling set an important precedent by characterising the Muslim-Croat fighting in Bosnia as an international conflict, mirroring an earlier judgment that confirmed Yugoslavia's involvement in the war on the side of Bosnian Serbs.

In 1996, new President Stipe Mesic testified before the tribunal regarding allegations that Tudjman and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic had planned to carve up Bosnia, saying that use of the 'Croatian army outside Croatia's borders' was an 'individual responsibility.'

Original article