Croatia finds new facts in war crimes case

ZAGREB, Mar 7, 2000 -- (Reuters) Croatia said on Monday it had found new evidence that could bolster the appeal of a Croat general jailed for 45 years last week for orchestrating ethnic cleansing against Moslems during the Bosnian war.

Prime Minister Ivica Racan said government files had been unearthed on the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia which he said could help establish the innocence of Tihomir Blaskic, a former commander of the Bosnian Croat militia HVO.

He was sentenced on Friday by the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia.

Some 5,000 people gathered in central Zagreb to protest with war veterans' associations over the sentencing.

Protesters carried banners reading: "Convict me, I am a Croat too" and "The Hague is a great deceit by the world powers". They hurled eggs at the U.S. embassy but there were no other incidents.

Racan earlier told reporters that the "extensive" documents found "shed new light on the events raised at Blaskic's trial before the tribunal in The Hague".

"On initial scrutiny, they appear to challenge the prosecution's arguments and the sentence itself, and may help identify those who really committed the crimes."

He said the government of the late nationalist President Franjo Tudjman, who was often accused of plotting to annex parts of Bosnia, had possessed the documents but refused to hand them to Blaskic's lawyers.

"This government will do this, in line with our commitment to find out the truth," Racan said.

PM Vows "No Cover-Up"

The reformist coalition, which ousted Tudjman's HDZ party in parliamentary elections in January, "refuses to cover up anybody or anything", Racan added. He did not say if any senior former officials might be incriminated by the documents.

Blaskic, 39, was found guilty for presiding over a bloody ethnic cleansing campaign against local Moslems, including a massacre of over 100 civilians in Ahmici village in April 1993. He gave himself up voluntarily to the court in 1996.

Defense counsel Anto Nobilo told Reuters certain structures in the former government were "very interested to see Blaskic inculpated for all the crimes, so that the issue of central Bosnia can be shelved and real culprits protected".

He said secret services were used to manipulate and withhold evidence, but declined to name anyone.

"For example, I never saw the archives of SIS or HVO military police. I was never able to get hold of the daily reports Blaskic sent to the HVO headquarters, where everything is detailed," Nobilo said.

SIS is the Croatian army's secret service which also operates in Croat areas of Bosnia.

Racan voiced hopes the tribunal would review Blaskic's sentence during the appeal in the light of the new documents, which he said may take some time to be properly studied.

"I call on everybody in Croatia and in The Hague to act responsibly now," Racan said in an apparent attempt to appease furious reactions the verdict has caused at home.

Original article