SNJEZANA VUKICJudge questions 5 war-crimes suspects arrested in Croatia
ZAGREB, Croatia (September 13, 2000) - A judge questioned five people Wednesday after their arrests in the largest crackdown on war-crimes suspects in Croatia.
More than a dozen people were arrested Tuesday, news reports said. Officials have not disclosed the exact number, identities and charges against those arrested in the raids across Croatia.
Prime Minister Ivica Racan said those arrested were linked to atrocities committed in Bosnia during its 1992-95 war, killings in the central town of Gospic in 1991 during Croatia's war for independence and the recent slaying of a witness to those killings.
"The crackdown on war criminals has started," President Stipe Mesic told the Globus weekly.
The unprecedented sweep marked a dramatic turn in Croatia's treatment of atrocities committed by its people: All the suspects are ethnic Croats and three of them are Croatian army officers.
It also underlines the government's commitment to deal with a sensitive issue that could fuel protests at home and turn some Croats against the leadership that took power eight months ago.
Racan dismissed fears of unrest, saying Tuesday: "I don't believe anyone sane would protest ... the arrest of war criminals."
"Democratic Croatia is resolute: War criminals can no longer live freely in here," he said.
At least one of the arrests was made at the request of the U.N. war crimes tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands, tribunal spokesman Paul Risley confirmed.
Risley said Gen. Ivan Andabak was not indicted, but was "under summons from the tribunal for questioning" and was interviewed by the prosecutor's staff following the arrest.
During the war in Bosnia, Andabak was a top aide to Mladen Naletilic, known as Tuta, a commander of the notorious Convicts Battalion charged with war crimes against Muslims during the Bosnian war. Naletilic already is in The Hague, awaiting trial.
Croatian radio reported Wednesday that Col. Ignac Kostroman, whom local media linked to the atrocities committed in Bosnia, was not arrested as had been reported by Croatian state television.
Tuesday's arrests reportedly included 10 people implicated in the recent killing of Milan Levar, a Croat who had testified about the 1991 crimes against Serbs in Gospic.
One of the soldiers Levar blamed for leading the killings in Gospic, Tihomir Oreskovic, was among those arrested.
It was not immediately clear whether Oreskovic was a suspect in Levar's death. A judge in Gospic questioned him and four others Wednesday.
Police also arrested three people in the Adriatic city of Zadar, suspecting them of harboring war crime suspects.
Risley said the arrests were a direct result of last week's meetings at the war crimes tribunal between the chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, and a Croatian delegation. Del Ponte asked for "access to witnesses and ... documents" from the archives of the late President Franjo Tudjman.
Tudjman's regime was widely accused of condoning war crimes both in Croatia and Bosnia and of harboring suspects.