- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2002

Croatia will not accept the indictment of a former army chief by the war crimes tribunal at The Hague because it calls into question the country's war for independence from Yugoslavia, a visiting official said.
"We cannot accept this indictment as a responsible party because it seeks to criminalize the homeland war the struggle of our country to liberate its territories," Igor Dragovan, the general secretary of the ruling Social Democratic Party, said in an interview here on Wednesday.
The International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia issued an indictment late last month against Gen. Janko Bobetko, charging him with planning, ordering and committing persecutions of ethnic Serb civilians in the Medak pocket, 137 miles south of the Croatian capital, Zagreb, in 1993.
He was charged with five counts of "unlawful killing of at least 100 Serb civilians and or wounded soldiers," the indictment said.
The indictment has sparked outrage among most Croatians, who believe their forces fought a justified war against the country's rebel Serbs, who occupied nearly a third of Croatia's territories. Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 and fought a bloody four-year campaign, known as the "homeland war," against rebel Serbs backed by the Yugoslav army. Zagreb recovered most of its territories in a military offensive in August 1995.
Prime Minister Ivica Racan has pledged to cooperate with the tribunal. However, with the ruling Social Democrats losing ground in recent polls to nationalist parties, the government has decided to challenge the legality of the indictment.
Gen. Bobetko, who began his military career during World War II in the anti-fascist forces of Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, has vowed that he would rather die than surrender to the war crimes court.
The 83-year-old general was Croatian army chief of staff from November 1992 to July 1995. He is the third and highest-ranking Croatian officer to be indicted by the tribunal for purported crimes committed during the war.
Mr. Dragovan said the government remains committed to cooperating with the tribunal. But, he added, the "text" of the indictment is flawed because it proclaims that the goal of the Medak operation was "ethnic cleansing, the killing of civilians and looting of property."
Zagreb has argued that Gen. Bobetko's actions were justified by the constitution, which stipulates that the army has an obligation to liberate the country's territories.
"The government cannot accept a cloud being cast over a legitimate military action because it represents the fight of the Croatian people for freedom and Croatia's territorial integrity," Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic said in a recent television interview.
As army chief, Gen. Bobetko was obliged to undertake the offensive to win back the rebel-controlled area, Mr. Granic said.
"We would like to have a quality argument with the Hague tribunal to put this indictment on its real facts. Such a course is allowed by our constitutional laws," Mr. Dragovan said.
Yesterday, NATO and the European Union urged the Croatian government to hand over Gen. Bobetko.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who met tribunal chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, said it was the "obligation of the [Croatian] government" to hand over the general.
Responding to assertions that Gen. Bobetko is too frail to stand trial, Mrs. Del Ponte said the tribunal is "prepared to examine his health" before any trial, the Associated Press reported.
NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said in a statement that the refusal to hand over Gen. Bobetko was "neither acceptable nor helpful in supporting efforts to establish sustainable peace and stability throughout the region."

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