20th Jan 2022

EU welcomes Gotovina capture

EU and NATO officials have praised the arrest of war crimes suspect general Ante Gotovina by the Spanish police in the Canary Islands on Wednesday night (7 December).

The former Croat general is one of the war crimes suspects most wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.

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  • The chief UN prosecutor Carla del Ponte thanked the Croatian and Spanish authorities for their work (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

He was arrested at a restaurant in the resort of Playa de las Americas in Tenerife, after a surprise action by police special agents, the Spanish police indicated, stating that "the arrest was executed without any incident in just a few seconds.''

The fugitive is to be delivered to the UN Tribunal in the Hague in the coming days, following an extradition hearing before a court in Madrid.

General Gotovina is accused of war crimes against Serb civilians during the offensive he led in 1995 to resume control over Croatia's Krajina region from Serb forces.

His delivery to the Hague court constitutes one of the key conditions for Croatia to join the EU and NATO.

"This is good news," said EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn in reaction to the arrest.

The commissioner said the move should inspire Serbia and Montenegro, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina to follow suit and boost their efforts to deliver two other prominent Balkan suspects, general Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadjic, to The Hague.

NATO's secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer noted that Gotovina's arrest was positive "for the world, for bringing people to justice who are not yet convicted but are accused of very serious crimes."

And after the report had spread like wild-fire over lunch at a high-level conference on the Balkans in Brussels, Serbian president Boris Tadic speaking at the event offered his "congratulations" to the Croat government, and said Serbia was working on "solving the problem with Mladic and Karadzic."

Not caught in Croatia

The news was announced on Thursday by the chief UN prosecutor Carla del Ponte, during her visit in Belgrade.

Ms Del Ponte said she was very grateful to Croatian and Spanish authorities for their work.

The prosecutor had previously criticised Zagreb for lack of co-operation with the Hague tribunal, causing a few months' delay of the launch of its membership talks with the EU.

Just a few months ago, she insisted the fugitive general was still hiding in Croatia - possibly in some monastaries under the protection of the Vatican.

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said Wednesday's arrest of Gotovina abroad was "the final confirmation of Croatia's credibility," Reuters reported.

According to media, it is not yet clear how long the fugitive general had been in Spain before authorities arrested him.

The arrest of Gotovina is likely to spark a mixed reaction among Croatian citizens.

While a majority favours joining the EU, for some part of population Ante Gotovina is still considered a national hero.


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