Sunday, 8 July, 2001, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK

Croatia in turmoil over extraditions

Many Serbs were driven out of Croatia in 1995

The Croatian Government has been plunged into crisis after deciding to co-operate with the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

'There will be no extradition - we will prevent them'
Veterans' leader Mirko Condic

The government voted late on Saturday to hand over two suspected war criminals to the tribunal, triggering the resignation of four cabinet ministers.

The BBC's Ray Furlong says the fate of the five-party ruling coalition is now hanging in the balance and the 18-month-old government could lose a vote of confidence later this week.

Mass demonstrations are expected ahead of the confidence vote in support of the suspects, who have not been named but are thought to have been commanders during the wars which followed the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Racan: Seeking "the way of co-operation"

There is a popular view in Croatia that all fighters in that conflict are war heroes.

The war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, went to Zagreb on Friday to urge Prime Minister Ivica Racan to act without delay on sealed indictments for the two suspects which were served by the UN tribunal almost a month ago.

She has welcomed the government's decision. But a tribunal spokeswoman said the identities of the accused had to remain secret.

"The accusation documents have been sealed and we can't give any information until the transfer of the accused to the Hague," Florence Hartmann told the AFP news agency.

As in Serbia, the decision to co-operate with the tribunal has caused a rift between reformers and nationalists.

'To turn down the request from The Hague would be to plunge Croatia in to the abysses of the Balkans conflict'
Prime Minister Ivica Racan

"I am afraid of unrest. Every normal person should be, now that the tourist season has started, but I hope it will not come to that," Mr Racan said.

In February 150,000 people took part in protests at a Croatian court trying a former general in the city of Split.

Emergency session

The decision to extradite the two war crimes suspects came after an all-day emergency cabinet session on Saturday.


Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic
Defence Minister Jozo Rados
Economy Minister Goranko Fizulic
Technology Minister Hrvoje Kraljevic
Deputy Prime Minister Goran Granic and three other ministers, all members of Mr Racan's key ally, the Social Liberal party, resigned immediately afterwards.

The Social Liberals have 23 members in the 151-seat parliament, with the strongly nationalist HDZ, the former ruling party, holding another 41.

If the Social Liberals decide to oppose the government, Mr Racan's Social Democrats face defeat in the confidence vote.


Croatia's state news agency, Hina, citing unidentified government sources, said the likely suspects were retired General Ante Gotovina, a commander during the 1995 offensive, and Rahim Ademi, a general of Kosovo Albanian origin.

The arrest of General Mirko Norac sparked protests

There is speculation that Mr Ademi may be accused of responsibility for the killings of dozens of Croatian Serbs during a separate offensive in central Croatia in 1993.

Tribunal prosecutors have been investigating the killings of hundreds of Croatian Serbs following the Croatian army's 1995 offensive to recapture land seized by Yugoslav-backed rebels during the six-month war of 1991.

International pressure

Croatia could face international isolation and even sanctions if the government fails to hand over the men.

Mr Racan said that his government had "preferred to choose the way of co-operation to that of confrontation," adding that "to turn down the request from The Hague would be to plunge Croatia in to the abysses of the Balkans conflict."

The largest veterans' association of Croatia's 1991 war has threatened to organise widespread protests against any extraditions.

"There will be no extradition; we will prevent them," said veterans' leader Mirko Condic, whose group attracted over 100,000 people to a February rally against the prosecution of General Norac.