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Croatia Bargaining Handover Terms for Indicted War Criminals

January 26, 1996

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) _ The Croatian government is bargaining for favorable trial conditions before handing over indicted suspects to the international war crimes tribunal, a senior U.S. official said Friday.

Croatian demands include allowing Bosnian Croats to remain free before or during trial and letting them serve any prison terms in Croatia, the official said in Zagreb, the Croatian capital. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. government’s position is that Croatia should hand over any indicted suspects without conditions. It sees Croatia’s demands as throwing doubt on Croatia’s willingness to cooperate with the tribunal, based in The Hague, Netherlands.

The Croatian government supported the Bosnian Croat army in their 1993-94 war against troops loyal to the Muslim-led government. It was only after the U.S. threatened sanctions against Zagreb that Bosnian Croats agreed to form a Muslim-Croat federation in Bosnia.

Last November, President Franjo Tudjman earned international condemnation when he promoted a Bosnian Croat military commander, Brig. Gen. Tihomir Blaskic, to a senior position in the Croatian army just days after he had been indicted as a war criminal.

Blaskic, who is now chief inspector of the Croatian army and lives in Zagreb, is charged with participation in the alleged massacre of Muslim villagers in Ahmici, in central Bosnia, in April 1993.

At least one of the six other indicted Croat suspects is living in Zagreb: Dario Kordic, a former police chief in the self-declared Bosnian Croat state.

A senior Croatian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that defense lawyers are seeing if the tribunal’s statutes allow their clients to remain at liberty until a verdict is handed down.

But Croatian government officials would not comment on any demands regarding the seven Bosnian Croats indicted as war criminals, and the state-run Croatian media has also been silent.

Croatia was told the tribunal would not bend its statutes, said Christian Chartier, a spokesman for the U.N.-established court.

``We cannot bargain with anyone,″ said Chartier. ``We cannot tailor-make the rules that are clearly set out by the Security Council.″

He said judges would only set bail once defendants had appeared before the court, and that it was a ``legal impossibility″ for bail to be granted before any hearings.

But he conceded that the judges may have the authority to let convicted Bosnian Croats to serve their terms in Croatia if the country is allowed by the U.N. Security Council to hold war criminals.

The U.S. officials said Croatia also demanded that war crimes trials take place in Zagreb, but that was rejected out of hand under the tribunal statutes approved by the United Nations Security Council.

Ten countries to date, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, have said they would hold convicted war criminals. Croatia has not yet formally asked the Security Council if it might do this.

The other 45 people indicted for war crimes so far are Bosnian Serbs. Only one is in custody in The Hague.

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic _ one of those indicted _ has said he would only agree to trials taking place in the Serb region that will share Bosnia with the Muslim-Croat entity under the Dayton peace accord.

At U.N. headquarters in New York, Richard Goldstone, the chief prosecutor of the war crimes tribunal, was cautiously optimistic that Karadzic and Bosnian Serb military commander Gen. Ratko Mladic, who is also indicted, would be brought to justice.

The two men have lost political influence since the Dayton accord was reached, and diplomatic pressure, especially by Washington, was making it ``politically expedient for them to be handed over,″ Goldstone said.

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