Hague Tribunal witness murdered
The murder of Hague Tribunal (ICTY) witness Milan Levar in Gospić sent shockwaves through the nation, putting the issue of Croatian war crimes back in the spotlight. Levar was killed on Tuesday in a bomb explosion while repairing a car in his backyard.
Levar was murdered last one day after he spoke with a journalist from Fokus magazine Željko Peratović about atrocities allegedly perpetrated by Croatian forces in 1993s Medak Pocket operation.
According to Peratović, "Levar confirmed the existence of photos of Gen Janko Bobetko and Drago Krpina near the corpses of civilians and prisoners of war in the Medak Pocket." In 1997, Levar voluntarily testified about Croatian crimes before the ICTY, accusing General Mirko Norac of responsibility for the murder of Serb civilians near Gospić in 1991 and in the later Medak Pocket operation.
The murder set off a wave of recriminations between the ruling "Group of Six" coalition and the opposition. Editorial pieces throughout the nation blamed police for failing to protect Levar, and politicians for allowing a national climate in which "forces of the old regime" feel free to use violence "to prevent exposure of their crimes" and "retain their powerbase."
"Extremists have sent an open message," ran one headline.
ICTY spokesman Paul Risley said Levar had last been contacted by the tribunal two years ago, adding that recent threats against Levar spurred the Tribunal to ask Croatian police to protect him.
On Thursday, President Stipe Mesić said the slaying was clearly intended to "return Croatia to isolation," and blamed state institutions for failing to react in time to similar incidents. He has also demanded the resignation of Gospić police chief Dubravko Novak, saying Novak "no longer deserves to wear the uniform of a Croatian police officer since he is not familiar with what is going on in his zone of responsibility."
Ahmići investigation completed
Meanwhile, authorities have completed their investigation into the 1993 massacre of more than 100 Bosnian Muslim men, women and children by Croatian forces at Ahmići.
Gen Tihomir Blaškić was sentenced to the longest term yet imposed by the ICTY after he was convicted of having commanded the forces responsible for the murder, but while in opposition members of the present government claimed the popular Blaškić had been set-up by the then-ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ).
According to Nacional, the report clears Blaškić by proving the existence of a "double line of command" for Croatian forces in Bosnia-Hercegovina during the war. Regular military forces were commanded through official military channels during combat operations, while ethnic cleansing units were apparently commanded by a parallel line of command headed by officials of the HDZ/BiH, the Bosnian sister party to the HDZ.
The report, investigation testimony and physical evidence have been turned over to the ICTY, and charges against a number of individuals are being prepared pending ICTY approval.
Has Račan postponed his cabinet shuffle?
The daily Novi list speculated this week that Prime Minister Ivica Račan has scrubbed plans for the fall cabinet shuffle he had announced earlier this summer. Citing extensive plans to review the function and efficiency of each ministry, the paper claims Račan's earlier announcement was simply a management tactic designed to spur inactive ministers to improve performance of their duties.
Meanwhile, Defence Minster Jozo Radoš wielded a large broom this week as he swept house, dismissing 12 senior department heads. While many of the sackings were greeted with cheers from the media, Slobodna Dalmacija wondered why several effective, non-partisan chiefs were ousted at the same time as controversial and allegedly corrupt holdovers from the Tuđman era.
Plitvice Lakes econ-summit promising
The government used the Plitvice Lakes summit meeting between itself, business and labour to unveil its draft three-year budget and initiate talks on a social compact between the three parties. While many analysts hold the so-called "Plitvice Plan" to cut the deficit, spur economic growth and create 90,000 jobs by 2004 "overly optimistic," it was greeted with cheers throughout the nation.
HDZ slams Zagreb summit
The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) launched what appeared to be a nation-wide campaign against the planned 11-13 September European Union - Western Balkans summit to be held in Zagreb.
One of the main initiatives of the French EU presidency, the summit was proposed by French President Jacques Chirac to re-examine security and economic integration in Western Balkan nation states.
In an interview with Novi list, HDZ President Ivo Sanader said "the summit of the Western Balkans in Zagreb suggests Croatia still cannot be considered a prospective candidate for accession to a united Europe. It implies that Croatia will remain in the Balkans, and that is something we cannot accept."
Split-Dalmacija County Prefect Branimir Lukšić struck a more hardline note, saying "we accept everything the so-called 'international community' orders us to do in a servile and submissive way. The so-called "Summit of the Balkans' in Zagreb is extremely dangerous since the 'international community' protected the Serbian enemy from decisive defeat by the Croatian legions."
OSCE mission to be extended?
Although the Račan government has said it expected the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Croatia to end by 2001, media reports this week speculated it is almost certain the organization will extend its mission for another year.
Slobodna Dalmacija emphasized that the OSCE's next progress report on Croatia is unlikely to be as rosy as the most recent one, underscoring the government's failure to implement national policies at the local administrative level and incidents such as last week's murder of ICTY witness Milan Levar.
The OSCE, the paper claimed, will likely try to maintain a presence in Croatia until the April 2001 local and county elections. Negotiations over the issue are thought to be set to begin this month, although no firm timetable has been set.
Patrick FitzPatrick, 2 September 2000
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