Croatia's hope of joining EU hit by failure to find war crimes suspect

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The Independent Online

Croatia's hopes of starting EU membership talks crumbled last night as a group of countries including Britain accused Zagreb of failing to help track a retired general accused of war crimes.

Croatia's hopes of starting EU membership talks crumbled last night as a group of countries including Britain accused Zagreb of failing to help track a retired general accused of war crimes.

Barring the voluntary surrender in the next few days of General Ante Gotovina, who is accused of atrocities against Serbs in the 1990s, Croatia's bid to open negotiations with the EU next week will be put on ice.

A meeting of EU ambassadors, described by a diplomat as "heated", divided into two camps, with Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden insisting that Croatia had not given full co-operation to the UN war crimes tribunal.

Croatia was backed by countries including Hungary, Austria, Slovakia and Slovenia, but all 25 member states need to agree for membership talks to begin, and that means there is no prospect of them next week.

One likely outcome is that the EU prepares a formal mandate but does not put it into practice until Zagreb is judged to have complied fully with the UN tribunal requests. One diplomat said: "There was a majority against opening talks, but if Gotovina lands in The Hague, we are back in business."

The die had been cast when the UN tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, listed a criticisms of the Croatian authorities in a stinging letter to the EU presidency.

* The former Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj, who surrendered to the war crimes tribunal this week, has been charged with 37 counts of crimes against humanity, including persecution, murder and rape. Mr Haradinaj, 36, a former Kosovo Liberation Army leader, resigned on Tuesday, and flew to The Hague to contest an indictment against him.

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