Germany has has been asked to posthumously strip the late Yugoslav leader Tito (born Josip Broz) of its highest state decoration.
The call follows disclosures which allege that he personally ordered the murders of Croatian exiles who were seeking political asylum in the West from his communist regime.
West Germany awarded Tito its Grand Cross Order of Merit, its highest accolade for a foreign head of state, in 1974. The gesture was in recognition of the Yugoslav leader's role as a respected East-West mediator who helped foster détente.
However, former Croatian exiles have now sent a petition to Chancellor Angela Merkel's government alleging that during the 1970s Tito ordered his secret service to assassinate Croatian political opponents who were seeking exile in West Germany.
The exiles allege that the West German authorities were involved in a cover-up, which resulted in hardly any of the murders being solved. They claim that even after Tito's death in 1980, the Yugoslav Communist Party continued to send hit men to Germany to kill Croatian exiles. They say the practice continued until 1989 and that a total of 22 exiles were murdered in this way.
The Croatian World Congress in Germany, which represents former exile groups, is backing the petition, which demands a full investigation into the murders and calls for Tito to be posthumously stripped of his decoration. "It is the responsibility of Germany and in particular that of present-day Croatia to find out the truth and create justice for the victims," Mijo Mari, the chairman of the congress, told Germany's Der Spiegel magazine.
The exiles' allegations are supported by incriminating evidence obtained by Germany's Federal Prosecutor's Office. It has issued international warrants for the arrest of six suspects who are still wanted for questioning in connection with the killings.
The federal prosecutors have collected witness statements and documents which show that during Yugoslavia's communist period, the Croatian branch of Yugoslav intelligence ran a network of informants and hit squads in West Germany. Their evidence against Tito is based on statements made during a Munich court case dealing with one of the murders, which established in 2008 that Tito "was the only one issuing the relevant orders".
One of the primary suspects still being sought is a former Croatian communist called Josip Perkovi, wanted in connection with the murder of Stjepan Durekovi, a Croatian exile who was shot and then beaten to death by communist agents near in Munich in 1983.
Federal prosecutors say their attempts to bring Durekovi's killers to justice have been thwarted by the Croatian authorities' refusal to issue an arrest warrant. Perkovi, who is suspected of masterminding at least two murders, was an adviser to the Croatian Defence Ministry before his recent retirement. His son is said to be a security adviser to the Croatian president.