Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Vatican shielding a Croatian war criminal?

This is a disturbing bit of news: Vatican accused of shielding 'war criminal' by David Rennie Daily Telegraph (UK) 09/20/05.

One of the most wanted war criminals is being shielded by the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican hierarchy, the United Nations' chief prosecutor for former Yugoslavia said yesterday.  

Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the UN international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, said she believed that Gen Ante Gotovina was being sheltered in a Franciscan monastery in his native Croatia. ...

 Frustrated by months of secret but fruitless appeals to leading Vatican officials, including a direct appeal to Pope Benedict XVI, Mrs del Ponte has decided to make the matter public.

Gen Gotovina, still regarded as a hero by many Croats, is the most important war crimes suspect still at large from the Yugoslav conflict, after the Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Gen Ratko Mladic.

Coatia was "our side" during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.  And just to be clear: I supported the NATO interventions in both Bosnia and Kosovo.  Unlike our Republican war fans, though, I don't think that obligates me to make propaganda defenses of anything and everything the US and our allies did.

I was intrigued to discover that Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister that I quoted in the last post, essentially agreed with an American position on the Balkan Wars that is obscure but important.

That set of conflicts began in 1991, when Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia.  Germany took the lead in recognizing those two countries as independent, followed immediately by Austria, though the move was opposed by the United States.  This was generally seen as a sign that the united, post-Cold War Germany was beginning to assert a more independent position in world affairs.

The official American position under Old Man Bush was that Germany was to blame for the war because they recognized those two countries as independent at a time when neither was fully in control of its own territory.  Even the Clinton administration hauled that one out at least once at a moment of frustration with Germany.

But Fischer has publicly agreed with the original American position, arguing that the premature recognition of Croatia and Slovenia polarized the situation in such a way that made for a wider war than might otherwise have been possible.

But during the Clinton administration, the US and Germany were agreed in wanting more vigorous Western action against Serbia, while France and Britain were opposed.  This produced a stalemate on NATO action, because Clinton was understandably unwilling for the US to take the lead on any military action in the Balkans without the full support of the major EU countries.

Serbia was justifiably notorious for its brutal "ethnic cleansings".  But the ugly fact is that Croatia did the same against ethnic Serbs, even though their actions were not as extensive as Serbia's.  When Croatia's army became strong enough in 1995 to push the Serbian army out of Croatia, they also carried out their own murderous ethnic cleansing in their own country.  But it was the Croat army's victory over Serbia that broke the diplomatic logjam for NATO and allowed an intervention to save Bosnia-Herzogovina from Serb depredations.

As so often happens in these things, the Western countries decided to keep a discrete silence at the time about the Croats' ethnic cleansing against Serbs.

But it also was the policy of the United States and other NATO countries that war criminals of all sides should be prosecuted, including those from Croatia.

It is in connection with those 1995 crimes that Gen. Gotovina is being sought:

A former French foreign legion officer, he is accused of overseeing and permitting the killing of at least 150 Serb civilians and the forced deportation of between 150,000 and 200,000 others after Operation Storm, a 1995 offensive to reimpose Croatian control over the Krajina region. Gen Gotovina's whereabouts are of interest not only to lawyers and historians. They are at the heart of a political mystery that has divided the European Union.

In February, the Balkan intrigue took a poisonous turn for Britain when the general's allies inside Croat intelligence "outed" several war crimes investigators in Croatia as serving MI6 and United States intelligence officers.

The next month, Britain led a successful campaign to halt the planned opening of talks with Croatia on joining the EU. Those accession talks remain on hold until Croatia is found to be "fully co-operating" with the tribunal, an assessment to be made by Mrs del Ponte.

In the past few days, Austria, Croatia's most fervent supporter within the EU, launched a fresh attempt to demand that the Balkan nation be allowed to begin accession talks early next month.

Austria and Germany are traditional allies of Croatia, which was once part of the Habsburgs' Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The Croatians were predominantly Catholic, the Serbs Eastern Orthodox.  Religion did play a role in the Balkan Wars.

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