Reuters, October 16, 2002
Britain blocks Croatia's EU accord over Hague row
LONDON, Oct 15 (Reuters) - Britain said on Tuesday it was suspending ratification of Croatia's association agreement with the European Union because of its refusal to hand over a veteran general indicted by the United Nations war crimes tribunal.
Foreign Office Minister Denis MacShane said the accord, which would pave the way to full EU membership, will be put on hold until Croatia sent General Janko Bobetko to The Hague.
"Full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia is a key political condition of the stability and association agreement (SAA)," MacShane said.
"However, the Croatian Government has failed to act on the indictment for General Janko Bobetko for alleged war crimes in 1993," he said in a statement.
"We have therefore decided that it would not be appropriate to proceed with the ratification of the SAA at this time."
British officials said the agreement must be ratified by all 15 EU member states before it comes into force.
Bobetko, a World War Two hero who fought the Nazis and led Croatian forces in their fight for independence from Yugoslavia in the 1990s, has said he would rather die than surrender to the tribunal.
He is charged with crimes against humanity for failing to prevent, investigate or punish those who killed ethnic Serb civilians and burned their homes during a brief incursion into rebel territory held by Serbs in 1993.
But the 83-year-old is regarded at home as a hero of Croatia's war for independence and his handover would almost certainly damage the reformist government of Prime Minister Ivica Racan, whose key goal is EU membership.
The European Union told Croatia officially last week that failure to cooperate with the tribunal would slow down its integration into Western institutions.
On Monday it said it would lean harder on countries of the former Yugoslavia to hand over wanted perpetrators to The Hague.
MacShane said despite Britain's decision to put the accord on hold, it still supported Croatia's EU aspirations.
"We hope that Croatia will move swiftly to comply with the indictment against General Bobetko," he said. "Early progress will make it possible for us to resume the process of ratifying (the agreement)."