Croatia’s campaign to join the European Union will grind to a halt next month, unless it hands over indicted war crimes suspect Ante Gotovina.
That was the blunt warning from EU member Poland’s foreign minister.
UN war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte has accused Zagreb of stalling over Gotovina.
He was indicted by the Hague tribunal in 2001 for killing Serb civilians. But for many Croats he is a hero of the 1991-95 war for independence from Yugoslavia.
Zagreb has hotly disputed del Ponte’s claims. Prime Minister Ivo Sanader called them “unfair, unobjective and unfounded” and said he and President Stjepan Mesic – who will be sworn in for his second term today – would reply by letter to EU foreign ministers.
Croatia had expected to join Europe by 2009 but analysts say the country must first deal with the dilemma of hunting down a man who some see as a war hero or waving goodbye to EU membership.