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(E) WSJ -- Amb. Prosper .... Gotovina is Innocent
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  01/26/2003 | Published Articles | Unrated
(E) WSJ -- Amb. Prosper .... Gotovina is Innocent
Distributed by CroatianWorld



Natural allies 

January 24, 2003 

Amb. Prosper And the Wanted Men


Washington's envoy for war crime issues, Pierre Richard Prosper, is ending his visit to the Balkans today, after a trip meant to reinforce the U.S. commitment to the International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague. Mr. Prosper also pressed Belgrade, Podogorica, Sarajevo and Banja Luka to fulfill their key obligations quickly so that the international community can focus on winding down the Tribunal with some semblance of success. The Tribunal is to close its investigations by the end of next year, and complete its trials by 2008. Surprisingly, the envoy bypassed Zagreb at the last moment.

In Belgrade, Mr. Prosper praised the surrender of Milan Milutinovic, a top Milosevic era diplomat, but cautioned his hosts that the Bush administration is under a congressional obligation to end assistance to Serbia after March 31, unless the Djindjic government moves forward on handing over other big-fish indictees, such as Gen. Ratko Mladic and the remaining two of the Vukovar Three: Maj. Veselin Sljivancanin and Col. Miroslav Radic. After that, Mr. Prosper said, Serbia can try the majority of other cases in its own courts.

In Sarajevo, the American envoy was received by the new government of Prime Minister Adnan Terzic, still viewed with suspicion in the West. He stressed the importance of establishing a national ad hoc court that would take over for the Tribunal as it phases out its caseload. The onus falls on the new-old Serb entity leaders, though.

High representative Paddy Ashdown has called for unspecified "smart" sanctions against the Serb entity due to its history of complete non-cooperation. This may involve travel bans and financial sanctions against Radovan Karadzic cronies in politics and commerce. Given the complexity of the situation, however, aid carrots also are on the table if the entity can deliver on Karadzic, seemingly the least most-wanted man in the world. He has been hiding in an area the size of Luxembourg, yet it appears no one is really willing to nab him.

As for Zagreb, it was dreading Mr. Prosper's scheduled visit. Only a month before Croatia submits its EU membership application, it was expecting to hear hard words about its slight EU and NATO prospects unless it delivers on generals Janko Bobetko and Ante Gotovina. Media reports say the Prosper visit was postponed for technical reasons; awaiting the outcome of the medical exam performed on Gen. Bobetko last week by Tribunal doctors.

Yet it's possible Mr. Prosper also wanted to segregate Zagreb from the previous group because Croatia has been largely cooperative with the Tribunal -- and so help the beleaguered Prime Minister Ivica Racan. He is faced with dipping poll numbers due to now-unpopular cooperation with the Tribunal; and a threat of widespread labor strikes against his much needed social and economic reforms. Yet neither the threat of strikes nor Gen. Bobetko is Mr. Racan's chief worry. Strike plans seem to be fizzling out and Bobetko's health has worsened to the point where Tribunal's doctors may let Mr. Racan off the hook on this one.

Gen. Gotovina is another issue. The prime minister is faced with serious societal division there, and many speculate about civil upheaval if he is arrested. A delicate situation for Mr. Racan, especially in an election year.

Ambassador Prosper can help both Mr. Racan and The Hague if Washington is truly committed to its stated goal that the Tribunal is to be one of truth, justice and reconciliation. Gen. Gotovina is innocent. Ambassador Prosper may not know it personally, but Washington certainly does. Further, Washington has ample evidence to submit to the Tribunal to reverse the present indictment.

Gen. Gotovina is charged with planning and carrying out a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing of some 100,000 Serbs from Croatia via Operation Storm in August 1995. Yes, Serbs did suffer as a result of that operation, but not because of Gen. Gotovina nor for that matter of Zagreb. They were victims of their own leaders' folly, Milosevic's promises to make them part of a larger Serbia, and Belgrade's later orders to evacuate its forces, as testified recently in the Milosevic trial by Milan Babic, his former confidant-turned-prosecution witness, among others.

Operation Storm was motivated by completely different reasons, unrelated to ethnic cleansing. Its first objective was to de-blockade the U.N. safe area of Bihac in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), after it became threatened in July 1995 by Gen. Ratko Mladic, days after he overran Srebrenica. Visions of another Srebrenica-like massacre, with an even higher number of fatalities, were on everyone's mind, including Washington's.

When Zagreb special envoy Miomir Zuzul came to Washington with the Operation Storm plan in mid-July, the Clinton administration hesitated only for a moment. The green light on Bihac as well as the occupied Krajina territories in Croatia came from Undersecretary of State Peter Tarnoff, Assistant Secretary Richard Holbrooke and the late senior Balkan negotiator Robert Frasure.

After Washington saw that Zagreb was serious about carrying out the operation, and the West helpless, it moved to make sure the Croats would succeed. Washington jumped in and provided crucial intelligence-gathering facilities. It set up a 40-person Predator drone base in Sepurina, near Zadar, with two real time feeds: one to the Pentagon, and one to Gen. Gotovina's headquarters. Further, on the day the Storm started, the U.S. sent two specialized Prowler planes to the region to disable the rebel Serb communication systems.

After the Storm ended, Washington used Gen. Gotovina's ground troops to supplement NATO air bombings in western Bosnia. The joint operations altered the territorial control close to the 51-49 two-entity split envisioned for the eventual Dayton peace deal.

Despite using Croatia as its proxy in 1995 to achieve its objectives in BiH, Washington has in the past leaned to accept fallacious charges regarding the goals of Storm because Zagreb failed to protect the remaining Serbs and their property in the occupied territories after the operation ended. More importantly, the charges were seen as a necessary fiction to pressure Franjo Tudjman in respect of possible Serb returnees and the fragile BiH, and later as a vehicle to remove him for power.

But there is a new leadership in Zagreb, one that has been cooperative on issues that Tudjman once balked at, and there seems to be no reason for the Bush administration to play Clinton to Tribunal chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte anymore.

Moreover, it would behoove the administration -- one that is notably skeptical about international tribunals in general because they are prone to political adventurism -- to grasp the opportunity to imprint its persuasions, and provide exculpatory evidence where it clearly exists. (Then, there is something to be said about Gen. Gotovina in effect acting as a U.S. agent, where Washington would be obligated to at least morally assist his case.) The practical side for Washington is that providing evidence on the real goals of the Storm will stem this and similar cases in the future, and substantially limit the expenditures of an already very costly operation at the Hague.

Unless the Bush administration has withdrawn from serious policy discussions on the Balkans and decided to operate on the autopilot set by the Clinton administration, Ambassador Prosper has the clout in Washington to pursue changes on such issues. This would make his work much more productive. It would allow him to concentrate his energies on the real war criminals in the Balkans -- Karadzic and Mladic. Knocking on doors in Zagreb is unnecessary now or later. Croatia already is pursuing potential war criminals in its own courts.

Mr. Raguz was ambassador of BiH to the EU and NATO in 1998-2000. This article is adapted from his essay in the forthcoming 50th anniversary issue of the Journal of Croatian Studies.

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