Croatia may block Serbia's EU bid over war crime probes

Croatian foreign minister warns prosecution of war crime suspects in Serbia is a benchmark test toward the European Union

Croatia may block Serbia's EU bid over war crime probes

World Bulletin/News Desk

Croatia may block Serbia's accession process with the European Union if Belgrade would not prosecute those accused for war crimes during the break up of Yugoslavia, Croatian foreign minister told The Anadolu Agency.

"Croatia will apply, only and exclusively, the absolute same criteria on Serbia that were applied to Croatia while joining the European Union," said Vesna Pusic, who is also the country's EU affairs minister and the first deputy prime minister. 

"Nothing more, but also nothing less."

Croatia wants Belgrade to persecute the Yugoslav People’s Army commanders and political leaders accused for war crimes during the war in the 1990s. In the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Serbian-controlled Yugoslav Army fight a war against Croatia’s independence between 1991 and 1995. 

A large number of former commanders and leaders of Serbian origin are imprisoned or standing trial in the Hague for war crimes, but many others accused are still in captivity 19 years after the Bosnian and Croatian wars come to an end. 

Pusic said that prosecuting those accused for war crimes was part of requirements from the European Union for Croatia and also for the Bosnia and Herzegovina, even in the earlier stages.

"Prosecuting war crimes was specifically something that was a benchmark for us (Croatia) in chapters 23, 24," she said, referring to EU policy areas Zagreb negotiated with the union to become a member. 

Pusic said Croatia required from Serbia to do the same. 

"One sentence"

Pusic said that Serbian-Croatian relations are good, but they are now influenced by the temporary release of the "indicted war criminal [Vojislav] Seselj," a Serbian politician who was released in November by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in Hague after more than a decade of court procedings for war crimes. He was released on humanitarian grounds to have treatment after being diagnosed with cancer last year.

"Nobody in Croatia thinks that it was Serbia’s responsibility, because it was not Serbia who released him," she said. "However, after he was released, he started with his warmongering and hate speech towards both Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina."

On the day that Croatians commemorated the fall of the town of Vukovar to the Serbian forces in 1991, Seselj sent a press release to the Croatian media titled “The day of Vukovar’s liberation.” 

He said also that he still supports the ideology of "Greater Serbia," which means having territorial aspirations at the expense of Bosnia and Croatia and Kosovo.

Pusic said that "it would have been enough to hear just one sentence from the Serbian government saying: Serbian government distances itself and finds completely unacceptable everything that this person is saying, especially regarding territorial and other aspirations of our country."

The expected statement from Serbia had yet to come.

"And this is the reason why [the Croatian] prime minister cancelled visit to the 16+1 summit with Chinese in Belgrade," Pusic said.

Prime ministers from the Central and Eastern European countries held a summit with the Chinese premier in Belgrade last week.

Croatian government decided that Pusic and not Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic to head the Croatian delegation in the summit. 

The freeze of EU enlargement

The new president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has said that no further EU enlargement will take place over the next five years, but ongoing negotiations will continue.

"The EU needs to take a break from enlargement so that we can consolidate what has been achieved among the 28," he has said.

Pusic said that "some countries took [this] to be a negative massage, but in my opinion it is a simple statement of a fact."

She said that "it is simply technically not possible that any country, in the life of this commission, to complete the process of negotiations in the five years." 

"Turkey, a separate case"

Pusic said that Turkey should be treated as a separate case from the Balkan countries aspiring to adhere in the European Union "for the simple reason that there is a huge difference in size."

Pusic said that while the EU integration makes a big difference for Balkan countries, including Croatia, it does not make such a big difference for the EU itself.  

"On the other hand, when a country in the size of Turkey joins it does influence the nature and the character of the European Union."

"So this is a huge step, not only for Turkey, but also for the European Union," she said, adding that Croatia supports the EU enlargement policy "as this will be a positive step for both sides."

The Balkan countries are small in terms of population and economy potential compared to Turkey. All Western Balkan countries, including Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania and Kosovo adhere to become part of the Union.

The smallest of these is Montenegro with an estimated population around 700.000, and the biggest Serbia with over 7 million. Turkey has a population of over 76 million.

Turkey has begun the negotiations to join the EU in 2005 -- the year when Croatia started its own -- and Ankara's talks still continue.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 21 Aralık 2014, 00:05