AIM: start

FRI, 28 DEC 2001 00:32:31 GMT

General Ademi: A Hostage of Politics

AIM Zagreb, December 23, 2001

General Rahim Ademi, an officer of the Croatian Army who several months ago surrendered to The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) after being charged with participation in war crimes committed by Croatian forces against Serb civilians in the Medak Pocket, near Gospic, now hopes to be released, making it possible for him to try to prove his innocence as a free man. His hopes went up after Bosnia-Herzegovina Army generals Sefer Halilovic, Mehmed Alagic and Enver Hadzihasanovic, as well as Brigadier General Amir Kubura, were released pending their trial, but it seems that the ICTY has a different attitude towards requests concerning the release of war crimes suspects from Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The reason is that the Croatian government has failed in apprehending another Hague indictee, Gen. Ante Gotovina, who has been on the run for five months. To make matters worse, police officials haven't the slightest notion of his whereabouts. We should recall that Prime Minister Ivica Racan received a warrant for Gotovina's arrest a month before his indictment was published, meaning a month before Gotovina learned that he was wanted by the international court. Gotovina's escape, however, is not the only reason why Rahim Ademi could easily remain in the Hague detention unit, regardless of the Croatian government guarantees that the general will return if required.

"At a meeting with the court's legal advisor, where, after the prosecution and defense presented evidence and the witnesses they intend to call, a schedule for the trial is determined, we were openly told that the guarantees offered by the Croatian government might not suffice, because it had failed to send 2,000 documents pertaining to the Medak Pocket which the prosecution had demanded in May," Ademi's lawyer, Cedo Prodanovic, told the Feral newspaper and added: "I tried, of course, to counter both arguments made by the prosecution, saying that Gen. Ademi could not be responsible for the government's and Gen. Gotovina's attitude. His responsibility is individual, and he cannot be punished for others' failures and lack of cooperation, and I stressed that otherwise he would be a hostage of poor relations between the ICTY prosecution and the Croatian government."

Ademi's problem is that the current poor relations between the Hague court and the Croatian government could deteriorate even further, and the reason for that could be Drazen Budisa's comeback to the post of president of the Croatian Social Liberal Party, the second strongest group in the ruling five-member coalition. Let us recall that Budisa resigned in July this year, after the cabinet decided to extradite the two generals to the Hague court. Budisa is now doing everything in his power to secure a political comeback, and in a recent interview announced such plans. Budisa said that before unsealing Ademi's and Gotovina's indictments, ICTY chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte had told Goran Granic, Racan's deputy, that she hoped "the Croatian cabinet will find the names on the indictments convenient for political reasons." If indeed true -- as it appears to be -- this fact is discrediting both to the Croatian authorities and Del Ponte. Namely, the chief prosecutor has no right to guess whether certain names would or would not be convenient for the Croatian authorities for political reasons; her job is to press charges against people she has enough evidence against. Also, the Croatian cabinet has no right to bargain with the fates of certain people "for political reasons," and opt to extradite those whose delivery to The Hague is unlikely to provoke mass protests and riots, while leaving some others at large.

"I hope that Ademi, for the time being, is the only individual charged in the Medak Pocket case solely because the Hague prosecution did not have access to all the facts," the Feral quoted Prodanovic as saying, adding: "It would be bad if decisions on who goes to The Hague are based of assessments on whose extradition could result in 100,000 protesters gathering on the Split promenade and whose won't." Nobody protested the handing over of Gen. Ademi, whereas the publication of an indictment against Gen. Mirko Norac brought 100,000 demonstrators to Split. Because of them, Norac was not sent to The Hague, and Racan made a deal with the Hague tribunal that the general, accused of crimes against Serb civilians, be tried by a Croatian court. If the trial proceeds as it is proceeding now, it could easily end up being transferred to The Hague. It has been dragging on for six months, and according to Tihomir Oreskovic, one of the defendants, Norac's behavior in court corresponds exactly to what the authorities tell him to do. They told him not to say anything, and in exchange for his silence have promised him a rather short prison term, that could be further shortened due to his war merits. The goal is for the trial to be held at home and for Racan not to have any problems with tens of thousands of rightist protesters. This is proof that Carla del Ponte is willing to accept political deals, not even inquiring about the role Norac played in the massacre of Serb civilians in the Medak Pocket, for which Ademi is the sole accused.

That there is political bargaining between The Hague and the Croatian cabinet is suggested by yet another case, that of the former Croatian chief of staff, Gen. Janko Bobetko. A document found in Tudjman's office showed that the former Croatian president charged Bobetko with planning and carrying out the operation in the Medak Pocket, but The Hague, obviously, did not dare reach out for Bobetko believing (or being advised of that by Racan) that this could provoke riots. Thus Carla del Ponte was led on by a plan made by Tudjman and the late senior Croatian official, Gojko Susak: the two, in fact, decided as early as 1993 to lay all the blame for the massacre near Gospic on Ademi, although he had almost no influence on this particular operation. True, at a time he was an acting commander of the Gospic Operative Zone, but Bobetko issued commands directly to Norac, who was then in charge of the Croatian Army Gospic Brigade.

"According to an unwritten rule that was regularly observed, the indictees were very likely to be released pending trial if they surrendered voluntarily and cooperated with the court," said Prodanovic. But what does "being cooperative" actually mean? Probably revealing details of the crimes and the names of people who issued orders. So far, Ademi has failed to mention other possible suspects, and this, coupled with Gen. Gotovina's escape, could cost him his freedom. If, of course, he does not change his mind in time and if the Croatian cabinet stops withholding certain documents on the Medak Pocket. In any case, Gen. Ademi is a hostage of the Croatian cabinet.

Ivica Djikic