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Top Croatia official arrested for war crimes

Croatian police on Friday arrested a former senior member of the nation's ruling party for alleged war crimes he committed against Serbian civilians in 1991 during the Serbo-Croatian war [GlobalSecurity backgrounder]. The arrest of former interior ministry official Tomislav Mercep comes just one day after Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF; press release] criticizing Croatia's lack of political will, adequate laws and court system necessary to prosecute alleged war crimes. The report, "Behind a Wall of Silence: Prosecution of War Crimes in Croatia" called on the Croatian government to increase the rate at which war crimes trials are adjudicated in order to provide justice for victims and their families. The report also called for the prosecution of several top-level Croatian officials, including Mercep who has been accused over the past 15 years of ordering military units to kill and torture Serbian citizens during the Serbo-Croatian conflict. The previous allegations had never been fully investigated by any Croatian authority despite what AI called "publicly available evidence" against him. Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at AI, praised the arrest [press release] calling it a "welcome development."

Also on Friday, former Croatian prime minister Ivo Sanader was arrested [JURIST report] in Austria pursuant to an arrest warrant issued by Croatia. Sanader, who was elected to parliament after he stepped down from the prime minister position in 2009, stands accused of corruption, abuse of power and fraud for taking nearly €4 million from public firms and state institutions [Croatian Times report]. Croatian officials have been under serious pressure to the tackle the issue of corruption in order to gain accession [EU materials] to the EU by 2012. The prosecution of individuals for organized crime and war crimes has been one of the major issues faced by Croatia in its accession process. In 2008, AI called on the EU to use Croatia's status as a candidate country to ensure that the Croatian government actively investigates and prosecutes [JURIST report] suspected war criminals. AI criticized the slow pace of war crimes investigations and noted that Croatian courts have mostly focused on crimes allegedly committed by ethnic Serbs. In March 2005, the EU suspended entry talks [JURIST report] on the grounds that Croatia was failing to fully cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia [JURIST news archive] investigating war crimes in the area.

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