The UN’s chief war crimes prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, was at the centre of a diplomatic row with the Vatican yesterday after claiming that the Roman Catholic Church is shielding Croatia’s most wanted man.
Ms Del Ponte provoked anger in Rome and Zagreb when she said that Ante Gotovina, a former general indicted for war crimes, is hiding in a monastery in Croatia.
Her comments come at a sensitive time, since Croatia’s bid to start EU membership talks will be re-examined in the next few weeks. Zagreb’s ambitions have been put on hold until the authorities there are deemed to be giving full co-operation to the UN’s war crimes tribunal.
While Ms Del Ponte highlighted the responsibility of the Church, rather than the state, for shielding Mr Gotovina, her comments also contradict the Croatian government’s claims that the general is not on its soil.
Instead Ms Del Ponte told The Daily Telegraph she has information that he “is hiding in a Franciscan monastery and so the Catholic Church is protecting him. I have taken this up with the Vatican and the Vatican refuses totally to co-operate with us.”
She added that the Vatican could probably pinpoint exactly which of Croatia’s 80 monasteries was sheltering him “in a few days”.
A Vatican spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican’s foreign minister, asked Ms Del Ponte for evidence of Mr Gotovina’s whereabouts, but that she never provided more information. He added that the chief prosecutor was trying, improperly, to use the Vatican as an enforcement tool.