Zagreb, 22 Sept. (AKI) - Croatian Catholic Church dignitaries have
launched a bitter verbal attack on Carla del Ponte, chief prosecutor of
the International Tribunal for War Crimes in Former Yugoslavia (ICTY),
for her allegations that fugitive war crime suspect Ante Gotovina, was
hiding in a Catholic monastery. "I have the information that he's
hiding in a Franciscan monastery, therefore the Catholic Church is
protecting him", Del Ponte said in an interview to London's Daily
Telegraph earlier this week, in which she accused the Vatican of
refusing to cooperate with the tribunal.

Del Ponte's statement provoked a storm of protests within the Church
hierarchy and Anton Suljic, a spokesman for the Croatian Bishops
Conference, said Del Ponte's accusations were absurd. "We know that
the Hague prosecutor is frustrated, for whatever reasons, and we could
only ascribe her qualifications to such emotional state", Suljic

Reporters of the daily "Slobodna Dalmacija" made a tour of several
monasteries and in today's issue published reactions of monks who
hurled insults at Del Ponte, bordering on obscenity. "Gotovina
currently can't come to the phone, because he's sleeping", was
the flippant reply of Petar Odak, a monk at the monastery on the
Adriatic island of Vis.

Father Ivan Iko Mateljan, the head of the Croatian Franciscan order,
skipped the irony and was more direct. "The best thing would be if
Carla herself came to the monasteries and checked where Gotovina was,
possibly under the robe of each monk and whatever she finds, well
found", he said.

Most monks told "Slobodna Dalmacija" they wouldn't report if they
knew where Gotovina was hiding because he was a "martyr and
patriot", not a war criminal.

Gotovina has been indicted by ICTY for crimes against Serb civilians in
Croatia's 1991/95 war of secession from former Yugoslavia. Croatian
authorities claim they have no knowledge of his whereabouts, though the
European Union has blocked talks on Croatia's accession until
Gotovina is extradited.

Suljic said that the international community, which appointed Del
Ponte, should explain to the Church, Croatia and Vatican her behavior
and dismiss her.