The European Union officials launched membership talks with Croatia on Tuesday, hours after U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte delivered the green light by saying the Balkan nation was cooperating fully with her tribunal.
The launch was held up until just after midnight on Monday when European Union ministers finally managed to end two days of sharp disputes over a mandate for Turkish entry negotiations triggered largely by Austria, a close ally of Croatia.
"We have made a historic decision on behalf of Croatia and have begun the accession negotiations," Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told a news conference.
Although Del Ponte set up the breakthrough, she still demanded that Croatia maintain its hunt for fugitive war crimes suspect Ante Gotovina, a former general wanted for crimes against humanity in the Bosnian war a decade ago.
"For a few weeks now, Croatia has been cooperating fully with us and is doing everything it can to locate and arrest Ante Gotovina," she said in a statement to a Luxembourg meeting of foreign ministers from the 25 EU countries.
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader told reporters in Luxembourg: "This is a great day for Croatia," reports Reuters.
According to CNN, Del Ponte said her positive report was "based on over 130 reports that my office received this year from the Croatian agencies involved in the tracking of Ante Gotovina, on the nearly daily communications between my office and the Croatian state attorney Mladen Bajic and on other contacts with Croatian and international sources."
She refused to say, however, whether she fully supported demands by Austria that Croatia's membership bid be put back on track.
"I'm not entering political decisions, I am just a prosecutor," Del Ponte said.
Her report outlined that in the first half of this year, "serious weaknesses were found in the functioning of Croatian intelligence services," adding there were "leaks of sensitive information to the media."
But Del Ponte said that since May, "performance of the relevant services has significantly improved."
She said "according to sources outside of the Croatian government, Gotovina is in Croatia or in Bosnia Herzegovina and there are indications that he may hide in a Franciscan monastery."