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U.N. Accuses Vatican of Hiding Fugitive

The chief prosecutor at the U.N. war crimes tribunal accused the Vatican (search) on Tuesday of hindering the hunt for a fugitive Croatian general.

Prosecutor Carla del Ponte's (search) spokeswoman said Gen. Ante Gotovina (search) was believed to be receiving support from a network of Roman Catholic monasteries in Croatia.

If church leaders "would give orders not to harbor war crimes suspects, if they would assist justice, fugitives wouldn't find protection in monasteries," Del Ponte's spokeswoman, Florence Hartmann, said.

The Vatican press office said it had no comment.

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader (search) said that "based on all the information we're getting, Gotovina is not in Croatia." An Interior Ministry spokesman, Zlatko Mehun, said tips last year that the fugitive was hiding at a monastery had been unfounded.

In 2001, the U.N. war crimes tribunal indicted Gotovina for allegedly masterminding the 1995 killings of about 150 Serbs and the expulsions of at least 150,000 as part of a drive to purge Serbs from Croatia.

Hartmann said Del Ponte had sent letters to the Vatican and met with top church officials this summer requesting that the church reprimand Croatian Bishop Mile Bogovic (search). Bogovic publicly called Gotovina a hero and said his prosecution was politically motivated.

Del Ponte's pleas went unanswered, Hartmann said.

Catholic, Christian Orthodox and Muslim leaders "have a responsibility in the end to protect the weak, the victims. Glorifying killers is contrary to all religious teaching, as far as I remember," Hartmann said.

Gotovina is one of seven people still being sought by the U.N. tribunal.

Also Tuesday, a Bosnian Serb accused of belonging to a notorious paramilitary group that murdered scores of Bosnian Muslims pleaded not guilty to 12 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity in a hearing at The Hague (search) court.

Sredoje Lukic, 44, who was indicted in 1998, appeared before a judge after abandoning his refuge in Russia and surrendering to the Bosnian Serb authorities last week. He flew to the Netherlands on Friday and was taken into custody at the U.N. detention center.