Church Denies Hiding War Crimes Suspect

Rome, Italy - The Roman Catholic Church denied Tuesday that it was sheltering a top Croatian war crimes suspect, after an allegation by a United Nations prosecutor that the suspect was hiding in a monastery and that the Vatican had refused pleas to help find him.

Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor for the United Nations criminal tribunal for the war in the former Yugoslavia, made her allegations in an interview published in a British newspaper, The Telegraph.

In the interview, she said she had decided to speak out publicly in frustration, after meeting in July with Vatican officials who claimed to have no information about the whereabouts of the suspect, Gen. Ante Gotovina, 49, indicted for crimes against humanity but lauded as a war hero in Croatia.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Vatican said that its foreign minister, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, had asked Mrs. Del Ponte to provide more detailed information about her allegations, but that she had not responded.

General Gotovina is accused of murder - 150 Serbian civilians are alleged to have been killed during an operation to control the Krajina region of Croatia in 1995 - and the deportation of thousands of people.

Talks on Croatia's bid to join the European Union are suspended until Mrs. Del Ponte certifies that the nation is cooperating on handing over war crimes suspects.