Last suspect extradited to UN war crimes tribunal

AP News
Posted: Jul 22, 2011 1:49 PM
Last suspect extradited to UN war crimes tribunal

The last suspect wanted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal was extradited and jailed Friday, paving the way for the final prosecution by the court created 18 years ago at the height of the bloody ethnic wars in the crumbling Yugoslavia.

Serbia's handover of former Croatian Serb leader Goran Hadzic marks the end of nearly two decades of efforts to bring to justice 161 indicted military and political figures who led the Balkans through five years of turmoil that cost more than 100,000 lives.

He is one of a handful of suspects still on trial, including the top Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, or appealing their verdicts. Once their cases are finished, the court will shut its doors.

It is "a milestone to remember," said chief prosecutor Serge Brammertz. "We can feel a measure of satisfaction knowing there are no more fugitives."

Hadzic, who was caught Wednesday in a northern Serbian village after seven years at large, was flown to the Netherlands aboard a small Serbian government plane after he was allowed a last-minute visit with his ailing mother.

He did not contest his extradition, and was "extremely cooperative" when he was taken into U.N. custody in a wing of a maximum-security Dutch prison in Scheveningen outside The Hague, said the court's registrar John Hocking.

Hadzic, 53, was a warehouse worker in 1991 when Yugoslavia broke up and Croatia's minority Serbs rose in opposition to the country's independence. Through links to Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic's secret police, he rose through the ranks, taking charge of an ethnic Serbian ministate through the brutal expulsions of thousands of people from a third of Croatia's territory.

He will be summoned before Judge O-Gon Kwon of South Korea, the tribunal's president, Monday afternoon. He will be asked to plead to each charge relating to the murder of hundreds of non-Serbs, mass persecution, and expulsions of ethnic Croats from the Krajina region.

Among dozens of atrocities, he is accused of the destruction of Vukovar and the torture and murder of more than 250 Croat prisoners seized from the ruined hospital of the once picturesque town on the Danube. His indictment describes one incident in which prisoners of war were forced to shuffle through a minefield to clear a path for Serb forces.

Brammertz acknowledged Hadzic was not among the top-ranking alleged war criminals like Mladic, alleged to have masterminded the deaths of some 8,000 Muslim men and boys, who was caught two months ago. Nonetheless, Hadzic's crimes were "extensive and great," involving a conspiracy to create an ethnically pure Serb state that crossed the borders of Yugoslavia's former republics.

Since the tribunal was formed in 1993, "the landscape of international justice has been transformed," he said, and obstacles have been overcome that were deemed insurmountable in bringing Balkan leaders to account.

Before leaving Belgrade, Hadzic was escorted to his family home in Novi Sad, about an hour from the Serb capital.

The convoy stopped in the northern city and a heavy police presence blocked the streets near the home where Hadzic went in to see his 86-year-old mother Milena, who is said to be bedridden and suffering from dementia.

Other relatives visited Hadzic in his prison cell Thursday and earlier Friday. Then, Serb Justice Minister Snezana Malovic signed the extradition order.

Hadzic was discovered Wednesday by Serbian agents who had followed a money trail that began in December when Hadzic's aides tried to sell a Modigliani painting. Analysts say Hadzic's ties to the Serbian secret police and criminal gangs that made huge profits enabled him to hide successfully for years.

Brammertz said Hadzic evaded capture seven years ago "under very suspicious circumstances, just before he was about to be arrested." The tribunal will be seeking more information about how that happened, he said.

In what Brammertz described as a coincidence of timing, the prosecution submitted amendments to his 2004 indictment several weeks ago that he said brought the charges up to date and responded to technical issues. The judges approved the new indictment on Tuesday, the day before Hadzic was seized.

Serbia for years had faced accusations from tribunal prosecutors that it was not doing enough to capture war criminals. Their judgment of Serbia's lack of cooperation was a critical element in the European Union's consideration of Belgrade's application for candidacy in the union.

"This act completed the most difficult chapter in the cooperation with The Hague tribunal," Malovic said in the Serb capital. "We have fulfilled our biggest obligations."

Separately on Friday, Mladic was assigned a lawyer to represent him against charges of genocide.

The tribunal named Branko Lukic, an attorney from Serbia who was lead counsel in four other cases before the U.N. court, to lead Mladic's defense. It had denied Mladic's first choice, Milos Saljic, because he spoke neither English nor French, the tribunal's two official languages.

Mladic told the court he cannot pay for another lawyer. The tribunal said Lukic will take on the case while the registrar assesses whether the court should pay his fees or whether Mladic can bear at least some of the cost.

Mladic is accused of commanding the massacre of 8,000 Muslim males in the U.N.-declared safe zone in Srebrenica, the most deadly act of the Balkan wars.


Jovana Gec from Belgrade and Vanessa Gera from Poland contributed to this report.