War

Serbia extradites last major war crimes suspect

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 22, 2011 12:30 PM
Serbia extradites last major war crimes suspect

AMSTERDAM/BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia extradited the last ethnic Serb wanted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia to The Hague Friday, in a symbolic moment for the once-pariah Balkan nation's European future.

Goran Hadzic, a wartime leader of Croatia's Serbs, landed at Rotterdam airport Friday afternoon and was transferred to the tribunal's detention center in The Hague.

"Hadzic will be called upon to answer for the deaths of hundreds and displacement of thousands," chief war crimes prosecutor Serge Brammertz said, adding that he would appear before a judge Monday at 4 p.m. (10 a.m. EDT).

Hadzic is charged with instigating the torture and murder of hundreds of Croat and non-Serb civilians, including 264 hospital patients in Vukovar in 1991, as well as mass detentions, forced labor and driving thousands from their homes.

The European Union, which has insisted that Serbia arrest all wanted war criminals before it grants candidate status for membership, is due to issue a progress report in October.

It welcomed the transfer, while recalling other conditions, one of which is cooperation with Kosovo, whose 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia is not recognized by Belgrade.

"Full cooperation with ICTY is one of the key criteria, but it is not the only one - in the progress report the Commission looks at all the criteria, including the necessary reforms and obligations like regional cooperation," said Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.

A lesser known figure from the Balkan wars, Hadzic was on the run for seven years before his arrest Wednesday, outlasting Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic as the last suspect at large.

"This is a symbolic event for Serbia. It has closed this extremely heavy page and the tribunal will fade away as an important issue very soon," said Zoran Dragisic, and analyst with Belgrade's International Institute for Security think tank.

"Mladic's arrest was a landmark moment. Hadzic was a figurehead and an insignificant character and he had the sheer luck to remain the last fugitive."

Serbian security officials arrested Hadzic on a forest road in the Fruska Gora national park region about 65 km (40 miles) north of Belgrade.

Hadzic's wife and son visited him in prison Thursday, and then another woman with a daughter he fathered while on the run made a final visit Friday, witnesses at the courthouse said.

Serbian officials also allowed Hadzic to visit his sick mother in Serbia's second largest town before his departure.

In contrast to the public reaction to the arrest of Mladic and his wartime commander Radovan Karadzic three years ago, few Serbs lamented Hadzic's departure.

A satirical Serbian website captured the mood by running a photograph of a few pedestrians walking on Belgrade's main square under the ironical headline: "Serbs protest the arrest of Goran Hazdic on Republic Square."

(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic and Adam Tanner in Belgrade, Adriana Asmato in Rotterdam and Justyna Pawlak in Brussels; editing by Philippa Fletcher)