Serbia arrested Goran Hadzic, the last top commander sought by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia following its bloody breakup, meeting an important condition to start European Union entry talks.
Hadzic, 52, a leader of Serbs in Croatia during Yugoslavia’s 1990s dissolution, is accused of killing hundreds of Croats, including more than 250 prisoners in Vukovar. He faces 14 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity at the tribunal in The Hague. His lawyer said he wouldn’t appeal extradition, allowing for his transfer to The Hague no earlier than Saturday after being on the run since 2004.
“We did it for our people, for reconciliation’s sake,” President Boris Tadic told reporters today. “We just closed a dark chapter of our past.”
The arrest comes two months after the capture of Europe’s most-wanted fugitive, Ratko Mladic, the top general during the siege of Sarajevo and the Srebrenica massacre. Mladic, 69, who was on the run since his 1995 indictment, was found in a Serbian village near Belgrade using a false name. He was extradited to the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague to stand trial on similar charges.
Hadzic’s arrest completes the list of suspects sought by the tribunal from Serbia. Since Oct. 5, 2000, when a pro-Western and reform-oriented bloc of parties toppled President Slobodan Milosevic, the western Balkan country has arrested and extradited 45 people to The Hague.
Before the arrests, Serbian Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic’s government had been criticized by the EU for dragging its feet on capturing Mladic and refusing to recognize the independence of the breakaway province of Kosovo.
Serbia plans to follow its former Yugoslav partners Slovenia, an EU member since 2004, and Croatia, which concluded entry negotiations on June 30. Croatia is set to join the world’s largest trading bloc in 2013.
“This is a further important step for Serbia in realizing its European perspective and equally crucial for international justice,” European Commission President Jose Barroso and EU President Herman Van Rompuy said in an e-mailed statement. “We salute the determination and commitment of Serbia’s leadership in this effort.”
Tadic said that Serbian talks to join the EU “won’t be easy,” though he believes the country will win candidate status in December.
“Serbia is making good progress to catch up with Croatia, but I still think that the EU would want to see a broader Balkan expansion next round,” Timothy Ash, chief economist for emerging markets at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc in London, said in an e-mailed comment. “Obviously the Kosovo issue is still something of a dilemma for the EU.”
The dinar weakened for a third day, retreating 0.56 percent to 104.67 per euro by 5:07 p.m. in Belgrade.
Hadzic was arrested today at 8:24 a.m. in the region of Fruska Gora, northwest of the capital Belgrade, by state security agents, Tadic said.
He was armed with a handgun, had fake identification and was hiding under a false identity. Security services from other countries also cooperated with the arrest, officials said.
Out of Money
Serbia’s chief war crimes Prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, said police findings of various paintings last December, including a photo of an Amadeo Modigliani painting, helped security services arrest Hadzic after he “ran out of money to hide.”
In December, police said Hadzic may be trying to finance his life in hiding through the sale of art, including a Modigliani painting worth millions of dollars.
“With the arrest of Hadzic now and Mladic earlier this year, Serbia has closed an important chapter in the pursuit of justice for the many victims of the tragedy of conflict and wars in this region” and “advancing the European integration aspirations of Serbian citizens,” U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Mary Warlick said in a statement.
Serbia wants to use its improved relations with the EU to close the gap with the 10 former communist countries in eastern Europe that have joined the trading bloc since 2004.
Gross domestic product per capita was $5,260 last year, according to the International Monetary Fund, compared with $13,527 in Croatia, a former Yugoslavia partner that is in talks to enter the EU, and $38,600 in Germany.
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