Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Goran Hadzic | Serbia holds Croatia war crimes suspect

Serbia mapSerbian authorities have arrested Goran Hadzic, the last remaining fugitive war crimes suspect sought by the UN tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Mr Hadzic, now 52, led Serb separatist forces during Croatia's 1991-1995 war. He has been charged with the murder of hundreds of Croats and other non-Serbs and is expected to be transferred to The Hague in the coming days.The arrest comes less than two months after Serbia caught former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic.

Serbian President Boris Tadic confirmed Mr Hadzic's arrest at a news conference. He said the suspect had been detained early on Wednesday in the mountainous Fruska Gora region, north of Belgrade, near his family home. He had always been presumed to be hiding there, the BBC's Mark Lowen reports from Belgrade.

Officials say Mr Hadzic was picked up as he met a man delivering him money in a forest, the Associated Press news agency reports. Hours later he was taken to the war crimes court in Belgrade, a key step toward his extradition to The Hague.

 Mr Hadzic went into hiding seven years ago, shortly after the sealed indictment against him was delivered to the government in Belgrade. The prosecutor of the UN tribunal, Serge Brammertz, told AFP news agency he believed his transfer to The Hague could take up to eight days.

Gen Mladic was arrested on 26 May and flown to the tribunal on 31 May.

EU leaders congratulated Serbia for capturing Mr Hadzic, calling it a signal of Serbia's commitment to "a better European future". Mr Tadic has made joining the EU a key goal of Serbian foreign policy.
Wartime atrocities

Mr Hadzic was a central figure in the self-proclaimed Serb republic of Krajina in 1992-1993, leading the campaign to block Croatia's independence from Yugoslavia.

Goran Hadzic was long eclipsed by the other big names on the most wanted list, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who face even more serious charges from the Bosnian war.

But with the arrest of Karadzic in 2008 and Mladic in May this year, Goran Hadzic suddenly became the number one target. State resources were redirected towards his capture; Serbia was determined that Hadzic would not be the one that got away.

President Tadic said that pressure from the EU did not drive the move. But he will now expect to be rewarded by Brussels. Serbia will hope to receive EU candidate status and a start date for accession talks. And for this nation, desperate to move on from the 1990s, it is another big step towards its rehabilitation.

Mr Hadzic, indicted in 2004, faces 14 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including persecution, extermination, torture, deportation and wanton destruction for his involvement in atrocities committed by Serb troops in Croatia.

He is held responsible for the massacre of almost 300 men in Vukovar in 1991 by Croatian Serb troops and for the deportation of 20,000 people from the town after it was captured. President Tadic insisted that Serbian investigators had been "working very hard in the past three years" to capture Mr Hadzic.

"You have to prepare your actions, at the end of the day you get concrete results," he said, comparing the search for Mr Hadzic to the decade-long US hunt for Osama Bin Laden, who was shot dead by US special forces this year.

Our correspondent says the Hadzic case was seen as the last big obstacle to Serbia gaining EU candidate status and a start date for accession talks. There was a $1.4m (£870,000) reward offered for his capture.
European congratulations

A statement from EU leaders said the arrest was "a further important step for Serbia in realising its European perspective and equally crucial for international justice. "We salute the determination and commitment of Serbia's leadership in this effort.

Counts against Goran Hadzic

  • Count 1: PERSECUTION of Croats and other non-Serbs, on political, racial, and religious grounds

  • Counts 2-4: EXTERMINATION AND MURDER of hundreds of Croats and non-Serbs, including 264 taken from Vukovar hospital and shot

  • Counts 5-9: IMPRISONMENT, TORTURE, INHUMANE ACTS AND CRUEL TREATMENT against thousands of detainees in camps where torture, starvation and sexual assault were common

  • Counts 10-11: DEPORTATION, FORCIBLE TRANSFER of up to 90,000 Croats and non-Serbs from parts of Croatia

  • Counts 12-14: WANTON DESTRUCTION, PLUNDER OF PUBLIC OR PRIVATE PROPERTY including homes and religious and cultural buildings
"Following the capture of Ratko Mladic, this arrest sends a positive signal to the European Union and to Serbia's neighbours, but most of all on the rule of law in Serbia itself. The Serbian nation is in the process of confronting the past and turning the page to a better European future."

The statement was issued by EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton.

Separately, Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also praised Belgrade for the arrest, saying it would "allow for the most painful chapter in recent European history to be closed". Mr Hadzic lived openly in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad until 13 July 2004, when he fled because of the indictment against him, Reuters news agency reports.

For years the prosecutors in The Hague complained that Belgrade was not doing enough to track down top war crimes suspects including Mr Hadzic, and that criticism delayed progress in Serbia's EU bid.

Mr Hadzic was born in 1958 in Pacetin, near Vinkovici, in Croatia. He became a political activist in the 1990s when he joined the Serb Democratic Party (SDS), and later headed the separatist Serb government in Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srem.

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