Serbian authorities have arrested Goran Hadzic, the last suspect sought by the UN war crimes court for the former Yugoslavia, in a development that significantly bolsters Serbia’s EU candidacy.
Serbian authorities on Wednesday arrested Goran Hadzic, the last remaining suspect sought by the UN International criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). The move was hailed by the court as “an important milestone” and by European leaders as a key step toward Serbia’s goal of joining the EU.
Hadzic led Croatia’s rebel Serbs during the ethnic war that lasted from 1991 to 1995. A fugitive for the past eight years, he was wanted on counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including “persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, extermination, murder, torture, deportation and forcible transfer” of non-Serbs from the regions in eastern Croatia that he oversaw.
According to FRANCE 24’s Laurent Rouy in Belgrade, Hadzic was specifically “responsible for the paramilitary units…that slaughtered non-Serb civilians and opened prisoner camps” in the eastern Croation region he was in charge of. “Hadzic is accused of being responsible for the mistreatment of prisoners in these camps,” Rouy explained.
One of the accusations the 52-year-old Hadzic faces concerns his role in the 1991 Vukovar massacre, in which Serbs took an estimated 264 non-Serbs from a hospital in the city and tortured, killed, and buried them in a mass grave on a nearby pig farm.
Hadzic was arrested by Serbian security police in rural northern Serbia, near the village of Krusedol, while accepting a delivery of money from a courrier. The police reported that he was armed and physically much changed since the war, but he did not resist arrest.
Just hours after his arrest, Hadzic was taken to the ICTY court in the Serbian capital of Belgrade for questioning. A judge ruled that he could be subsequently transferred to The Hague, a move likely to happen within days.
Serbia ‘realising its European perspective’
“We have done this for the sake of reconciliation, we have done this for the sake of establishing credibility of all societies, not only Serbian society,” Serbian President Boris Tadic, who is considered pro-European, said after the arrest.
In the years since the Balkan wars, Serbian leaders have come under fire for their perceived reluctance to track down suspected war criminals.
Indeed the capture of Hadzic is seen as a key step in Serbia’s re-assimilation into the international community after years of ostracism. It comes just two months after Serbian authorities arrested wartime commander Ratko Mladic, the UN court's most wanted fugitive.
EU leaders were swift to welcome the latest arrest. A statement jointly signed by EU president Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton read: “This is a further important step for Serbia in realising its European perspective and equally crucial for international justice.”
During a press conference, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe praised “the action and determination of Serbian authorities”, adding “after the arrest of Ratko Mladic, the capture of Goran Hadzic demonstrates the will of the Serbian government to fully cooperate with the international criminal court. This is an essential condition for the rapprochement of Serbia and Europe.”
Meanwhile, Croatia's Prime Minster Jadranka Kosor called the arrest “good news for humanity, for the world and above all for Croatia”.
The European Commission is expected to release a report in October detailing Serbia’s progress in fulfilling conditions to join the EU. Once the report is examined by EU member states, official accession talks will begin in the spring.
Serbia will then have to demonstrate that it has enacted the necessary reforms in sectors ranging from agriculture to healthcare to the judicial system.
Date created : 2011-07-20