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Serbia: Hadzic’s arrest closes 'difficult chapter' of Serb history

last update: July 20, 12:26

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Belgrade, 20 July (AKI) - Serbian President Boris Tadic said on Wednesday that the arrest of his country's last remaining war crimes fugitive Goran Hadzic closed a dark chapter of history and marked the end of cooperation with the United Nations war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

At a hastily arranged press conference in Belgrade, Tadic (photo)confirmed that Hadzic was arrested about 8.30 am local time on Fruska Gora Mountain some seventy kilometres north of Belgrade. He said the details of the arrest will be revealed by competent agencies.

“Serbia has closed the most difficult chapter in cooperation with the Hague tribunal and will continue to fulfil its international obligations,” Tadic said. The arrest of all war crimes fugitives was Serbia’s “legal and moral obligations”, he added.

The European Union has tied Serbia’s bid for membership in the 27-nation European club to the arrest of all fugitives, but Tadic said the pressure from Brussels wasn’t a key for the arrest of Hadzic and wartime Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic in May this year.

“We simply don’t act under pressure,” Tadic said, adding that Serbian authorities were guided by “moral and legal obligations”. He dismissed media speculation that the authorities knew of Hadzic’s whereabouts for years, but waited for an auspicious moment to arrest him.

Hadzic, 58, a wartime leader of rebel Serbs in Croatia, was indicted in 2004 on 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 during 1991-1995 war.

He disappeared immediately after the indictment was made public and has spent seven years in hiding. Belgrade daily Pravda said he had spent several years in Russia and returned to Serbia in 2009, where he has been hiding ever since.

Hadzic is the 46th indictee handed over to the Hague tribunal by Serbian authorities and his arrest practically opens Serbia the door for EU membership. It will take about one week before he will be transferred to the Hague, the authorities said.

But Dragan Todorovic, the leader of ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, said the pressure on Serbia over its EU bid was far from over. “After the Hague, the pressure will now shift on Kosovo, to make it step by step an independent state, with the help of Serbia,” Todorovic said.

Kosovo majority Albanians declared independence from Serbia in 2008, which Belgrade opposes, but there have been signals from Brussels that Kosovo and Serbia should establish “good neighbourly relations” before joining the EU.

Serbian opposition has accused Tadic of working on a tacit approval of Kosovo for the sake of Serbia’s joining the EU.

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