Serbia’s last war crimes fugitive, Goran Hadzic, may appear before the UN war crimes court in The Hague as early as Friday, his lawyer has said.
Hadzic, a Croatian Serb wartime leader indicted on 14 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the 1991-95 Croatian war, was arrested on Wednesday in northern Serbia.
His lawyer, Toma Fila, said on Thursday that Hadzic would not appeal a Serbian court ruling that he be transfered to The Hague, where the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is based.
“Goran Hadzic signed (a document) that he renounces his right to file an appeal… Conditions for his transfer have been met. It is realistic (to assume) that he could be transferred from Friday afternoon,” Fila told journalists, according to Serbia’s B92 television network.
Hadzic was the last to be arrested of 161 people sought for alleged war crimes during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s.
“With this, Serbia, has concluded its most difficult chapter in the cooperation with the Hague Tribunal,” Serbian President Boris Tadic said in a televised statement on Wednesday.
Tadic said his country has now concluded its “legal duties … as well as its moral duty”, meeting EU demands that it track down and arrest all war crimes fugitives.
The Serbian president denied that authorities in his country knew where Hadzic had been hiding.
“Serbia did not know where Goran Hadzic was,” Tadic said. “Our security and intelligence agency as well as members of the interior ministry have carried out their duties in accordance with law.”
Barnaby Phillips reports from Vukovar in eastern Croatia on Hadzic’s arrest
Hadzic’s detention follows the arrests of former Bosnian Serb military commander Ratko Mladic in May and that of Radovan Karadzic in August 2008.
Mladic is now on trial at The Hague for his role in atrocities committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict.
Serge Brammertz, the prosecutor for the UN’s war crimes court at The Hague on Wednesday welcomed the arrest of Hadzic, his special advisor said.
“The prosecutor of the ICTY welcomes the arrest today of Goran Hadzic. Today marks the arrest of the last of the 161 persons indicted by the tribunal,” Frederick Swinnen told a press conference in The Hague.
Jadranka Kosor, Croatia’s prime minister, lauded Hadzic’s arrest.
“The arrest of Hadzic is good news for humanity, for the world and above all for Croatia,” Kosor said during a visit to Poland.
Hadzic was indicted in 2004 for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including “persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, extermination, murder, torture, deportation and forcible transfer” as well as “wanton destruction … or devastation”.
Hadzic is notably wanted in connection with the massacre of about 250 civilian refugees taken from a hospital in Vukovar, an eastern city on the border with Serbia, in November 1991.
He has managed to evade justice for years, despite international pressure for his arrest. He narrowly escaped arrest in northern Serbia, apparently thanks to a tip from within the Serbian security authorities.
The country’s post-war authorities have for years faced accusations that they were not doing enough to hunt down the war crimes suspects.
The issue had also blocked Serbia’s bid at European Union membership.
The EU, which hailed Belgrade for finding Mladic in May, had continued to insist on the arrest of Hadzic for Serbia to make progress towards EU membership.
More than 10,000 people died in the Croatian war which ended when Croatian forces retook the territories held by the Serbs in 1995.