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Serbia's last remaining war crimes suspect held after seven years on run

Goran Hadzic's arrest paves way for his country's entry to the EU

Serbia arrested its one remaining war crimes suspect yesterday, drawing a line under the civil war that ravaged the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and improving Belgrade's chances of achieving its cherished ambition of joining the European Union.

Goran Hadzic had been on the run since a warrant for his arrest was issued seven years ago. He has already been questioned about his role in human rights atrocities in Croatia between 1991 and 1995, in particular the massacre of almost 300 Croat prisoners of war at the Ovcara farm near the town of Vukovar in November 1991.

The arrest of war crimes suspects has been a pre-condition to Serbia's entry to the EU and the Belgrade government has been criticised for its inertia in rounding up suspects. However, under Serbia's pro-Western President, Boris Tadic, and after repeated ultimatums from the EU, the prime suspects have finally been rounded up.

Mr Hadzic, 53, who was arrested in Serbia's mountainous north, is also accused of killing more than 50 Croats after ordering them to walk through mine fields to make them safe for Serbian paramilitaries. Other charges include the torture, deportation and forcible transfer of Croats and other non-Serbs from the territories under his control, mostly in eastern Croatia.

Mr Hadzic headed the self-proclaimed, breakaway "Serb republic of Krajina", which carved out a third of Croatian territory when the country moved for independence from Belgrade. The enclave had the support of Slobodan Milosevic, who was then the Serbian President and who died of a heart attack during his trial for crimes committed during the Balkan wars.

The Serbian war crimes prosecutor, Vladimir Vukcevic, confirmed the arrest of Mr Hadzic at a press conference, saying he was "unrecognisable, armed, but offered no resistance".

He was seized in the village of Krusedol, about 60km north-west of Belgrade, as he met men delivering money for him. Mr Vukcevic said Mr Hadzic had been struggling financially and had tried to sell a painting by Amedeo Modigliani worth millions of euros. "That's when we realised he had run out of funds," Mr Vukcevic said.

President Tadic announced the arrest live on national television, stating that Serbia had "concluded its most difficult chapter in the co-operation with the [international war crimes] Hague Tribunal". It is now expected that Mr Hadzic, like Ratko Mladic earlier this year, will be extradited to The Hague, where he will face the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

In a statement, Judge O-Gon Kwon, the tribunal's acting president, said: "Hadzic's arrest marks another milestone in the tribunal's history and brings this institution closer to the successful completion of its mandate."

In the past, Mr Hadzic had narrowly escaped arrest, apparently after tip-offs from within the Serbian security authorities. Serbia's post-war authorities have for years been accused of not doing enough to hunt down war crimes suspects. President Tadic said yesterday: "We have done this for the sake of citizens of Serbia, we have done this for the sake of the victims among other nations, we have done this for the sake of reconciliation... Without reconciliation, there is no future for this region."

Asked if this boosts the EU membership hopes, the President said he was "waiting to see what the EU has to say".

The EU immediately welcomed the arrest and greeted "the determination and commitment" of Mr Tadic's government. "This is a further important step for Serbia in realising its European perspective and equally crucial for international justice," a statement from the EU leadership said.

The key former fugitives

Slobodan Milosevic The former Serbian president was put on trial at The Hague in 2002 for genocide and crimes against humanity. He died in 2006 before a verdict had been reached.

Radovan Karadzic After almost 13 years on the run, the former Bosnian-Serb leader was arrested in July 2008 and charged with orchestrating the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 among other atrocities. His trial at The Hague continues.

Ratko Mladic Karadzic's army chief was arrested in May after 16 years on the run, and is on trial at The Hague facing charges over the Srebrenica massacre.

Goran Hadzic The last of the key fugitives was arrested yesterday. The former president of the self-proclaimed Serb republic of Krajina disappeared shortly after he was indicted for war crimes in 2004.