Serbia has arrested Goran Hadzic, the one-time Croatian Serb rebel leader who is the last remaining fugitive wanted by the UN war crimes court in The Hague, government sources said Wednesday.
Serbian President Boris Tadic is expected to announce the arrest officially at a press conference at 11:00 am (0900 GMT).
Hadzic, 52, is the last of the 161 people indicted by The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) who remained at large.
He faces 14 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes for the murders of hundreds of people and deportation of tens of thousands Croats between 1992-1993.
His arrest comes less than two months after Serbian authorities finally captured wartime Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic, the court’s most wanted fugitive.
B92 television said Hadzic was arrested in the idyllic mountain region of Fruska Gora near the northern city of Novi Sad. RTS state television reported he was arrested in the Krusedol Serbian Orthodox monastery there. He had long been rumoured to be hiding in monasteries near Novi Sad.
Until the arrest of Mladic, Serbia focussed all its efforts on finding the former Bosnian Serb commander. Following Mladic’s capture Serbia was able to use all its manpower to catch Hadzic, Rasim Ljajic, the minister in charge of cooperation with the UN tribunal, explained in an interview last week.
Hadzic, a former warehouse employee at an agricultural plant, rose to prominence as the president of the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina (RSK) in Croatia between 1992-1993.
Chosen for the post with the backing of late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic, Hadzic was seen as a “yes man” who wielded little real power compared with other wartime Serb leaders.
Milosevic died in March 2006 in his cell at The Hague where he was being tried for war crimes and other charges related to the 1990s Balkan wars.
Hadzic is wanted on charges that Croatian Serb troops under his command massacred 250 Croats and other non-Serbs taken from a hospital in Vukovar after the city fell to Serbian troops following an almost three-month siege in November 1991.
The siege of Vukovar and the subsequent massacre is one of the darkest periods in the 1991-95 Croatian war.
At the head of the RSK, established by rebel Serbs who opposed Croatia’s proclamation of independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Hadzic is held responsible for a campaign of terror against Croats and other non-Serbs in the border region between Serbia and Croatia.
The 10-page indictment against him also details how Hadzic let the feared Arkan’s Tigers paramilitaries of notorious warlord Zjelko Raznatovic beat, torture and kill non-Serb civilians held by units under Hadzic’s control.