Bosnian Serb war crimes suspect delivered to Hague
THE HAGUE (Reuters) - A Bosnian Serb general, accused of complicity in the Srebrenica massacre in the 1992-95 Bosnia war arrived at the Hague tribunal on Friday, a move that may improve Serbia's chances of joining the European Union.
Belgrade sent a dozen war crimes fugitives to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in 2005, but the handovers -- a key condition of talks with Brussels -- dried up with six top suspects still at large.
Zravko Tolimir's arrest was the first in more than a year.
The so-called Stabilization and Association Agreement negotiations with the EU were frozen a year ago after Belgrade failed to keep a promise to arrest former Bosnian Serb Army commander Ratko Mladic, indicted on genocide charges, but the arrest of Tolimir was welcomed by the European Commission.
"The Commission assesses that Serbia has now demonstrated clear commitment to full cooperation with the ICTY," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in a statement.
Tolimir, 58, was arrested on the border between Serbia and Bosnia's Serb Republic and was flown from the Bosnian capital Sarajevo on a NATO aircraft after spending the night in a NATO base near the city.
"In a joint operation involving NATO and the (European Union peacekeeping force) EUFOR, detained fugitive indicted war criminal Zdravko Tolimir has been delivered from Bosnia-Herzegovina to the authorities ... in The Hague," NATO said in a statement.
During the 1992-95 Bosnia war, Tolimir was a close aide of Mladic and is alleged to have helped him plan and execute the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica in 1995, an event which U.N. courts have classed as genocide. He is also thought by military experts to have helped the commander evade arrest since.
Officials said the former general, who faces charges of genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, extermination, persecution and forcible transfer, was ill, maybe with cancer.
His arrest is unlikely to have been some lucky accident. Rumors circled that he was simply dumped over the border, to reduce the political fallout among Serbia's ultranationalists.
Analysts suggested it could be the first step to the capture of Mladic, on the run since 2001 when he lost the protection of toppled Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic.
The arrest was also a confusing signal from Serbia, whose recent tilt towards Russia -- in hopes that it will prevent the independence of breakaway Kosovo province -- has led a prominent Western think-tank to suggest Belgrade is "turning away from Europe".
The fate of Kosovo, to be decided by the U.N. Security Council, is now the most contentious issue in the Balkans. The West supports the independence demand of its 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority but Moscow, backing Belgrade, seems prepared to delay that indefinitely.
Del Ponte's spokeswoman, while welcoming the news of Tolimir's arrest, stressed that Serbia was still under an obligation to arrest and transfer the remaining five suspects, believed to be in reach of Serbia.
Del Ponte is due to visit Serbia next week to make a fresh assessment, and talks are expected to resume this month, Rehn said.
(Additional reporting by Berlin, Brussels, Sarajevo and Belgrade bureaus)
- Man called Bitcoin's father denies ties, leads LA car chase
- Apple loses bid for U.S. ban on Samsung smartphone sales
- Putin rebuffs Obama as Ukraine crisis escalates |
- Florida mayor fights backyard gun ranges in 'Gunshine State'
- UPDATE 6-Obama warns on Crimea, orders sanctions over Russian moves in Ukraine