July 22, 2011 / 6:57 AM / 9 years ago

Serbia extradites last major war crimes suspect

ROTTERDAM/BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia extradited on Friday the last ethnic Serb wanted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in The Hague, in a symbolic moment for the once-pariah Balkan nation’s European future.

Serbian police officers escort Goran Hadzic (C, in green), after he visited his terminally ill mother in Novi Sad July 22, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer

The plane carrying Goran Hadzic, a wartime leader of Croatia’s Serbs, landed at Rotterdam airport on Friday afternoon, a Reuters journalist said, following his transfer from Belgrade to face charges of crimes against humanity committed during the 1991-95 war in Croatia.

The European Union has insisted that Serbia arrest all wanted war criminals before it grants candidate status for membership. It is due to issue a progress report in October.

A lesser known figure from the Balkan wars, Hadzic was on the run for seven years before his arrest on Wednesday, outlasting Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic as the last suspect at large.

“This is a symbolic event for Serbia. It has closed this extremely heavy page and the tribunal will fade away as an important issue very soon,” said Zoran Dragisic, and analyst with Belgrade’s International Institute for Security think tank.

“Mladic’s arrest was a landmark moment. Hadzic was a figurehead and an insignificant character and he had the sheer luck to remain the last fugitive.”

Serbian security officials arrested Hadzic on a forest road in the Fruska Gora national park region about 65 km (40 miles) north of Belgrade.

Hadzic’s wife and son visited him in prison on Thursday, and then another woman with a daughter he fathered while on the run made a final visit on Friday, witnesses at the courthouse said.

Serbian officials also allowed Hadzic to visit his sick mother in Serbia’s second largest town before his departure.

In contrast to the public reaction to the arrest of Mladic and his wartime commander Radovan Karadzic three years ago, few Serbs lamented Hadzic’s departure.

A satirical Serbian website captured the mood by running a photograph of a few pedestrians walking on Belgrade’s main square under the ironical headline: “Serbs protest the arrest of Goran Hazdic on Republic Square.”

Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic and Adam Tanner in Belgrade and by Adriana Asmato in Rotterdam; editing by Philippa Fletcher

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