Goran Hadzic was arrested this morning in the mountainous region of Fruska Gora,” President Boris Tadic told an extraordinary press conference Wednesday (July 20th).
“It was our moral duty … We have done this for the sake of citizens of Serbia, we have done this for the sake of the victims amongst other nations, we have done this for the sake of reconciliation, we have done this for the sake of establishing credibility of all societies, not only Serbian society,” the president said.
”]“With this arrest, Serbia has completed all of its legal and moral obligations,” Tadic stressed, referring to the country’s fulfilled commitment to apprehend all 46 war crimes suspects from the former Yugoslavia, a major precondition for receiving EU candidate status, which Belgrade hopes will happen by the end of this year.
The president denied media speculation that Serb authorities had been aware of Hadzic’s whereabouts, but were shielding him. “Serbia did not know where Goran Hadzic was,” he stated. “Our security and intelligence agency, as well as members of the Interior Ministry, have carried out their duties in accordance with law,” Tadic said.
Hadzic, now 53, was president of the government of the self-declared Serbian Autonomous District of Slavonia, Baranja, and Western Srem after Croatia declared independence on June 25th 1991. On February 26th 1992, he was elected president of the so-called Republic of Serbian Krajina. He remained in this position until December 1993.
In the summer of 2004, the ICTY charged Hadzic with crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war for his alleged involvement in persecutions, extermination, murder, imprisonment, torture, inhumane acts, cruel treatment, deportation, wanton destruction and plunder of public or private property.
The indictment covers the period between June 25th 1991 and the end of his presidency in December 1993.
It alleges that Hadzic participated as a co-perpetrator in a joint criminal enterprise, seeking “the permanent forcible removal of a majority of the Croat and other non-Serb population from approximately one-third of the territory of the Republic of Croatia in order to make them part of a new Serb-dominated state through the commission of crimes”.
Several hours after the indictment was handed over to Serb authorities, Hadzic escaped his home in Novi Sad and was nowhere to be found until Wednesday.
Hadzic’s capture came less than two months after authorities in Serbia arrested Bosnian Serb wartime commander Ratko Mladic, who is currently on trial at The Hague war crimes tribunal.
The European Commission (EC) immediately welcomed Hadzic’s arrest, stating it is an important step in achieving Belgrade’s European ambitions. In a joint statement, EC President Jose Manuel Barroso, EU President Herman van Rompuy and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton praised “the determination and commitment” of the Serbian government.
“Following the capture of Ratko Mladic, this arrest sends a positive signal to the EU and to Serbia’s neighbours, but most of all on the rule of law in Serbia itself,” they said.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated that “following the transfer of Ratko Mladic to The Hague, this arrest will allow for the most painful chapter in recent European history to be closed.”
“Serbia’s future lies in constructive co-operation with its neighbours and the Euro-Atlantic family,” he pointed out.