Sat, Dec 10, 2005 - Page 6 News List

War crimes suspect to be transferred to The Hague


Fugitive Croatian General Ante Gotovina, one of the three most wanted war crimes suspects from former Yugoslavia, was awaiting transfer to The Hague yesterday after his arrest in Tenerife.

Gotovina's arrest is a major boost for the Hague tribunal, and his detention brought calls for more efforts to catch its top fugitives, Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief Ratko Mladic.

Gotovina spent the night in a Madrid jail but it was not clear when he would leave for the UN court, set up to prosecute war crimes committed as Yugoslavia disintegrated in the 1990s.

Spain's High Court on Thursday ordered his immediate transfer to The Hague, although details of how and when were not available.

Gotovina, 50, is the last wanted war crimes suspect from Croatia and his arrest will ease Zagreb's path to joining the EU.

He is charged with responsibility for the murders of at least 150 Serbs by troops under his command in the aftermath of the 1995 "Operation Storm," when Croatian forces retook parts of the country from Serb rebels.

Gotovina is also accused of pillage and destruction of their property. He has denied any wrongdoing and has been in hiding since his indictment in 2001.

Croatian officials sought immediately to portray the arrest as evidence that they had not been giving cover to Gotovina, as some critics had suggested.

"It is the final confirmation of the credibility of Croatia and its state institutions," Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader told reporters in Zagreb.

Until recently, the general was so popular that posters of him, captioned "hero, not criminal," popped up all over Croatia.

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