Another key Serbian war crimes suspect transferred to The Hague

1214.jpgA former Serbian police general was transferred to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on Sunday (June 17th), hours after being arrested in Montenegro.Vlastimir Djordjevic, who served as Serbia’s deputy interior minister and public security chief until January 2001, disappeared later that year following the discovery of mass graves containing the remains of hundreds of Kosovo Albanians. He was indicted by the ICTY in October 2003 on charges of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war for the murder, deportation and other inhumane acts against ethnic Albanians during the 1998-1999 conflict in Kosovo.

Six other former senior officials facing similar charges under the joint indictment with Djordjevic are already on trial at The Hague.

Djordjevic, who many had believed was hiding in Russia, was arrested early Sunday in Montenegro’s Adriatic resort town of Budva.

“It was a joint action of Serbian and Montenegrin police and of The Hague tribunal,” Rasim Ljajic, Serbia’s minister in charge of co-operation with the ICTY, said.

According to Belgrade-based Radio B92, Djordjevic had been living in Budva under a false identity as Novica Karadzic since 2004. He had grown a beard and was employed as a construction worker there for more than two months.

Earlier this month, another war crimes fugitive — former Bosnian Serb General Zdravko Tolimir — was caught and transferred to The Hague, prompting a positive report from chief UN war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte. Her assessment paved the way for the EU to resume pre-membership talks with Serbia.

ICTY spokesman Anton Nikiforov praised on Sunday the “Montenegrin police and Serb authorities for another successful operation”.

Welcoming the news of Djordjevic’s arrest, EU officials stressed the need for the remaining four war crimes fugitives, including former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander, Ratko Mladic, to also face justice at The Hague. Brussels has made it clear that the conclusion of talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia hinges on extraditing any ICTY indictees on its territory.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana’s spokeswoman, Christina Gallach, described Djordjevic’s arrest as “an excellent step” towards achieving that goal and as “great news with respect to Serbia’s relations with the European Union”.

Similar remarks came from a spokeswoman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, who saw Sunday’s move as a “good sign”.

Meanwhile, del Ponte is widely expected to note Serbia’s increased co-operation with the UN tribunal on Monday, when she is due to present her final report on the ICTY prosecution’s work to the UN Security Council, before stepping down in September.

“Her report … will include everything that’s been happening … such as the arrest of Tolimir, access to documents and, of course, the arrest of Djordjevic,” her spokeswoman, Olga Kavran, said.

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