BELGRADE, Serbia -- The last Balkan war-crimes suspect was extradited to the U.N. tribunal for prosecution on Friday after being allowed last-minute visits with relatives, including his sick mother.
Goran Hadzic, 53, is accused of atrocities stemming from Croatia's 1991-95 war, including the leveling of Vukovar and the massacre of some 200 Croat prisoners of war after the devastation of the town on the Danube.
A convoy of jeeps and police cars left the detention unit of the Serbian war crimes court on Friday morning with Hadzic, taking him first to his family home in Novi Sad, about an hour from Belgrade, then delivering him to Belgrade's international airport.
"At this moment the plane is already on its way to The Hague tribunal" in the Netherlands, Justice Minister Snezana Malovic told reporters in the early afternoon, shortly after the convoy was seen arriving at the airport.
A small Cesna plane took off from the runway, according to an Associated Press photographer at the airport.
Malovic said she signed the extradition order earlier in the day for the former Croatian Serb leader, who is wanted for atrocities stemming from the 1991-95 war in Croatia.
The convoy stopped in the northern city of Novi Sad and a heavy police presence blocked the streets near the family home, as Hadzic went in to see his 86-year-old mother Milena, who is said to be bedridden and suffering from dementia.
Other relatives visited Hadzic in his prison cell earlier Friday.
Hadzic was arrested on Wednesday after seven years on the run, discovered by Serbian agents who had followed a money trail that began in December when Hadzic's aides tried to sell a Modigliani painting.
Hadzic's arrest followed that of former Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic on genocide charges nearly two months ago. The top war crimes suspect was allowed to visit his daughter's grave only hours before he was sent to the Hague.
Taking Hadzic into custody has been hailed as the symbolic closure of a horrific chapter in Balkan history and an important step toward the former pariah state of Serbia joining the European Union.
Serbia for years had faced accusations that it was not doing enough to capture war criminals. This issue had stalled the EU accession process and the country now hopes to formally become a candidate for membership this year.
"This act completed the most difficult chapter in the cooperation with The Hague tribunal," Malovic said. "We have fulfilled our biggest obligations."