BELGRADE, Serbia – Serbian authorities on Wednesday arrested the last remaining fugitive sought by the U.N. war crimes court, tracking Goran Hadzic down in a mountainous region in the northern part of the country, an official said.
The former leader of Croatia's rebel Serbs during the country's bloody ethnic war, has been on the run for eight years, managing to evade justice despite international pressure for his arrest.
He is wanted for atrocities stemming from the 1991-1995 conflict in Croatia, when he fought against Croatia's independence from the former Yugoslavia.
The official confirmed a report of the arrest by B92 television, but said formal confirmation will come from President Boris Tadic. The president's office has called a press conference for later Wednesday.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
His arrest, less than two months after the capture of Gen. Ratko Mladic, would remove a major obstacle for Belgrade's efforts to reintegrate into the international community following years of international sanctions and pariah status in the 1990s. The country hopes to become a candidate for entry to the European Union later this year.
Serbia -- led at the time by nationalist president Slobodan Milosevic -- was widely viewed as the main culprit for the wars in the Balkans.
Officials at the U.N. tribunal in The Hague, to where Hadzic would be extradited, said they could not yet confirm or deny his arrest. In Brussels, the European Union is still trying to verify the report, a spokesman said. If it is confirmed, EU enlargement chief Stefan Fule will likely comment on how it would affect Serbia's future prospects for membership in the bloc.
NATO is also waiting for official announcement of the arrest, officials said.
Hadzic was indicted in 2004 with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including "persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, extermination, murder, torture, deportation and forcible transfer" as well as "wanton destruction ... or devastation."
The indictment alleges that Hadzic committed the crimes with an aim to drive the Croats and other non-Serbs from the territories controlled by his self-styled authorities.
In the past, he narrowly escaped arrest, apparently thanks to a tip from within the Serbian security authorities. The country's post-war authorities have for years faced accusations that they are not doing enough to hunt down the war crimes suspects. The issue had also blocked Serbia's bid at EU membership.
More than 10,000 people died in the Croatian war which ended when Zagreb retook the territories held by the Serbs in 1995.
Serbia's wartime president Milosevic was extradited to the Hague tribunal in 2001 and died there in 2006, while on trial for genocide.