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Top Croatian War Crimes Suspect Arrested in Spain

08 December 2005

The chief prosecutor of the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia has announced the arrest in Spain of fugitive Croatian General Ante Gotovina, who is third on the tribunal's most wanted list. General Gotovina is wanted for crimes committed against ethnic Serbs during Croatia's campaign to recapture Serb-held areas of his country during its war for independence.

For more than four years, Ante Gotovina has been Croatia's most wanted war crimes suspect. For most of that time, he has been on the run. For many years he was thought to have been sheltered in Croatia by friends in the country's security services. But now he has been arrested in Spain's Canary Islands, and chief war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte could not hide her satisfaction when she made the announcement to reporters in Belgrade on Thursday.

"Just to inform you about very good news," she said, "that Ante Gotovina is arrested. He was arrested [last] night in Spain … and he is now in detention, finally, and he will be transferred to The Hague."

The war crimes tribunal indicted General Gotovina in July 2001 for crimes against humanity. The indictment says forces under his command murdered 150 Serbs and expelled more than 150,000 from the Krajina region of Croatia in 1995.

In The Hague, where the war crimes tribunal is based, spokesman Jim Landale hailed General Gotovina's arrest, calling it "incredibly significant". "He has evaded capture … for four years and has been the subject of numerous (U.N.) Security Council resolutions naming him specifically as someone who had to be arrested and brought to The Hague," said Mr. Landale.

General Gotovina's evasion from arrest has been a key obstacle in Croatia's attempts to join the European Union and NATO.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters in Brussels that the general's capture is good news. "It's good news for bringing people to justice who are not yet convicted but who are accused of very serious crimes, the most serious crimes," he said. "That's good news, and I think, indeed, it's also good news for Croatia."

The EU froze Croatia's membership application for a while because it was skeptical that the country's leaders were trying to track down the general, who is still a national hero in the eyes of many Croats.

Serbia has faced similar international criticism over the continued freedom of Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief, Ratko Mladic.

Ms. Del Ponte was quick to tell her Belgrade audience that she intends to intensify pressure on Serb and Bosnian Serb officials to catch them, too. "And, of course, now I am expecting Mladic and Karadzic," she said.

The two men have been fugitives since the end of the Bosnian war in 1995. Next week is the tenth anniversary of the signing in Paris of the accord that finally put an end to that war. Also next week, Ms. Del Ponte is scheduled to report to the U.N. Security Council on whether, in her opinion, Serbia is collaborating with the war crimes tribunal in trying to capture General Mladic. If she deems that it is not, Serbia could face international sanctions.

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