EU leaders hailed the arrest by Serbian authorities on 21 July of Radovan Karadzic as a key step in the Balkan nation’s accession to the Union. Karadzic is one of the most wanted war criminals of the past 13 years and stands accused of the worst war crimes committed in Europe since World War II.
The arrest – the second in just 40 days – highlights the will of the new pro-European leadership in Serbia to break with previous attitudes considered ambiguous at the very least by the international community. On 12 June, war criminal Stojan Zupljanin was apprehended (EURACTIV 13/06/08). Today, of the 46 indictees of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) from Serbia, only two remain at large – Ratko Mladic, the main perpetrator of the massacre at Srebrenica, and Goran Jelisic, accused of crimes against Croats in the city of Vukovar.
Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said Karadzic’s capture was a “milestone” and very important for Serbia’s efforts to join the European Union.
“This […] proves the determination of the new government to achieve full cooperation with the tribunal,” said Rehn. He added that he would discuss the next steps in ties with Belgrade with EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels today (22 July), as well as with Serbia’s visiting foreign minister.
The arrest of Karadzic took place one day ahead of the visit to Belgrade of Serge Brammertz, the ICTY prosecutor.
“I would like to congratulate the Serbian authorities, especially the National Security Council, Serbia’s Action Team in charge of tracking fugitives and the Office of the War Crimes Prosecutor, on achieving this milestone in cooperation with the ICTY,” Brammertz said.
The arrest should facilitate a rapprochement between the EU and Serbia, with whom the bloc signed a pre-membership pact – the so-called Stabilisation and Association Agreement (SAA) – just before the country’s early elections in May. But the Netherlands has thus far made the SAA ratification conditional on the apprehension of all war crime indictees.
Serbs are split over the arrest of Karadzic, who is seen as a hero by Serbian nationalists. A group of them demonstrated in Belgrade and accused the Serbian government of treason. But in Sarajevo hundreds took to the streets and expressed their joy over the capture of the man whom they consider responsible for years of suffering and the deaths of relatives and friends.