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Serbian war crimes fugitive arrested

BELGRADE, Serbia -- He was on the run for seven years, the last Serbian fugitive sought by the UN's Balkan war crimes tribunal.

Goran Hadzic, the former leader of Croatia's ethnic Serbs, was arrested yesterday by black-masked Serbian secret police in a hilly forest as an accomplice delivered cash to him -- the end of a money trail that began with a photo of a Modigliani painting.

The arrest was 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.

It came less than two months after the capture of Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic, who was accused of some of the worst atrocities of the war in the former Yugoslavia.

President Boris Tadic told his nation in announcing the arrest of Hadzic, 53, that "we have turned a difficult and grim page of our history."

"It was our moral duty," Tadic said on national television. "We have done this for the sake of citizens of Serbia, we have done this for the sake of the victims among other nations, we have done this for the sake of reconciliation."

Hadzic was a warehouse worker in 1991 when Yugoslavia broke up and Croatia's minority Serbs rose in opposition to the country's independence.

He swiftly gained prominence through his links to Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic's secret police, taking charge of an ethnic Serbian ministate created by the brutal expulsion of non-Serbs from one third of Croatia's territory.

Black-bearded with a piercing stare, he worked closely with criminal gangs that made huge profits from smuggled cars, gasoline and cigarettes. He also cooperated with paramilitary forces that became notorious for their brutality, including the "Tigers" led by Zeljko Raznatovic, known as Arkan.

According to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, Hadzic was among those responsible for the 1991 leveling of Vukovar, said to be the first European city entirely destroyed since World War II.

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