The head of human rights watchdog the Council of Europe today hailed the arrest of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic as “wonderful news”.
Terry Davis, the council’s secretary general said, “The fact that he has been arrested by Serbs will make a huge contribution to improving the way Serbs are seen by the rest of Europe.”
He called Karadzic’s arrest “wonderful news ... only a week after the commemoration of the slaughter at Srebrenica.”
Among the charges Karadzic faces is organising the 1995 massacre of up to 8,000 Muslims in Srebrenica
Meanwhile the EU called the arrest a key step toward lasting reconciliation in the western Balkans and for Serbia’s hopes of joining the EU.
“Good news! We have waited for this for 13 years. Finally. Finally,” said French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner upon arrival at a monthly EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels. “This is a very good thing for the rapprochement of Serbia with the European Union.”
European Commission President Manuel Barroso also welcomed the news.
“This is a very positive development that will contribute to bringing justice and lasting reconciliation in the Western Balkans,” he said. “It proves the determination of the new Serbian government to achieve full cooperation” with the war crimes tribunal.
“It is also very important for Serbia’s European aspirations,” Barroso said.
The EU and Serbia signed a pre-membership trade and aid pact in April. But the EU said the deal would only take effect once Belgrade fully co-operates with the Yugoslav tribunal – meaning Belgrade must hand over Karadzic and other wanted war suspects.
Prosecutors had suspected Bosnian Serb nationalists of helping a disguised Karadzic elude arrest. Belgrade officials, however, insisted its forces simply could not locate him.
Serbian Foreign Minister Vic Jeremic said his country was “very serious” about EU membership.
“We demonstrated this yesterday. We want to be a member of the European Union (and) a regional player for regional stability.”
EU foreign affairs chief Javier Solana expressed “immense satisfaction” with the arrest and praised Serb authorities for demonstrating their desire to cooperate fully with the tribunal.
However, “there are still some people at large that should also be placed in front of the tribunal,” he said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch called Karadzic’s arrest “a major blow against impunity for the egregious crimes committed in the Balkans.”
“Radovan Karadzic personified impunity for more than a decade, but his efforts to run the clock on justice have failed,” Richard Dicker, director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Programme, said.
Still at large Karadzic’s ally Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb army commander also indicted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
“That Ratko Mladic is still at liberty is a major obstacle to full accountability for the genocide at Srebrenica,” Mr Dicker said. “The EU must insist that Serbia surrender him.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the arrest was a “historic moment.”
Ms Merkel said “the victims need to know: Massive human rights violations do not go unpunished.”
She said “the arrest of Karadzic is good news for the entire Balkans. It is an essential step to peace and reconciliation in the region.”
She has praised President Boris Tadic’s “courageous step” in apprehending him, saying it “underscored Serbia’s European aspirations.”