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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 December 2005, 21:16 GMT
Croatian fugitive general seized
Gen Ante Gotovina in Spanish custody
Many Croats consider Gen Gotovina to be a hero
A Croatian general charged with war crimes has been arrested in Spain, the UN's chief war crimes prosecutor says.

Ante Gotovina - the third most-wanted suspect from the Balkan wars - was held in the Canary Islands on Wednesday.

Gen Gotovina, 50, is accused over the death of about 150 Serb civilians during a Croatian offensive in 1995.

He has been jailed by a Spanish judge and could be extradited to The Hague as early as Friday. His lawyer said his client would probably plead not guilty.

He has denied responsibility in the past, his lawyer added.

The Croatian government's failure to arrest the general had hampered the country's entry talks with the European Union.

UN prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said she hoped efforts would now be stepped up to arrest the top two men on the tribunal's most-wanted list.

Former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military commander Ratko Mladic remain at large.

Stabbed, shot, burned

Ms Del Ponte announced Gen Gotovina's arrest during a visit in the Serbian capital, Belgrade.

He was held in a hotel in the Tenerife resort of Playa de las Americas on Wednesday night after being followed for several days, the Spanish news agency Efe reported.

Born 12 Oct 1955
Fought in French Foreign Legion
Commanded Croatian forces against Serb forces in Krajina region, 1995
Early retirement, 2000
Indicted for war crimes in Krajina, 2001
Arrested in Tenerife, Dec 2005

The retired general was said to be in possession of a false Croatian passport with an assumed name, said Efe quoting the Spanish interior ministry.

He was flown to Madrid on Thursday and taken to the High Court, where a judge read him the charges against him.

Gen Gotovina was indicted for crimes against humanity by the war crimes tribunal in 2001.

He is alleged to have failed to prevent the murder of 150 Serbs killed by shooting, stabbing or burning during Operation Storm, the August 1995 push against Serb forces in Croatia's Krajina region.

The indictment also accuses him of co-ordinating a campaign of plunder and looting throughout operations in ethnically Serb areas of the region.

'Good news'

Throughout the tribunal's efforts to track him down, Gen Gotovina, has maintained support from a wide section of the Croatian public, some of whom regard him as a national hero.

He was sent into early retirement in 2000 when Croatia promised to investigate allegations of war crimes among its military during the 1990s.

Radovan Karadzic: Former Bosnian Serb leader regarded as the mastermind of the Bosnian war 1992-95. Accused of ethnic cleansing including Srebrenica massacre
Ratko Mladic: Bosnian Serb army commander charged with carrying out the Srebrenica massacre
Zdravko Tolimir: Worked under Ratko Maldic, accused of involvement with Srebrenica
Goran Hadzic: Self-proclaimed Serb president of the breakaway Croat republic of Krajina
Stojan Zupljanin Bosnian Serb commander accused of war crimes around Banja Luka, Bosnia

Croatia had claimed that he subsequently fled the country. He vowed never to turn himself in.

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said the arrest proved that Croatia was right when it said Gen Gotovina had fled abroad.

In Brussels, Nato Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer described the arrest as "good news for the world, for bringing people to justice who are not yet convicted but are accused of very serious crimes".

Serbian President Boris Tadic congratulated Croatia on Gotovina's arrest.

But Belgrade reiterated that it had no knowledge of the whereabouts of the two key Bosnian Serb fugitives.

Hear the UN's war crimes prosecutor on the arrest

EU launches Croatia discussions
04 Oct 05 |  Europe
Evicted Serbs remember Storm
05 Aug 05 |  Europe
MI6 and the Croatian general
30 Apr 05 |  From Our Own Correspondent

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