Zdravko Tolimir, a former Republika Srpska (RS) army officer thought to be one of the main organisers of the network helping top war crimes indictee Ratko Mladic elude justice, was arrested in the Bosnian Serbia entity on Thursday (May 31st).
Olga Kavran, spokeswoman for UN war crimes tribunal chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte, confirmed news of the arrest.
Kavran told Belgrade media that del Ponte welcomed Tolimir’s arrest, and voiced hope that the wartime leaders of the Bosnian Serbs — Mladic and former RS President Radovan Karadzic — would also be apprehended soon.
News wires Friday said the suspect has been transferred from Sarajevo to The Hague, with the assistance of NATO. Reuters quoted a spokesperson for EU peacekeepers as saying Tolimir was held overnight at Camp Butmir near Sarajevo, after being brought by helicopter from Banja Luka.
NATO spokesman Derek Chappel confirmed that NATO was “involved in providing safe transfer”, but declined to provide details. Tolimir, a former senior RS army officer, is charged with genocide and other crimes in and near Srebrenica in 1995. The indictment against him was unsealed in 2005.
Belgrade media reports say he was detained on RS territory near the border with Serbia. The head of the National Council for Co-operation with the UN tribunal, Rasim Ljajic, confirmed that RS and Serbian security services had conducted a joint operation on both sides of the border.
Local commentators are linking the arrest with del Ponte’s arrival in Belgrade next week and the hoped-for resumption of Stabilisation and Association Agreement talks with the EU. Analyst Aleksandar Radic believes Tolimir’s arrest means that the talks “will almost certainly continue”.
Speaking to the Belgrade news agency BETA, Radic said Belgrade already could have anticipated a resumption of negotiations, thanks to the new government’s declared resolve. The latest development “will be the deciding factor”, he suggested.
The new government has made it clear it wants to resolve the issue of co-operation with the tribunal. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica says the issue is one of the administration’s top priorities.
Kostunica’s new administration, unlike its predecessor, does not depend on parliamentary support from the Socialist Party of Serbia, which opposes the extradition of indictees. Instead, the ruling coalition now includes parties that advocate better co-operation with The Hague.
Last month, Serbian military police reportedly searched 300 rooms of a military hotel in Belgrade, looking for Tolimir and other fugitives. No one was arrested, however.
On Thursday, the government formed a National Security Council that will co-ordinate all intelligence services in the country. Serbian President Boris Tadic will head it.
Following Tolimir’s arrest, five indictees remain at large. In addition to Karadzic and Mladic, the group includes Goran Hadzic, indicted for crimes in Croatia, Vlastimir Djordjevic, charged with crimes against Kosovo Albanians, and Stojan Zupljanin, indicted for crimes against Bosnian Croats and Muslims.