One of the top three Balkan war-crimes suspects was arrested yesterday after four years on the run as he dined in a luxury beach hotel in the well-known Tenerife resort of Playa de las Americas in the Canary Islands.Spanish special police agents surprised retired army General Ante Gotovina on Wednesday night, officials said. He was carrying a false Croatian passport under the name Kristian Horvat."He's finally now in detention," chief war-crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said.
His detention is a major boost for the international war-crimes tribunal and brought immediate calls for extra efforts to catch its top fugitives, Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief, Ratko Mladic.Gen. Gotovina was flown to Madrid yesterday and taken to the High Court where a judge read the charges against him to start the process of handing him over to The Hague.
Gen. Gotovina, 50, who speaks Spanish well, appeared calm, unruffled and suntanned as he entered the courtroom wearing jeans and a blazer, a court official said. Croatia's state television showed the first picture of the arrested former officer in a white shirt.
He will spend the night in a Madrid jail, an official said, but it was not clear when he would leave for the United Nations court in the Netherlands, set up to try war crimes from the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.
Croatia has been under intense pressure from the European Union to arrest Gen. Gotovina and turn him over to the tribunal on charges he masterminded the killing of at least 150 Serbs and the expulsion of some 150,000 others during Croatia's 1991-95 war.
Gen. Gotovina is regarded as a hero by many in Croatia who credit him with leading the country's defence against rebel Serb assaults. In Zagreb, several hundred people gathered yesterday evening to protest against his arrest.He has been at large since the tribunal accused him in 2001 of atrocities during a 1995 offensive, code-named Operation Storm, against the Croatian Serb stronghold of Knin.
The government's failure to arrest him blocked Croatia's EU membership talks for years. EU negotiations finally began in October after Ms. Del Ponte said the country was co-operating with the tribunal.
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader welcomed the arrest, saying no one was exempt from justice and Gen. Gotovina should stand trial. His capture demonstrates that "the rule of law has no alternative," Mr. Sanader said during a cabinet meeting, reports the AP. I.L.