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Bosnian Serb War Crimes Fugitive on His Way to The Hague

A Bosnian Serb commander, wanted on charges of genocide in the conflict of the 1990s in Bosnia-Herzegovina, is on his way to the United Nations war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Officials say a NATO aircraft carrying General Zdravko Tolimir left a military base outside the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, Friday. The medical team that examined him before the trip said he is in poor health.

Tolimir was the third most wanted fugitive sought by the tribunal on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. Bosnian Serb authorities arrested him Thursday in a joint action with Serbia, in the Bratunac area, as he crossed into the Bosnian Serb Republic from Serbia.

The general was in charge of intelligence and security for the Bosnian Serb forces during the Balkan conflict. He served directly under General Ratko Mladic, a top fugitive suspect indicted for war crimes against Bosnian civilians.

Tolimir is charged with planning, committing and ordering war crimes, including those in Srebrenica.

Bosnian Serb forces overran the U.N.-protected haven of Srebrenica in 1995. They took away and summarily executed 8,000 Muslim men and boys. Their remains were later found in mass graves nearby. The massacre is considered to be Europe's worst atrocity since World War Two.

Tolimir's arrest comes just days before war crimes tribunal chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte is due to visit Serbia.

On del Ponte's prompting, the European Union last May put a one-year freeze on talks about closer ties with Serbia because of Belgrade's lack of cooperation with the war crimes tribunal.

EU enlargement chief Olli Rehn on Thursday called Tolimir's arrest an important step toward bringing all remaining fugitives to justice. He says full cooperation with the war crimes tribunal is essential for lasting reconciliation in the Balkans.

It is not clear whether Tolimir's arrest will lead the EU to lift the freeze on talks with Serbia. Such discussions are the first step toward possible EU membership.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.