Serbian authorities on Wednesday arrested the last remaining fugitive sought by the U.N. war crimes court, tracking Goran Hadzic down after eight years on the run from justice.

Serbia has been under intense pressure to nab the former leader of Croatia’s rebel Serbs during the country’s bloody ethnic war. Hadzic is wanted for atrocities stemming from the 1991—1995 conflict, when he fought against Croatia’s independence from the former Yugoslavia.

Hadzic’s arrest was the final demand of the Hague war crimes tribunal and could boost Serbian hopes of becoming a candidate later this year for eventual entry to the 27—nation European Union.

Hadzic was arrested in the mountainous Fruska Gora region of northern Serbia where his family lives, Serbian President Boris Tadic confirmed Wednesday.

“With this, Serbia, has concluded its most difficult chapter in the cooperation with the Hague Tribunal,” Tadic said in a televised statement. “(It has met its) legal duties ... as well as its moral duty” to track down and arrest all war crimes fugitives.

Hadzic, 53, was known to have lived in northern Serbia after the war but Tadic denied that authorities knew where he had been hiding.

“Serbia did not know where Goran Hadzic was,” Tadic said. “Our security and intelligence agency as well as members of the Interior Ministry have carried out their duties in accordance with law.”

Hadzic was indicted in 2004 with war crimes and crimes against humanity, including “persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds, extermination, murder, torture, deportation and forcible transfer” as well as “wanton destruction ... or devastation.”

The indictment alleges that Hadzic committed the crimes to drive the Croats and other non—Serbs from the territories controlled by his self—styled authorities. More than 10,000 people died in the Croatian war which ended when Zagreb retook the territories held by the Serbs in 1995.

The EU immediately welcomed the arrest and saluted “the determination and commitment” of Serbia’s government.

“This is a further important step for Serbia in realizing its European perspective and equally crucial for international justice,” said a statement by EU president Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso and foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

“Following the capture of Ratko Mladic, this arrest sends a positive signal to the European Union and to Serbia’s neighbors, but most of all on the rule of law in Serbia itself,” the statement said. “The Serbian nation is in the process of confronting the past and turning the page to a better European future.”

In the past, Hadzic narrowly escaped arrest, apparently thanks to a tip from within the Serbian security authorities. The country’s post—war authorities have for years faced accusations that they are not doing enough to hunt down the war crimes suspects. The issue had also blocked Serbia’s bid at EU membership.

Coming less than two months after the capture of Gen. Ratko Mladic, the arrest removes a major obstacle to Belgrade’s efforts to reintegrate into the international community following years of sanctions and pariah status in the 1990s. Serbia {hbox}” led at the time by nationalist president Slobodan Milosevic -- was widely viewed as the main culprit for the wars in the Balkans.

Milosevic was extradited to the Hague tribunal in 2001 and died there in 2006, while on trial for genocide.

Serbia has already arrested war crimes fugitives Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. Both are currently facing charges in the Hague.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary—General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the news of the arrest and commended Serbian authorities for fulfilling their international obligations.

“Following the transfer of Ratko Mladic to the Hague, this arrest will allow for the most painful chapter in recent European history to be closed,” Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement.

“Serbia’s future lies in constructive cooperation with its neighbors and the Euro—Atlantic family,” he said, adding that the military alliance remains committed to assisting the Balkan region.

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