The arrest of Goran Hadzic marks the home straight for a difficult Balkan justice process led by the EU and the Hague War Crimes Tribunal.
It has taken 18 years of negotiations, hunting suspects on the ground and conflicts with national security services to capture all 161 war crimes suspects indicted by the court.
It is not only former Serbian strongmen who have sat in the dock. Retired Croat general Ante Gotovina was an important catch. Convicted of atrocities when Croatian forces retook parts of the country from Serb rebels in 1995, he was tracked down to Tenerife, a decade later.
Gotovina was jailed for 24 years. His conviction has eased Croatia’s path to EU membership. The country is expected to join in 2013.
It also served as an example to Serbia, which still does not even have candidate status, about the benefits of co-operating over war crimes.
In 2006, the EU piled on the pressure, suspending
negotiations on an association agreement with Serbia, due to what it deemed insufficient cooperation with the war crimes tribunal.
With key figures like Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic still at large, Serbia stepped up its search, eager to pursue its European ambitions and answer critics claiming Belgrade was helping fugitives evade justice.
Now all those sought by the war crimes court have been handed over, an achievement hailed as marking an important day by Brussels.
Reacting to the arrest of Hadzic, EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Catherine Ashton, said she believed Serbia’s future “has a strong European perspective”.
“Serbia has now produced visible evidence that cooperation with the tribunal is not an empty promise, but a genuine commitment, and we look forward to Serbia’s assistance with our ongoing work,” said Frederic Swinnen, the Special Advisor to ICTY Chief Prosecutor.
This ultimate arrest marks the beginning of the end for the Hague tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Its final judgements will signal the last steps on the long and winding road from the war-ravaged Balkans to the European Union.