In a sign of increasing cooperation between the two former Yugoslav republics, Croatia has extradited a man to Serbia for his suspected involvement in the 2003 murder of former Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic.
Djindjic was seen as a moderate and reformer
A Croatian court sentenced a man to 18 months in prison for forging documents to obtain a passport and promptly extradited him to Serbia on Wednesday.
A Belgrade court had already sentenced Sretko Kalinic, 36, in absentia to 30 years in prison for his involvement in the 2003 assassination of then-prime minister Zoran Djindjic.
Kalinic's 2007 conviction was one of several in connection with Djindjic's death. Milorad "Legija" Ulemek was found guilty of masterminding the murder and Zvezdan Jovanovic was convicted of pulling the trigger. Kalinic was also sentenced in a separate trial to 40 years in prison for leading an organized crime group.
He was flown under tight security on a Serbian government plane from Zagreb to an unnamed "holding point," Serbia's RTS public television reported. Serbian law grants him the right to a retrial because he was sentenced in absentia, but it is not yet clear if he will request that.
The extradition was the first of a Croatian national - Kalinic holds both Croatian and Serbian passports - since the two countries signed an agreement in June to extradite their own citizens who are convicted or wanted in the other country for organized crime.
Journalist Mark Lowen told Deutsche Welle it was "an important development in bilateral relations between Serbia and Croatia... It's certainly a sign that these two countries that used to be arch enemies and are now on the same hoped-for road to European Union membership are laying past differences behind them."
The pact between Serbia and Croatia showed Europe they were serious about tackling organized crime. It was designed to crack down on mafia leaders in the former Yugoslavia, who often flee to other former republics to avoid arrest and prosecution.
Kalinic had been in hiding since 2003 and was arrested in June after Milos Simovic, another convicted in Djindjic's murder, shot and wounded him near Zagreb. Belgrade justice officials are hoping he can provide more details on the Djindjic assassination.
Allegations arose at the time that judges or high-ranking officials were involved in the murder, but so far only mafia criminals and police officials have been convicted.
Author: Andrew Bowen (AP/AFP/dpa)
Editor: Chuck Penfold