EU diplomats said Sunday that the transfer of a Bosnian Serb genocide suspect to the UN war crimes tribunal will lead to closer ties between the EU and Serbia and Montenegro.
Serbian President Boris Tadic and the EU's Javier Solana in Belgrade
The former security chief for the Bosnian Serb army, who has been charged with genocide over his alleged role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, has been transferred to the UN war crimes tribunal, a court spokesman said Sunday.
Ljubisa "Beara is in our custody," tribunal spokesman Jim Landale said.
In Belgrade the Serbian government late Saturday announced that Beara had turned himself in to the court to protect the interests of the state and his family.
EU officials welcomed the decision.
"This is extremely good and timely news and we think the rest of the indicted war criminals should follow his example," Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, told Reuters news service.
EU foreign ministers, who meet in Luxembourg on Monday, will hear a report from the chief UN war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte, on Balkan countries' cooperation with the court, and will decide whether to initiate closer relations with Belgrade.
Better cooperation with the tribunal had been a key condition for launching a long-delayed EU feasibility study for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Serbia and Montenegro, the first stage towards eventual EU membership.
Formal negotiations could start next year after Solana and External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten reached a tentative agreement during a visit to Belgrade last week. Progress will depend on the Serbian authorities' cooperation in finding and handing over war criminals, many of whom are believed to be hiding in the country.
Key player in Srebrenica massacre
Genocide suspect Beara, 65, has been on the run since his indictment was made public in October 2002.
He faces charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for his alleged coordinating role in the Srebrenica carnage.
Two Bosnian Muslim women cry during a memorial service for Srebrenica victims
Serb forces massacred more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys after they captured the eastern Bosnian Muslim enclave in 1995.
It is the only episode in the violent break-up of Yugoslavia that has been legally recognized as a genocide by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
Beara is accused of being part of a joint criminal enterprise whose purpose was "to capture, detain, summarily execute by firing squad, bury and rebury thousands of Bosnian Muslim men and boys aged 16 to 60 from the Srebrenica enclave."
Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic
The Bosnian Serb forces' former security chief was the highest-ranking Srebrenica suspect still on the run after fugitive Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic (photo) and his army leader Ratko Mladic. Karadzic and Mladic both face genocide charges over Srebrenica.
According to the indictment, Beara, who was in the main staff of the army, managed the military police and coordinated with the Bosnian Serb ministry of the interior. In several Srebrenica trials before the UN court the prosecution stressed that Mladic played the central role in the bloodbath.
It is not yet known when Beara will have his initial appearance before the tribunal. In such a first hearing the charges will be read out and a suspect will be asked to enter a plea.
The Serbian government announced that Beara would be accompanied to The Hague by the defence minister of Serbia and Montenegro, Dragan Stojkovic, who will ask the court to provisionally release Beara ahead of his trial.
Milosevic trial resumes Tuesday
The mammoth trial of Slobodan Milosevic meanwhile is set to resume Tuesday after a one-month delay to allow the defence lawyers assigned to the former Yugoslav president a chance to prepare their case.
Even though the trial will continue with the hearing of witnesses, Milosevic's defence lawyers are operating in a sort of legal limbo until the Appeals Chamber of the war crimes tribunal has ruled on an appeal lodged against their assignment.
It is not known when the five-judge panel of the Appeals Chamber will issue its ruling. The former president refuses to recognize a court which he deems illegal.
Slobodan Milosevic during his trial
The Milosevic trial is seen as the most important war crimes trial in Europe since World War II. The Yugoslav ex-president is the first former head of state to stand trial before an international tribunal.
He stands accused of over 60 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for his role in the war in Croatia 1991-95, the 1992-95 Bosnian war and the 1998-99 Kosovo conflict.
For the bloody war in Bosnia, which left over 200,000 people dead, he faces separate genocide charges.
If convicted he could be sentenced to life in prison.