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War crimes suspect faces extradition from Australia

world Updated: Apr 12, 2007 09:04 IST
AFP
extradition

An Australian court on Thursday cleared the way for the extradition to Croatia of a man accused of committing war crimes during the Balkans conflict of the early 1990s.

Former Serb paramilitary leader Dragan Vasiljkovic, also known as "Captain Dragan", was arrested in January last year after Croatia formally requested his extradition.

Vasiljkovic fought legal battles to stay in Australia, but Sydney Central Local Court magistrate Paul Cloran declared on Thursday that Vasiljkovic was "eligible for surrender to the Republic of Croatia."

He has 15 days to appeal in the Federal Court against his extradition. The 51-year-old, who was working as a golf instructor in the western city of Perth until shortly before his arrest, had earlier argued in the High Court that he had been detained illegally as Australia had no extradition treaty with Croatia.

But judges dismissed the challenge and extradition proceedings continued. According to court documents Vasiljkovic has lived in Australia since 1969 but temporarily left the country in the early 1990s to fight in the Balkans conflict.

Croatian judicial authorities accuse him of atrocities during the country's 1991-1995 war of independence from the former Yugoslavia, which was opposed by rebel Serbs.

He is suspected of involvement in the torture and killing of Croatian civilians and prisoners of war in the rebel Serb stronghold of Knin in 1991 and the southern village of Bruska in 1993.

Vasiljkovic has denied committing war crimes but admitted in media interviews to training Serbian recruits, killing in combat and interrogating enemy soldiers.