RATKO Mladic, the Serb former army general who was responsible for the worst atrocities of the Bosnian war, was captured yesterday as Belgrade finally bowed to pressure to hand over Europe's most wanted man.
American and British intelligence helped lead Serbian commandos to Mladic's hideout, 50 miles from the capital, ending a 16-year hunt.
Serbia's reward is likely to be membership of the European Union, which it had effectively been banned from seeking while he remained at large.
Last night, Mladic (69) appeared in court in Belgrade as Serbia began the process of extraditing him to The Hague to face trial for the genocide of thousands of Bosnian Muslims.
The court appearance was halted after his lawyer said Mladic was unable to respond to questions. Doctors were due to assess his fitness to appear in court and report back today.
Mladic was arrested as Baroness Ashton of Upholland, the EU foreign affairs representative, was travelling to Belgrade to warn that a forthcoming United Nations Security Council report, rebuking the country for failing to apprehend the warlord, would be a hammer blow to its ambitions to join the EU.
Boris Tadic, the Serbian president, said the arrest "closed a chapter of our recent history that will bring us one step closer to full reconciliation in the region".
But Serbia still faces inevitable questions over how much help Mladic, who was indicted for war crimes in 1995, received from officials. Serbian opinion polls showed more than 50pc opposed his extradition.
Mladic was living undisguised in a house owned by a cousin in Lazarevo, a village close to the Romanian border that is dominated by displaced Bosnian Serbs.
"It wasn't like looking for a needle in a haystack," said one European official.
Three commando units raided the building in the early hours after carrying out surveillance for two weeks.
DNA analysis confirmed Mladic's identity. He had been living under the name of Milorad Komadic, a barely disguised version of his own name. Serbian officials said he had recently suffered a seizure and was partly incapacitated.
Western intelligence agencies had held weekly meetings with their Serbian counterparts, but feared that information would leak. However, there was a significant shift in the security forces' attitude last year.
"Serbia realised that it would not get movement on its EU application unless it gave up Mladic," said Jonathan Eyal, from the Royal United Services Institute in London.
General Sir Mike Jackson, a NATO commander during the 1999 Kosovo campaign, said the capture meant the end to "unfinished business" in the Balkans. (© Daily Telegraph, London)